Cell phones account for 90% of that 1.4 trillion. Digital cameras, about eight percent. Tablets, typically in the hands of grandparents, the final two percent and that is declining. Personally, I use a cell phone and two digital cameras to contribute much more than my fair share of the total.
A daguerreotype was a pristine and detailed image but the process was complicated, expensive, limited to a single image, time-consuming, and cumbersome. It was limited to a studio. Nevertheless, it was the dominant form of photography until 1851 when a wet plate process was introduced.
The collodion method was dominant between 1851 and 1871. This required an elaborate process in which glass plates were coated with collodion and then immersed in silver nitrate. This had to be done in a darkroom. The plate was placed in a light-tight holder and then inserted into the camera which had previously been set up for the specific image. The lens cap was removed for two to three seconds and the image was imprinted on the plate, still wet with the chemicals. The plate was immediately removed and taken into a dark room where the image was fixed on the plate creating a negative to be used later to print the image. All this had to be done within 15 minutes to keep the plate wet and thus light sensitive. The resulting negative was used to contact print typically on albumen paper.
|Matthew Brady (left foreground)|
and assistants at Petersburg 1864
Dry plate photography was a major improvement since it did not require the plates to be wet during exposure and development. Dry plates were prepared ahead of time and then developed and printed in a darkroom at a later time. Even though simpler and more flexible, dry plate photography was still the domain of professionals.
If you look back at this brief history, you can see why "taking a photograph" would hardly do the process justice. Daguerreotypes, wet plates and even dry plates were "making photographs." It was a technically and creatively challenging activity, not something for the ordinary person to do even as a "hobby." And photography was expensive. A single ambrotype would cost $6 in today's dollars. Family and individual portraits predominated. Candid photography simply didn't exist.
|1923 cartoon showing what Eastman might|
have looked like as a wet plate photographer
In 1881 Eastman and his partner Frank Strong founded Eastman Dry Plate Company to provide dry plates to photographers. In 1885 Eastman patented the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder. This freed photographers from handling individual plates because it could advance a roll of paper film. In 1889, an Eastman chemist developed a transparent, flexible film that could be cut into strips and inserted into cameras. The age of modern photography had dawned.
When Kodak introduced the Brownie camera in 1900 for $1, the age of "snapshots" was born. Eastman realized that chemists and engineers could turn the exposed film into photographs. His engineers figured out how to automate the process. All the photographer had to do was "press the button" and Kodak would do the rest. What had been a professional and highly technical process was now in the hands of ordinary people to record their lives, people and places simply by pressing the shutter. Professional photography continued, of course, but more as an art form or for specialized purposes. So there were still people "making" photographs but most of us were now "taking" photographs.
With the advent of digital cameras, even film became unnecessary. What had taken a "pack-horse load" of equipment, chemicals and a portable darkroom plus an assistant now took place within a hand-sized camera. With cell phone cameras, the package grew both smaller and more capable. We are all "taking" photographs, trillions and trillions of them. What does it mean now to "make" a photo?
You can make a photograph with film or digital images. The process of getting from the image captured on film or the digital sensor is technically very different but essentially the same. Making a photograph requires the photographer to have an idea--the more detailed the better--of what the scene in front of her can be made to look like. It is not so much about documenting what she sees as it is bringing to life what she sees as a possible image. One image by Ansel Adams can clarify this.
|Moonrise Hernandez N M: Straight contact print on the left and the iconic print on the right|
|Different prints of the same negative over 35 years|
|A recent photo from Tinker Park. |
Camera exposure left and final image right.
So why is all this important? There are three reasons. First, while taking photos is important because it creates a record of our experiences, relationships, and locations, making a photo can create an image that is memorable and beautiful. Think about Adams and his unforgettable images, not just Moonrise Hernandez New Mexico which we talked about here.
Second, making a photograph requires me to slow down and more carefully observe what is around me. There is something about looking at the world through a lens that helps me see reality in a new way. It is the difference between lollygagging my way through life or paying close attention. I think it has something to do with the fact that a lens excludes a lot of reality and focuses my attention. After a while, I begin to do that even without a camera. I begin to see photographs in my surroundings. I experience what is around me in a more detailed and powerful way. And that is when I decide to return with my tripod and have a go at "making" some photographs.
Third, there is an important lesson about life and reality. Empiricism takes the position that sense experience is the basis of all human knowledge. "What you see is what you get" to outrageously oversimplify. Rationalism is the opposite. It takes the position that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience. A botanist looks at a tree and sees a tree. A poet looks at a tree and sees a metaphor for a well-lived life. The poet sees something that is "not there" but is indisputably true.
A Christian looks at the world and sees the empirical reality of economics, politics and social status but also sees the deeper reality of the Kingdom of God where justice and charity prevail. It is a reality that can be "made" by the individual actions of Christians just as a photograph can be made. Both, however, require visualization of a reality that is not apparent but is real nonetheless. This is what Christians call faith. Jesus cautioned his followers to not be deceived by appearances. There can be a deeper reality in the empirical world if we take the time to look for it and open ourselves up to a knowledge of a different sort. This is true, I believe, of any of the great religious traditions. Just as we can find beautiful images in ordinary reality, we can find mercy and forgiveness in evil and deprivation.
It all depends on what we can visualize. In so many ways, it is up to us.