By Diane Berkenfeld
Camera, A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital, (ISBN 9781402756566) is an impressive volume tracing photography from the earliest cameras through present day digitals. The book is written by Todd Gustavson, the technology curator for the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, and published by Sterling Innovation, an imprint of Sterling Publishing (www.sterlingpublishing.com). The book, which spans a timeline of almost 200 years, includes photographs of over 350 cameras from the collection, as well as more than 100 historic photos, ads, and drawings, and tops out at 368 pages.
The George Eastman House is the oldest photography museum in the world. The museum’s collections include 400,000 photographs from 9,000 photographers; more than 20,000 items of camera technology; and one of the world’s most comprehensive library of photographic books, manuscripts, and journals. Author Todd Gustavson has been working with the museum’s technology collection of 20,000+ artifacts, for more than 20 years.
“Each camera represents an insight—some by a single inventor, others by a team of scientists and engineers—that there was a way to do things better,” writes Gustavson in the book’s introduction, to the reasoning behind those cameras included. In addition to the history of cameras, from the very first known photograph through modern day, special cameras from the George Eastman House collections that were owned by renowned photographers were also included as well as some of the most iconic imagery by these photographers, using those cameras that are now part of the Eastman House collection.
“While choosing collection items for the book, it was continually exciting to access the Eastman House archives, which feature both the images and the cameras that together tell the story of the history of photography,” said Gustavson. “This is the first time a book has showcased photographic history in this way, illustrating a photograph next to the camera that took the image, either the exact model or in most cases the actual camera.”
The book features the first faint image caught by Niepce’s camera obscura in 1826, Joe Rosenthal’s Speed Graphic, which took the Pulitzer Prize-winning image of the flag raising at Iwo Jima; and two cameras owned and used by Alfred Stieglitz that created his famed photographs of New York City and wife, Georgia O’Keefe.
Camera also features artifacts such as the Giroux daguerreotype camera from 1839, signed by Daguerre; an 1840 full-plate daguerreotype camera owned by Samuel A. Bemis, one of the first cameras sold in the United States; an 1860 sliding-box camera from Mathew Brady’s studio; a 1884 Racetrack camera owned by Eadweard Muybridge; the earliest-known Kodak camera, no. 6 off the line in 1888; and a 1900 Brownie from the first month of production. Also included in the book are Ansel Adams’ own Brownie and Kodak Vest Pocket cameras; the pre-production model from the O-Series Leica; a NASA Lunar Orbiter from 1966; and the first digital camera, created by Kodak’s Steve Sasson in1975, along with an image it created.
Also included are Deardoff and the Sinar P2 large format cameras; Hasselblad, Mamiya and Rolleiflex medium format cameras, Pentax, Minox, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Minolta cameras are also included, among other less known brands; Edwin Land’s Polaroid cameras including the popular SX-70; and the Kodak Handle Instant Camera, which was an instant camera introduced in 1977, but was short lived when Kodak lost a patent suit to Polaroid. Early Fuji Quicksnap, the first one-time-use camera is included too.
I think Camera is a wonderful treasure trove of photographic history, however I feel it ends too abruptly in the digital age. Early cameras—both Kodak branded and those made by others—are featured in great length. But when the book reaches film cameras of the late twentieth century and modern-day digitals, I can think of at least a dozen additional cameras that might have been included.
(I will preface the following list by saying I don’t know if these cameras are part of the Eastman House collection.) These include: APS or Advanced Photo System film cameras; the Ricoh RDC-1, an early digital with direct modem access; the Minolta Dimage V, which had a lens that could be removed from the body and attached via a yard-long cable for shooting; the Kodak EasyShare V570 with its dual lenses, and the Sigma SD9, the first camera to utilize the Foveon X3 image sensor. I would even go so far as to say the Polaroid 20×24 camera should have been included.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the early miniature and spy cameras of the 1800s. I also enjoyed seeing the actual cameras (in most cases) that were used to capture some of the most famous images. I wonder if the Eastman House collection includes more of these camera/photograph combinations. Also interesting was the included essays by Steve Sasson, the father of the digital camera. For the average digital camera/photography enthusiast, who may have never heard of Sasson, the expanded coverage is a treat.
Camera, A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital would be a great addition to the library of any camera enthusiast or photographer. With the price of $45, the book is well worth the investment.
For more information about the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, go to www.eastmanhouse.org.