Your Photographic History

Blog Author Richard Newman 

What is your photographic history? Photography began as a science, practiced only by scientists. Then came the progressive/obsessive artist. When art got ahold of photography, the world opened up its eyes.

Let’s remember a few things photography showed us that changed the world:

1. The Civil War (I should just stop there); thank you Matthew Brady & Company

2. The West; thank you Carlton Watkins

3. Child labor; thank you Lewis Hine

4. The Great Depression; thank you FSA, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and so many others

So, what does this mean to us? To be a student of history—photographic history in particular—allows you to understand what has come before and where you can go artistically. Our photographic tools have never been better. With the advent of digital photography, large format printers and the immediacy of the Internet, we can make images faster and with less trouble than ever before. Would you be a photographer if you had to transport 12" x 20" glass plates in a horse-drawn wagon? Would you be willing to pour chemicals over those glass plates in the dark, expose them in the camera, and then go back in the wagon to pour more chemicals over the plates before moving on to your next exposure? I don’t think I would have been that dedicated.

So if the tools are better now, are we seeing better imagery? That’s subjective. Here’s what I’d like to challenge you to do. Go spend a day in a photographic archive. If you want to go to the mountains and see the best work, visit Center for Creative Photography.

In the current project that I’m involved with there is a huge need for historical images, and I’ve gone looking. What I have found adds so much to the story, but it also enhances my visual lexicon. There is a simplicity in these old images as well as a fascination with the process and how the camera sees. Yet, I’m dumbstruck at times by the content contained in these images. I know there are enormous lessons to be gained from researching these images, and I’m in awe of the commitment that these early photographers possessed.

I’ll share a few images with you here from the town of Scotia, California. Not only are these images fascinating, but the history is just as rich and inviting (all photos used with permission of the town of Scotia, CA).

Main Street, 1920's

Bull Team, Early Logging Scene

Scotia Payday

Steam Donkey

Scotia Log Crew Camp 7, 1902

Go out and research some historical images. Spend time with them; see what insights and vision they bring to you. As always, I welcome your comments:

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