Painter Norman Rockwell‘s illustrations graced the covers of countless magazines over the course of the 20th century, becoming a much-loved piece of American culture for their simple snapshots of life. You might recognize many of the works, and even the name behind the paintings, but did you know that virtually all of the images started out as photographs?
We’ve written a number of posts regarding the NASA Curiosity rover’s photography on Mars, but have you ever wondered who it is that “presses the shutter”? If you have, you’re not alone. The Planetary Society recently received the question as well, and has published an official explanation from NASA:
It would be nice if the pictures took themselves. But it takes a village, it seems, to get a picture taken on Mars [...] for a single snap shot you might have the Geology Science Theme Group conceive and design it en masse; the PUL-1 plan it; the entire (on staff) Science Operations Working Group discuss it and include it in the daily plan, the PUL-2 actually write it, and the engineering uplink team review and approve it before the Ace hits the button to radiate it, with the sol’s command, bundle to the rover. That’s a group the size of a small village.
Camera operator Mark Lemmon also talks about how the team often goes to great lengths to nail lighting and composition. With so many resources drained into each photo, casual snapshots aren’t exactly Curiosity’s thing.
Who is the photographer behind Mars rover photos? Answer from Mark Lemmon [The Planetary Society]
Did you know that some of the most famous master painters from centuries past may have actually used camera “technology” to aid them in creating their masterpieces? According to the hotly debated Hockney-Falco thesis, some well-known artists likely used rudimentary camera obscura rooms as a tool — essentially “tracing” parts of their work.
Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid, has authored a lengthy piece for the Washington Post on what Kodak — and whoever buys its film lines — can learn from the fall of Polaroid. The article offers some interesting facts about, and insights into, the film photography industry:
Yes, Polaroid and Kodak made hundreds of millions of cameras. But that was never their principal business: The hardware existed mostly to sell film. This is what business-school professors call the razor-blade model, pioneered by Gillette: The razor is sold at minimal profit or even given away, and the blades sell for years afterward at a healthy profit margin. Amazon does the same with the Kindle, selling it cheaply to encourage enthusiastic e-book buying.
More than anything else, Polaroid’s desire in the 1990s to keep film sales up and film factories humming was what killed the company. When it should’ve been diving into a variety of digital businesses, Polaroid doubled down on analog-film production, building new production equipment and trying to economize.
The business model Bonanos describes is also known as freebie marketing.
What Kodak could still learn from Polaroid [The Washington Post]
Image credit: razor blade by scottfeldstein
YouTube illusion and science channel Brusspup recently did an anamorphic illusion project in which he photographed a few random objects resting on a piece of paper (e.g. a Rubik’s cube, a roll of tape, and a shoe), skewed them, printed them out as high-resolution prints, and then photographed them at an angle to make the prints look just like the original objects.
Stephen Dowling of BBC News has an interesting piece that tells the story of the Lomography movement and how it may be instrumental in saving film photography:
In 1991, a group of Austrian art students on a trip to nearby Prague found [...] a curious little camera [...] it produced pictures unlike anything they had seen before. The little camera was the Lomo LC-A – Lomo Kompact Automat, built in Soviet-era Leningrad by Leningrad Optics and Mechanics Association (Lomo) – and very soon a craze was born. It was an analogue Instagram in the days before digital photography.
This Lomo craze may have ended up helping save film photography from an untimely end. In 1992, the students set up Lomographic Society International, exhibiting shots taken on unwanted Lomos they had bought up from all over Eastern Europe. Then, in the mid-90s, having exhausted the supply of left-over Lomos gathering dust in Budapest, Bucharest or East Berlin, they went to the camera’s manufacturers [...] and persuaded them to restart production. The negotiations were helped along by the support of the city’s then deputy mayor, Vladimir Putin.
According to Dowling, there is speculation that Lomography is a potential suitor for Kodak’s film business that is currently for sale.
Did the Lomo camera save film photography? [BBC News]
Thanks for sending in the tip, Phil!
Image credit: LOMO LC-A e pensieri by hummyhummy
The mid-1800s was a busy time for photographic firsts. In 1838, daguerreotype inventor Louis Daguerre captured the first ever photo of a human being. One year later, in 1839, photograph pioneer Robert Cornelius stepped in front of his camera and created the first self-portrait. 1840 held yet another interesting development: the first hoax photograph.
Photographs are usually captured through viewfinders, not of viewfinders, but photographer Meggan Gould has a photo project featuring the latter. Aptly named “Viewfinders,” Gould’s series turns old analog camera viewfinders into the subject of photos, documenting both the variety of viewfinder designs and the inevitable wear and tear that results from decades of use.
During the Iranian election protests back in 2009, a 26-year-old woman named Nedā Āghā-Soltān (above right) was shot and killed while standing around and observing protestors. After footage of her death went viral online — Time says it’s likely the “most widely witnessed death in human history” — Neda’s portrait became the face of the movement, as countless protestors around the world held large prints overlaid with statements like, “Neda did not die in vain.” The problem is, one of the main photos used wasn’t actually of Neda.
In 1984, photographer Steve McCurry shot a portrait titled “Afghan Girl” that would become the defining image of his career and one of the most famous National Geographic covers ever published. In 2002, McCurry was able to locate the subject, Sharbat Gula, and learn her story. National Geographic then published a fascinating piece telling the story of the photo, the search, and the subject:
The reunion between the woman with green eyes and the photographer was quiet. On the subject of married women, cultural tradition is strict. She must not look—and certainly must not smile—at a man who is not her husband. She did not smile at McCurry. Her expression, he said, was flat. She cannot understand how her picture has touched so many. She does not know the power of those eyes.
Some interesting facts: McCurry shot the photo on Kodachrome using a Nikon FM2 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5. Gula’s identity was confirmed by comparing her iris to the Afghan Girl’s. Although she had never seen her famous portrait, Gula distinctly remembers sitting for the photo — it was one of the only times in her life that she had a photo taken of her.
A Life Revealed [National Geographic Magazine]
Image credits: Photographs by Steve McCurry/National Geographic