Lady Eastlake, traditionally considered the first photography critic
I have wonderful news for your ongoing photographic education: assuming you haven't already, you can read the entire corpus of one of the earliest critics of photography in one short go.
You have only to read "Photography" by Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, née Rigby, at A.D. Coleman's website, and Bob's yer uncle. (Er...Barb's yer aunt?) As a bonus, it's quite wonderful. Required reading for every student of the medium. (I first read it as, yup, a student.) Her 1857 essay is the only thing she wrote on the subject, but she ignited the conversation in a number of ways. A very interesting person.
Allan's even briefer commentary is also wonderful.
Lady Eastlake, to quote the aforementioned critic, even "...considers the various photographic technologies, with their capacities and limitations, in sufficient detail to convince the reader that, if she did not herself have hands-on experience with the tools, materials, and processes as an amateur practitioner, she had read and understood the technical manuals, listened closely to photographers discussing their craft, and perhaps peered over their shoulders as they worked in the darkroom."
And apropos that, I was entertained to find her complaining about, you'll never guess, dynamic range: "The impatience of light to meet light is, as we have stated, so great, that the moment required to trace the forms of the sky (it can never be traced in its cloudless gradation of tint) is too short for the landscape, and the moment more required for the landscape too long for the sky. If the sky be given, therefore, the landscape remains black and underdone; if the landscape be rendered, the impatient action of the light has burnt out all cloud-form in one blaze of white."
It's as I've always said: the taming of contrast is the main technical concern of outdoor photographers. Always was, still is. (We're getting there, though.)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jim Zietz: "Wasn't landscape photography even more difficult with the orthochromatic films of the day? Blue sky = white sky in print."
Mike replies: Actually that's a myth, as deconstructed by Prof. Joel Snyder of the University of Chicago in a Timothy O'Sullivan exhibit I saw once. The failure of the reciprocity law caused uneven mottling in overexposed skies, which the early practitioners then masked out. Hence the uniform white skies of many albumen prints—kind of a pretty effect because of the beautiful "paper white" of albumen emulsion. But that was later than Lady Eastlake's time.
Dan Gorman: "My favorite line from Eastlake's essay: '...[Photography] unites men of the most diverse lives, habits, and stations, so that whoever enters its ranks finds himself in a kind of republic, where it needs apparently but to be a photographer to be a brother.' Sounds a lot like TOP itself! Cheers (and congrats on the upcoming move)!"
Mike replies: Isn't that great? It's one reason I insist on first names around here, despite sometimes great differences in status. A few people have not been happy with that practice, most notably John Szarkowski, but with Lady Eastlake's imprimatur I think we'll keep on truckin' with it.