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Friday, 10 August 2012


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In those days (I remember them well), US Camera had degenerated into pretty much of a travel magazine. Pop and Mod were where we anxiously got the latest photography news (three months later).

Still think there's room for magazines...look at Garden and Gun, Oxford American, etc. They will be for narrow markets and walk a tight financial line, but they'll survive...Love all these old photo mags, try to pick them up when I can....

I no longer have much interest for most of the rags out there. 2 exceptions though. #1 LensWork which really isn't a magazine but a neat little, softcover photo book. I'm sure many folks here know how great the photo reproductions are. #2 The USA's B&W. A large well thought out publication that includes portfolios and good articles with information on the art side of photography.

Thanks, Ken. Now I really miss my Nikon SP.

I've been following TOP since the beginning, and I don't recall even one mention of Aperture. I know it's not a typical magazine, but I think Aperture and the Aperture Foundation are worthy topics for an article someday.

@ Bill: Indeed, at the end of the 1960's U.S. Camera found itself losing ground and took the move to broaden towards a travel photo magazine. American Express eventually bought it and it became today's Travel + Leisure.

@ Ed: That's a real keeper of an issue! But it's outside of my interest range. I'm really not collecting the magazine (all current evidence and bills to the contrary) but simply using them. I'll certainly eventually dump most of them at the end of the project.

@ Tom: Yes, perhaps a few titles will survive 10+ years but not many. The costs are simply too high and rising too quickly. Plus big advertisers are become very, very scarce as they're getting much better, and more accountable, results from electronic media.

@ MJFerron: Me either. But I do still subscribe to BJP (the best), PDN (digital version only), LFI (still have a bit of a Leica itch and I love the mag), and Aperture (mostly art rather than camera). I don't foresee dropping any of these in the coming year. But the hobby magazines such as PopPhoto are definitely like having a conversation with a parrot.

Dear Folks,

In **real** adjusted dollars (not COLI-adjusted $), you need to multiply the prices in those ads by 15-20X.

Kilobuck digitals start to look like really good deals.

pax / Ctein

Well, as long as we're showing off, here's the first issue of Pop Photo from May 1937. Must have been pretty racy for 1937.

A good magazine from the 1940s was "The Complete Photographer Quarterly" edited by Willard Morgan. It was eventually put together as the 20 volume "The Encyclopedia of Photography".
I personally prefer a printed magazine especially for visual arts such as photography.

Hooley gallooley.... Fifty cents for a magazine in 1938 was an absolute FORTUNE !! Now at least we can get into photography without mortgaging the house! And the prices for cameras were also very high considering wages. But I bet half the cameras built in 1938 still operate, or can be made to do so by mechanically minded technicians. Try fixing a point and shoot today! Fascinating article, Ken

This is quite tangential to your main point, but the 50s and 60s were "peaceful"? I guess, aside from Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Cuba (revolution, missile crisis, and Bay of Pigs), McCarthy, other domestic redhunters, and Cointelpro.

Not a photo magazine, but for a stroll back, check this out. How we loved photo catalogs on paper!


Tower chemistry, even!

"Comparing a 1950s photo magazine to, say, an issue of today's British Journal of Photography is a breathtaking object lesson in the progress that printing and repro technologies have made in 60+ years."

Some of that is because printing and repro technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds... Some of it is also because "hobbyist", "trade", and other limited interest magazines didn't generally get the top drawer treatment. Compare a National Geographic, or a Life from the same era to the camera mags, and you'll see a dramatic difference.

I seem to remember that photo mags in 80s mostly had articles like "Is A better than B? We don't know and tell you why."

If you want to see some really neat Kodak ads, I did a blogpost on them some time ago at


These are from a magazine published in China in the 20s and 30s and they show there is nothing new in marketing.

The one thing that hasn't changed much is the price of cameras. I would have thought that in 1955 $150 to $200 would be a heck of a price. I think that relates to about a years worth of groceries for a family of 4.

There is still hope.

Make Everything Ok -> http://www.make-everything-ok.com/

Aren't we told over and over that the best way to view an image, and perhaps assess it's quality is in print?
Referring to MJFerron's comment above, will there always be a place for magazines that show portfolios as their primary reason for existing?

There was a time years ago in the UK when it seemed that every technical point was illustrated in the same way. For example, here would be an black and white illustration of the effect of an orange filter on blue skies. Oh look, it's a woman with no clothes on! Or, this is the sort of picture you can take with the camera's self timer. Oh look, it's a woman with no clothes on!

I quite like looking at pictures of women, but that's not what I bought the magazine for*. No names mentioned, but if you substituted the letters h,o,t, with o,r,n in those magazine's titles you would get their nicknames.

I still have a copy of Photo Technique from 1972 (It's not one of the magazines I refer to above) which I read again and again until it fell to pieces. It was one of the first couple of photo magazines I ever had.

*To be honest, I was a teenager and the pictures of undressed women might just have persuaded me to make the occasional impulse purchase. But it all got boring after a while.

This made me flash on one of Fred Spira's 400mm F8 presets. The penultimate back of the photo book wonder.

"Photography was still a largely mechanical and chemical undertaking that did not demand the prerequisite aptitudes that later eras would require. (That's a significant point, more closely related"

I find that presumption a fallacy and the opposite of what is true. Getting good pictures nowadays is easier than ever and requires absolutely no skill or aptitude compared to the old days. Then, real skills were needed, nothing was automatic, and darkroom skills were necessary as well. Photography has been endlessly dumbed down in the years since, less skills and aptitude being required in each successive 'advance'.

I loved the Spiratone ads in the late 60s, every gizmo imaginable. I still have a metal Spiratone screw-in lens cap I used to protect one end of my stack of various types of fiilters.

"With ... high-resolution displays ... the common availability of ... cheap broadband data transmission, publishers can produce and distribute a much richer product more quickly than ever. Readers reap great benefits."
Is this really true? I sure would like it to be but remember what happened to cable TV? It seems that the exact same amount of meaningful TV content got diluted onto hundreds of channels instead of just a handful. Does easier transmission have any chances to improve the content or does it just make it easier for sub par content to get published?

Thanks for this Ken - looking forward to the rest of the series.

I still use a Rolleiflex occasionally, and it was curious seeing the advert pointing out the multiple possibilities of a "waist level" finder.. A bit like the reasons people give for embracing articulated LCD's

Interesting article.

How long did US Camera last? I'm having trouble finding much information on it on the web, and I don't remember ever seeing an issue of it (and I started doing darkroom work in 1968, got my first SLR in 1969). I subscribed to both Modern and Popular Photography in the 70s.

I spent some time photographing ads out of some 60s through 80s photo magazines back in January. I'm amused at how similar the ads look to your 1955 examples (dealer ads, not the fancier manufacturer ads).

Slightly OT, but I was a bit annoyed by the excessive intrusion of Leica sponsorhip in Davidson interview. Is it just me?

I, too, fondly remember those days. When a new issue arrived I put everything on hold and read the magazine cover to cover.

I started getting serious about photography in 1958 and owned some of the cameras shown in the above ad. The Nikon S2 and a Rolleicord V-a, and the Exacta VX is sitting on my desk as I write this. It and my first Nikon F alternate as paperweights.

Easier transmission makes it feasible for businesses to fill some niche markets that weren't previously profitable. On the web, transmission is so easy that it's possible for hobbyists to fill niches that the businesses can't make a go of, too.

Which is not to say that below-par content isn't produced to excess; it is. That one will always exist, since that's a question of personal opinion, and we don't all agree. Sometimes a low level of writing that completely turns one person off is worth plowing through for the insights or information contained to another person.

Ed, I think the point is that getting a technically successful photograph used to be so hard that succeeding was often considered good enough. Today, in contrast, that's the minimum baseline from which everybody starts, and to succeed at photography today you have to do much, much, more than produce properly exposed, sharply focused shots.

"Then, real skills were needed, nothing was automatic, and darkroom skills were necessary as well. Photography has been endlessly dumbed down in the years since, less skills and aptitude being required in each successive 'advance'."

Yeah, ever since they started putting coupled light meters in cameras it's been ridiculously easy to take pictures. Just match the needle focus and press the button without even thinking about it. Whats the fun in that?

@ Marc Rochkind: Geez, that is a rather racy cover on that 1937 Pop Photo! Hard to discern if the image is actually designed to promote (a) towels/shower caps, (b) tooth powder (they didn't have paste in '37), (c) preventative self-exams, or (d) tile caulk cleaner. But films of that "pre-code" era tended to be a bit racy, too.

@ Andrew Burda: Haw, indeed no, the world has never seen a year of real peace and the 50's / early 60's were no exceptions. But although the Korean "War" was bubbling from '50 to '53 and civil rights issues were rising most the U.S. was nonetheless in a post-WWII sense of ease and optimism for a short time.

@ Marco: Leica sponsored and produced the Davidson piece, so I think they'd be disappointed if he didn't endorse their products. But I also know that he used M cameras and lenses extensively, although not exclusively.

Although the following topic is outside of this article's discussion let me slightly clarify my remark: "Photography was still a largely mechanical and chemical undertaking that did not demand the prerequisite aptitudes that later eras would require." to avoid unnecessary debate.

In the pre-digital photo era there were no fundamental cultural or educational barriers to practicing photography. As Kodak's early slogan suggested, "You press the (shutter) button, we do the rest." It was an avocation equally open to plumbers and physicists and could be pursued to whatever depth one's time, finances and interests permitted.

The advent of the digital era imposed a fundamental shift away from that proposition. Entry into early digital photography required a degree of knowledge and comfort with personal computers and data storage concepts. That is, you needed a certain aptitude and/or pre-orientation to make your way into photography during that time. That had the effect of social-filtering new entrants and stifling existing practitioners from progressing. The physicist, who was likely comfortable with computers, would have little problem adopting digital imaging. The plumber, possibly not.

So what I'm really doing is trying to get some assessment of how the transition to digital photography has impacted various trajectories of avocational and art photography.

This is just a personal research project, not a doctoral thesis. ;-)

See also a Set of images that would later become The Americans U.S. Camera 1958 Robert Frank by Walker Evans Photography http://bintphotobooks.blogspot.nl/2012/01/set-of-images-that-would-later-become.html

While I'm sure the environment is better off with less paper consumption, I'm not sure if it will deal all that well with an unceasing flood of discarded monitors.

"One last point worth noting: the camera magazines of the 1950s and 1960s looked terrible compared to today's magazines. The type is rough, the graphic line screens are coarse, the layouts are often nutty and the paper can be frail."

Well, sure, the paper is frail--it's 60 years old. They used cheap pulp paper--acid and lignin, it's going to rot over time. But the paper used today for most magazines is not much different. In 60 years, it too will be frail.

Today you are likely to see higher line screens--85 to 110 lpi, vs. less than 85 lpi that was common in the 50s. And full color. Color repro is definitely better now.

On the other hand, the switch to computer-based layouts has certainly enabled its share of "nutty" layouts in the magazine world. That's a function of graphic designers, not technology.

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