Sharing the View

A web page for sharing images and ideas about the creative process and the making of an illustrated book for children.

Time travel with a photograph

A photographer is like a cod, which produces a million eggs in order that one may reach maturity.
— George Bernard Shaw

From time to time this blog will take a break from the subject of making a children's book and talk about other creative pursuits.  And since photography has shaped my artistic vision for so many years let's start there.

At its most basic level photography is capturing light on a sensitive surface such as a piece of film, and then using that film to make a photograph on a piece of paper. I have a family heirloom camera that belonged to a great great uncle that I never met. He maintained his camera and the notes about its use with fastidious care. It's like new.

The old family camera, which was made in 1915. My great great uncle's exposure notes were probably made in the 1920s or 30s.

The old family camera, which was made in 1915. My great great uncle's exposure notes were probably made in the 1920s or 30s.

I use that camera in much the same way he did all those years ago, by making contact prints. A contact print is a very simple thing to make and requires no special tools; you just need a lightbulb, a negative, a piece of photo paper and the liquid solutions to develop the print. By placing the negative directly on top of and in contact with the photo paper (hence the name) and shining a light through it you achieve a print that is the exact size of the negative used. I made a short video below showing a negative and the resulting contact print together:

That's my son; I explained to him that people in the 1920s rarely smiled in photos - depicting people smiling is a fairly recent thing actually - and so he obliged for this photo and looked serious, however briefly.

There is some kind of alchemy happening here.  I don't mean the magic of chemistry and physics that happens when I shine light on paper and an image forms, although that is fascinating in its own right.  It's more about the passage of time.  I'm using a camera that was made in 1915 to make a photograph of my teenager in these  modern times, but this camera depicts light and surface with its own particular signature, a signature from its own distant past.  Even though this print is fresh and new and very much from this day, because of the way it was made it is also anchored to the past, and to the lives of those that came before. 

And oddly when I hold it I'm transported to the distant future, a very old man remembering when my son was young. This little snapshot feels like an antique.

Jeffrey Warden