Incredible historic photos at the Library of Congress Flickr
The art of photography is a blip on the radar as far as history is concerned, considering it’s less than 200 years old. First photographs were often blurry, although we must admit they were huge accomplishments in and of themselves. That being said, coming across well-preserved, clear historic images is a rare treasure. The US Library of Congress has gone through the laborious process of digitizing tens of thousands of historic images, all of which are available online at its Flickr stream.
We’ve put together 50 of our favorites from the 1940s on color transparency, photochrom prints from around the world, Civil War ambrotypes and three-color glass separations of the Russian Empire. We highly recommend you reserve at least an hour of your time to head on over to the Library of Congress Photostream on Flickr and look through over 20,000 amazing historic photographs. Other great sets not to be missed include FSA Administration favorites, American Baseball and the Jazz Age.
1940s in Color (slides):
Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana, August, 1942, by Russell Lee
Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies, June, 1942, by David Bransby
Want to get started with or learn more about film photography? Check out ISSF’s Beginner’s Guide to Film Photography, featuring lots of helpful articles to get you going, including:
Guest Post by Tristan Jud. Tristan is a husband, photographer, and the founder and editor of RAW and RAW Live on Facebook. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.
My story starts over a year ago, back in April to be exact. At that stage we were posting one Interview with a photographer a day on RAW and I had come across Rachel and her film work. It didn’t take long to find “I Still Shoot Film” and my curiosity started to swirl inside me.
At that stage I was still reserved about shooting film. I had no idea and thought It would be a large expense, shooting and then getting the film developed and scanned, but more on that a little later.
About a month after we published the first interview with Rachel and I had started to follow her blog more closely, I got the opportunity to chat over skype with her. Her passion for film and “her babies” as she calls her film cameras, inspired me to perhaps delve in and give film photography ago.
Onto my earlier point, my concern was the ongoing cost of shooting film. I was still in the mind set of shooting in a digital medium where it was not uncommon for me to fire off 200-300 frames per shoot. Thinking like that and looking at the development and scanning costs, were proving that this little experience could be very costly.The monetary aspect was one thing but what about the extra time.
A few months had passed and I started to follow a few street photographers who all raved about shooting street with film and rangefinders. I had tried my hand at street photography before with both my phone and my dSLR, but the experience wasn’t there. The dSLR was too big and I didn’t feel like I could blend in. My experience with shooting street with my phone wasn’t too bad however I still wanted to shoot film and see what all the fuss was about.
I hopped on eBay to look at some rangefinders. I bid on a few and didn’t win, which was a pity, at the same time I was checking out vintage markets but I wasn’t finding anything special there. Then one day I came across a “new-old stock” Fed 5. I thought since it’s brand new I may as well grab it while it’s available.
At the same time I ordered 3 rolls of Ilford Pan 400 to test it out. I wanted the full experience, I had decided that I wanted to develop my own film and scan it myself.
The film arrived the same day as the Fed 5, I timed that right. It was time to load some film and head out. The first roll was purely trial and error. I had no idea what to expect and the whole shooting experience was completely foreign to what I was used to, everything seemed a lot slower.
I had been told that film was fairly forgiving when it came to exposure, well thats true. The funny thing is though, I found that I was thinking more about my shots. This is something that has been documented countless times.
After the first roll was shot, which actually took me about 3 days. It was time to develop. After reading the instructions getting everything together it was time. Shout out to Peter Bowdige for giving me a spare bag, spools and canister for developing. Anyway with great anticipation the film was drying. It looked good as negatives. They weren’t all completely white or black so I knew they weren’t over or underexposed.
The scanning was done and the photos were there in front of me. The photos were crap but the experience was amazing and since then I’ve been hooked. My developing is still hit and miss at the moment. Sometimes I nail it other times I’ve agitated it too much or something and the photos aren’t as clear as they should be, however I look at it completely different than digital. I look more at the photo and what is captured than the actual sharpness and level or grain. I think the unpredictability of film and the entire process of developing it gives you greater connection to the image. You actually feel like you are creating something more than just capturing it on a sensor and tweaking what you don’t like in Photoshop.
Since then I’ve been shooting lots of street photography, I published an article on how to get started which has been translated into Italian by Cultor College and has spurred a followup article with a few more things that I’ve picked up.
Where to from here, well I’ll continue to shoot street photography on my Fed 5 but I’m going to start moving into shooting landscapes and portraits with a Minolta SRT101 that I have. Eventually I’ll get myself a medium format, something that I have my eye for at the moment. I’m also going to look at how to incorporate some film into my portrait work, so there seems to be a place for film in my photography life after all.
It’s time for
the my current state of the filmosphere.
Those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed that I haven’t had a lot to say regarding some major developments in the film world… such as Kodak going bankrupt and selling their film business. Around the Web, everyone is weighing in on the impending “death of film” and what it means for photography, history and the world in general.
The truth is: I am in denial. Complete and total denial. I honestly never thought we would get to this point, but I will admit that that was naive on my part. I truly believed there would always be a loyal film following and those who stuck to using film in certain situations.
Confession: I am one of those photographers who never saw digital coming.
And now, even I find myself using less and less film in my professional work, simply because my clients don’t want to pay the extra expense. Considering I blog about film, it’s hard to express how much it pains me to say that. But unfortunately, such is the way of the world, and those who work as photographers will confirm that budget determines everything in professional shoots. Does this make me sad? Absolutely. Does my sadness help bring film back to the mainstream? Not at all.
Personally, I like to adapt without compromising my principles. This means that even as I continue to pursue my professional career as a fashion photographer (using mostly digital), I will always be loyal to film. For anything personal, I shoot film. In fact, I don’t even bring a digital camera on vacation… and when it comes to black and white, I put my foot down. The truth is that I cannot do black and white in digital, at least not the way I like it. My digital black and white photographs don’t look like “me.” I explain this to clients/collaborators who want black and white, also explaining that 99% of the black and white in my professional portfolio is film. I insist so much on this point, that there really is no other choice. But more on that in a minute…
When I started this blog almost 4 years ago, I wanted a place to share some of my photographs that I didn’t include in my book. I could never have anticipated the thriving film community that would grow around it, full of so many talented, passionate and inspired people who appreciate the true beauty of film.
There are many reasons to shoot film (some of which I’ve listed here), but in reality it isn’t something you can pinpoint. It’s a general feeling, not unlike listening to music on vinyl.
Do I think film will really die? No, but then again that could be the denial talking. My personal opinion is that we can count of the Japanese and the British (that’s right, the UK is one of the top film-consuming countries in the world!) to keep using and manufacturing film. Fuji has branched out and done quite well with its Instax and digital lines, while Ilford’s move into digital printing paper has certainly help them keep a foot in the market. You may be saying to yourself, “Kodak also had digital products and printing paper” and that is true… so I guess only time will tell.
Let me not focus only on the negative, as I truly feel there are several rays of light in this dark, ominous landscape:
First, I would like to give a big, giant shout-out and thank you to Lomography. The purists scoffing at that sentence didn’t see Lomography coming the way I didn’t see digital coming. Whatever your opinion is about plastic cameras, you cannot deny that Lomography inspired a younger generation to shoot film and created a movement. If Kodak and Fuji and Ilford die, we may just all be counting on Lomography to supply us with film.
Second, it is my firm belief that black and white will be the savior of film. Absolutely nothing recreates the look and feel of real black and white film photography. Some photographers take excellent black and white digital photographs, but that doesn’t change the fact that they will never look like film. If you’ve shot film long enough, I promise you can tell the difference.
Third, landscape photography is an art in and of itself. For the moment, large format film still blows digital out of the water. That may not be true in 10 years, but it still is now, and film can be made to just about any size.
So who are you if you shoot film today? Most people would probably say one of these four:
You’re nostalgic and/or old.
You’re a hipster.
You have a commitment to technique and are probably a photo snob.
You’re a landscape photographer.
While some of these generalizations may be true (I can occasionally be guilty of #3), they do not define what it means to shoot film. I could care less why someone shoots film; if they do, it’s something that joins us together. It’s an understanding of something that can’t be described. Perhaps it has something to do with absorbing a moment in time, an act which is quite magical. To this day, I remember the very first moment I put a piece of photo paper into a developing tray and watched as the image appeared before my eyes. It felt magical to me then.
At this point, I am heartbroken and making a plea to all of you to please shoot some film.
Regardless of why you do it, when you shoot film you honor tradition, technique, and process. You use patience and discipline. You help keep an art form alive. You appreciate not knowing, visualizing in your mind and using your imagination.
And to my digital-only photographers out there, try shooting a roll of film. You may just find yourself inspired afterward.
LEARN TO THINK IN BLACK AND WHITE
If you’re shooting in black and white, your biggest handicap is that your own eyes see in color. Color is vibrant and therefore dominating. Being able to perfectly visualize what you are looking at in black and white can massively improve your black and white photography. This is even more true if you are working in film, as you don’t have a screen which you can set to black and white.
Learning to turn off your “color vision” is neither easy nor difficult - it just takes some practice. If you make the effort, it will happen. Look at black and white images as much as possible, and then try to imagine them in color. Observe how the light looks indoors and outdoors at different times of day, intensity of shadows, shapes, forms and textures - they all look different in black and white versus color.
For example, if you are photographing a woman wearing red lipstick, it will be gray or black in black and white (depending on the shade of red and intensity of color.) Green leaves look gray. Navy blue turns black. Over time, you will be able to look at any scene around you and be able to imagine it perfectly in black and white, with different degrees of contrast.
PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHT
Paying attention to light is a basic tip for improving photography all together, considering photography is based on light. The way light falls on objects, landscapes and people is even more important in black and white, as there is no color information. The intensity of the light and how it interacts with the surroundings are key factors in black and white photography. If you’re using artificial light, you can control these factors. If you’re using natural light, you’ll need to learn to work them to your best advantage to achieve the style you want.
The time of year, time of day and position in regards to the sun are factors to take into consideration when shooting with natural light. Sunlight at noon in June does not look the same as at noon in January. Considering you won’t be able to alter the color balance to fit the mood you want, these factors become even more important.
PAY EQUAL ATTENTION TO SHADOW
Great shadow detail can truly make a black and white photograph look amazing. When shooting film, this works to your advantage as you’ll have more detail in the shadow areas than if shooting digital. Look for interesting patterns and textures when working in shadows, and to obtain maximum detail, meter the darkest area of what you are photographing and bracket based on that reading.
KNOW YOUR FILM
When shooting black and white film, your choice of film brand plays as significant a role as your lighting and camera settings. Grain size, contrast, sharpness, tonal range and push/pull factor will all vary with different types of black and white film. For example, many people rave about Ilford HP5 400 but personally I find it has too much contrast and grain for the type of black and white work I like to do. On the same note, Ilford FP4 tends to be my go-to black and white film because it’s extremely sharp, fine-grained and looks fantastic when pushed a stop or two. Everyone has their own specific taste and style when it comes to black and white photography and playing around with different types of film can help you find what works for you.
PUSH AND PULL
As I just mentioned, I like to push FP4 a stop. A lot. Why? Because it gives that extra little pop of contrast, for black blacks and white whites. If you were going for a more faded, vintage, washed-out look, pulling your film a stop or two would help you achieve this effect. Pushing and pulling can also save you in difficult lighting situations when you don’t have another ISO available.
WHEN SHOOTING PEOPLE, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EYES
Have you ever noticed how Richard Avedon’s black and white portraits always have these ridiculously intense, piercing eyes? That’s because he bleached the eyes in his prints to lighten them. If you don’t want to mess with chemicals, you can also get this effect by dodging (both in the darkroom and/or in photo editing software.) If you’re an absolute purist, you can use a reflector but prepared for the model to squint.
For more help with film photography, check out:
“I like photographing women who appear to know something of life. I recently did a session with a great beauty, a movie star in in her thirties. I photographed her twice within three weeks and the second time I said: “You’re much more beautiful today than you were three weeks ago.” And she replied: “But I’m also three weeks older.”
Helmut Newton, White Women