An Introduction to Digital Photography: Take a Free Course from Stanford Prof/Google Researcher Marc Levoy

in How to Learn for Free, Online Courses, Photography | September 9th, 2016

Photography and video have advanced to such a degree that any one of us, for a modest investment of capital, can own the requisite equipment to make productions at the same level of quality as the pros. And most of us already hold in our hands computers capable of producing and editing hundreds of rich still and moving images. What we may lack, what most of us lack, are the skills and experience of the professionals. No amount of fancy photo gear can make up the difference, but you can at least acquire the education—a very thorough, technical education in digital photography—online, and for free.

Taught by Stanford professor Emeritus of Computer Science Marc Levoy, the course above, simply called “Lectures on Digital Photography,” covers seemingly everything you might need to know and then some: from the parts of a digital camera (“every screw”), to the formula for depth of field, the principles of high dynamic range, and the history and art of photographic composition.

Beware, this course may not suit the casual Instagrammer—it requires aspiration and “a cell phone won’t suffice.” Additionally, though Levoy says he assumes no prior knowledge, he does expect a few non-camera-related academic skill sets:

The only knowledge I assume is enough facility and comfort with mathematics that you’re not afraid to see the depth-of-field formula in all its glory, and an integral sign here or there won’t send you running for the hills. Some topics will require concepts from elementary probability and statistics (like mean and variance), but I define these concepts in lecture. I also make use of matrix algebra, but only at the level of matrix multiplication. Finally, an exposure to digital signal processing or Fourier analysis will give you a better intuition for some topics, but it is not required.

Sound a little daunting? You will not need an expensive SLR camera (single lens reflex), though it would help you get the most out of complex discussions of settings. The topics of some interactive features may sound mystifying—“gamut-mapping,” “cylindrical-panoramas”—but Levoy’s lectures, all in well-shot video, move at a brisk pace, and he contextualizes new scientific terms and concepts with a facility that will put you at ease. Levoy formerly taught the course at Stanford between 2009 and 2014. The version he teaches online here comes from a Google class given this year—eighteen lectures spanning 11 weeks.

Find all of the course materials—including interactive applets and assignments—at Levoy’s course site. As he notes, since the course has “gone viral,” many videos embedded on the site won’t play properly. Levoy directs potential students to his Youtube channel. You can see the full playlist of lectures at the top of this post as well.  For more resources in photography education—practical and theoretical, beginner to advanced—see PetaPixel’s list of “the best free online photography courses and tutorials.”

Lectures on Digital Photography” will be added to our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via PetaPixel

Related Content:

Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers: Skip the Fancy Equipment & Just Shoot

The Photographer Reveals the Philosophy, Techniques & Artistry of Edward Weston (1948)

See the First Known Photograph Ever Taken (1826)

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Launches Free Course on Looking at Photographs as Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Make a Comment ( None )

Eadweard Muybridge’s Motion Photography Experiments from the 1870s Presented in 93 Animated Gifs

in Animation, Photography | September 9th, 2016


When a horse trots, do all four of its hooves ever leave the ground at once? At one time, we not only had no answer to that question, we had no way of finding out. But in 1872, when the matter piqued the curiosity of Leland Stanford, tycoon, former governor of California, co-founder of Stanford University, and race-horse owner, it did so at just the right time. Having made a bet on the answer, Stanford called on an English photographer named Eadweard Muybridge, known for his work in such then-cutting-edge subfields as time-lapse and stereography, and tasked him with figuring it out. Using a series of cameras activated by trip wires as the horse trotted past, Muybridge proved that all four of its hooves do indeed leave the ground, winning Stanford the wager.


But that only began his groundbreaking work in motion photography, which made it so, in the words of the Library of Congress, “viewers of the late 19th century were able to see in a sequence of photos every step taken by a horse at full gallop, the sleek movements of a cat running and each flap of the wings of a bird in flight.”


He later developed what he called the Zoopraxiscope: “One inserted a disc with images around the edge into the device, which rotated and projected the images onto a screen. The discs were usually painted glass based on Muybridge’s photographs. The effect was to give the audience an impression of movement, bringing Muybridge’s work to life.” Imagine how that would have looked to someone who’d never seen — who’d never even imagined — organic-looking movement in manmade art?

You can see 93 of Muybridge’s moving photographs, zoopraxiscope discs, and other experiments in decoding the movement of living things and granting it to images at Wikimedia Commons. “Although Eadweard Muybridge thought of himself primarily as an artist, he encouraged the aura of scientific investigation that surrounded his project,” says the site of Freeze Frame, the National Museum of American History’s exhibition of his work. It makes sense that Muybridge, who qualified as an eccentric as well as a genius, would occupy the space between art and science, inquiry and creation, reality and illusion — and it makes sense to view the fruits of his labors as animated GIFs, their technological descendants that also looked pretty impressive, so I recall, when first we laid eyes on them.

Related Content:

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Painting the Earliest Form of Cinema?

The History of the Movie Camera in Four Minutes: From the Lumiere Brothers to Google Glass

Watch the Films of the Lumière Brothers & the Birth of Cinema (1895)

One Trillion Frames Per Second: The Science of Capturing Light in Motion

Thomas Edison’s Boxing Cats (1894), or Where the LOLCats All Began

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

by | Make a Comment ( 1 )

The History of Russia in 70,000 Photos: New Photo Archive Presents Russian History from 1860 to 1999

in History, Photography | September 2nd, 2016

1860 Rider

Back in college, I took a survey class on Russian history, taught by one of these people who take up the profession in their active retirement after a career spent working in the field. This particular professor had gone to work for the State Department after graduate school and served in various posts in Soviet Russia for several decades. The format of his class seemed unremarkable on paper. One standard syllabus, one bulky, expensive textbook. But the classes themselves consisted of long, fascinating stories about personal encounters with Brezhnev and Gorbachev, or journeys into ancient Kiev, or to the outer reaches of the Steppes.

1920 Red Square

All that was missing from those vivid recollections was a comparable photo essay to tell the story visually. This has been remedied and then some by the “The History of Russia,” an enormous joint archive project from Moscow’s Multimedia Art Museum and Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine. The archive contains over 70,000 photos, gathered from “more than 40 institutions and collections,” writes Hyperallergic, and representing “over 150 years of photographs capturing all sorts of scenes of Russian life.”

August Putsch

Non-Russian speakers can load the site in Google Chrome and have it translated into English. Additionally, “a timeline allows you to browse by date, a map enables location-based searches, and preset categories filter the images by theme.” Russian speakers can enter specific keywords into the site’s search engine. Currently, the archive features an exhibition on the August Putsch, the 1991 coup attempt on the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev, staged by hard-line Communist Party Members opposed to reform. See one iconic photo of that historical event above, and many more at the virtual exhibition.

Christmas Tree in Luzhniki Stadium

The late 1980s and 90s may be a period of particular interest for students and writers of Russian history, like David Remnick, and for good reason. But every decade in the archive holds its own fascination. Stately portraits from the 1860s, like that at the top of the post, show us the society of Tolstoy in the decade he serialized War and Peace. Photos from the 20s, like the satirical display in Red Square, further down, show us the days of Lenin’s rule and the early years of the Soviet Union. Images from the 50s give us unique insider views—often impossible at the time—of ordinary Soviet life at the height of the Cold War, such as the Christmas tree in the Luzhniki Stadium, above, or the man leading an elephant from the Red Army Theater, below.

Elephant Red Army Theater

The 60s in particular look like a Life magazine spread, with dramatic photos of Olympic athletes in training, statesmen posed with wives and children, and hundreds of arresting pictures from everyday life, like that of two boys boxing below. The huge galleries can be a little cumbersome to navigate and require some patience on the part of the non-Russian-speaking user. But that patience is richly rewarded with photograph after photograph of a country we rarely hear spoken of in less than inflammatory terms. We encounter, of course, the odd portrait of Stalin and other well-worn propaganda images, but for the most part, the photos look and feel candid, and for good reason.

1962 Boys Boxing

“According to a release,” Hyperallergic writes, “many of the photographs are published here for the first time, partly because the portal invites users to upload, describe, and tag images from personal archives. It has the feel of a museum collection”—and also of a family photo album stretching back generations. “The History of Russia” archive offers occasional context in addition to the dates, names, and locations of subjects. But informative text appears rarely, and in nearly unreadable translations for us non-speakers. Nonetheless, a few hours lost in these galleries feel like a near total immersion in Russian history. You can enter the archive here.

Group Portrait 1900

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

The First Color Portrait of Leo Tolstoy, and Other Amazing Color Photos of Czarist Russia (1908)

Beautiful, Color Photographs of Paris Taken 100 Years Ago—at the Beginning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Download 650 Soviet Book Covers, Many Sporting Wonderful Avant-Garde Designs (1917-1942)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Make a Comment ( 1 )

Download 100,000 Photos of 20 Great U.S. National Parks, Courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

in History, Photography | August 29th, 2016


The story of the U.S.’s national parks isn’t one story, but many. These have been told and retold since the founding of the National Park Service, a century ago this past Thursday. And they stretch back even further, to the Civil War, the conquering and settling of the west, and the beginnings of the American conservation movement. Nearly every one of us who grew up within a cramped, contentious family car ride from one (or more) of those parks has our own story to tell. But our nostalgic memories can conflict with the history. Virginia and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, for example—the park closest to my childhood home—offers visitors an idyllic vision of Appalachian life and landscape. But the founding and construction of the park in the 1930s and 40s was anything but.


On the one hand, the building of the gorgeously scenic, 469-mile highway provided jobs for out-of-work civilians and, later, conscientious objectors under FDR’s Works Progress Administration, Emergency Relief Administration, and Civilian Conservation Corps. On the other hand, the federal government’s seizure of the land created hardships for existing farmers and landowners, forced sometimes to sell their property or to obtain permission for building and development. The Park Service project also engendered resentment among the Eastern Cherokee, who fought the Parkway, and won some concessions. (In one story that represents both of these hardships, a Cherokee man Jerry Wolfe tells WRAL what it was like to work on the road, one that ran directly through the cabin he once shared with his parents.)

Planting Plan Blue Ridge

To celebrate their 100 years of existence, the National Park Service has launched what it calls its Open Parks Network, a portal to thousands of photographs and documents dating from the very beginnings of many of its parks—some of which, like Yosemite and Yellowstone, came under federal protection before the NPS existed, and some, like New York’s Stonewall Inn, only given protected monumental status this year. The Open Parks Network includes over 20 different parks and several dozen collections that document specific periods.

Great Smoky Mountains Shelton

In the case of Blue Ridge Parkway, we have only one—a collection of the park’s engineering plans. One might hope for images of those toiling Depression-era crews, or of the anxious faces of the region’s residents. But instead we can piece together the story of the park through fascinating documents like the “Planting Plan” further up, from 1965, which reminds us how much the natural beauty of the Parkway is achieved through human intervention. And we can imagine what many of those early-20th century Appalachian folks looked like in historic photos like that above, from a collection of Great Smokey Mountains photographs taken in the teens and 20s by Jim Shelton.

Lincoln's Birthplace Nearby House

Regardless of how much meddling we have done to create the scenic overlooks and mountain and Redwood underpasses that constitute the nation’s protected parks, there’s no denying their appeal to us all, nature lovers and otherwise, as symbols of the country’s rough grandeur. We can skip the hikes and long car rides, or plan for them in the future, surveying the parks’ beauty through over 100,000 high-resolution digital scans of photographs and 200,000 images in all, including more galleries of building plans, maps, and illustrations. Some of the galleries are quite unusual—like this collection of aerial infrared photographs of the Great Smoky Mountains, or this one of “historic goats” of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. And many of the photos—like the faded 1968 photo of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, further up, look just like your family vacation photos.


There are beautiful historical images like that of a house near Hodgenville, Kentucky, site of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, further up; images of park rangers and staff, like the charming group photo above from Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia; and sublime vistas like the photo at the top of the post from the Kings Mountain National Military Park in Yosemite Valley. The Open Parks Network, writes Joe Toneli at Digg, “is constantly being added to, and is an important tool in preserving the history of the NPS and the national monuments it protects.” Developed in partnership with Clemson University since 2010, Open Parks hosts all public domain images, free to explore and download. See this guide for a detailed explanation on how to best navigate the collections, all of which are fully searchable.


Each image, like that of Yosemite Falls, above, has options for viewing full-screen and zooming in and out. So absorbing are these archives, you may find yourself getting lost in them, and any one of these beautifully-preserved parks and their incredible histories offer welcome places to get lost for several hours, or several days. For even more historic photography from the nation’s many parks, see selections online from the Eastman Museum’s current exhibit, Photography and America’s National Parks, “designed,” writes Johnny Simon at Quartz, “to inspire people to look at national landscape just as Teddy Roosevelt once did, a century ago.”

Enter Open Parks here.

via Digg

Related Content:

226 Ansel Adams Photographs of Great American National Parks Are Now Online

The New York Public Library Lets You Download 180,000 Images in High Resolution: Historic Photographs, Maps, Letters & More

The Beauty of Space Photography

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Make a Comment ( 1 )

1850s Japan Comes to Life in 3D, Color Photos: See the Stereoscopic Photography of T. Enami

in History, Photography | August 29th, 2016


For about a quarter of a millennium, Japan had a policy called sakoku, literally meaning “closed country,” which put to death foreigners who dared enter to Japan, or Japanese who dared to leave it. It came to an end with the Meiji Restoration, the period between 1868 to 1912, during which Japan put the Emperor back in charge and, as historians often say, began to “open up” to the outside world, lighting out on the path to its own kind of modernity. Foreigners would still have had only a vague idea of Japanese life at the time — at least those without access to a stereoscope, and who thus couldn’t lay eyes on the vivid 3D photography of Yokohama’s T. Enami.


“To many whose lives revolved around photography — including both Japanese and foreign professionals, as well as serious amateurs — Enami was not just a photographer, but a ‘photographer’s photographer,'” writes Enami enthusiast Rob Oechsle on his site He also dubs his photographic hero (who was born Nobukuni Enami in 1859 and lived until 1929, seeing the end of the Meiji era but not the beginning of the second world war) “King of the Stereoview, Master of the Lantern-Slide, Prolific, Anonymous Contributor To the World of Meiji-era Yokohama Album Views, Dedicated Street Photographer, and Honored Alumnus of National Geographic Magazine.”


That first title has granted a portion of Enami’s large body of work a surprising recent afterlife. Following in his teacher’s footsteps, Enami refined the Japanese use of the stereographic camera, a device that produced, writes the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Zoe Clayton, a stereograph: “two pictures mounted next to each other, viewed with a set of lenses known as a stereoscope.  Taken around 7cm apart, roughly corresponding to the spacing of the eyes, the left picture represents what the left eye would see, and likewise for the right, so when observing the pictures through a stereoscopic viewer, the pair of photographs converge into a single three-dimensional image.”


Advertised with slogans like “See the world from your parlor!,” this “optical marvel took the world by storm in the mid 19th century, becoming the first ever mass-produced photographic images sold,” their popularity such that “every Victorian home — regardless of class — had a stereoscope and a collection of views.” And though the years have made stereoscopes a little hard to come by, the internet has discovered that you can enjoy something like the same 3D effect Victorian viewers did by looking at an animated GIF that oscillates quickly between the left picture and the right one. Enami hand-tinted many of his stereographs, resulting in colored historical images that look, even in two dimensions, startlingly realistic today.


Here we present only a few of Enami’s stereographs, but you can see a much fuller collection at Oeschle’s “Old Japan in 3D” Flickr page. He survived 1923’s Great Kantō earthquake, but his studio didn’t; he rebuilt it and later passed it on to his son, who ran the place until it underwent a second destruction in 1945 by Allied bombs. Though Enami’s name remains known primarily to fans of Meiji-era photography, his posthumous reputation has slowly but steadily grown: one of his photos even appeared on the cover of the first edition of Odyssey: the Art of Photography at National Geographic. These GIFs have already sparked an interest in Enami’s work among a new generation. When 3D monitors catch on, perhaps he’ll rise to his true place in the photographic pantheon.

via Boing Boing

Related Content:

Hand-Colored 1860s Photographs Reveal the Last Days of Samurai Japan

Hand-Colored Photographs of 19th Century Japan

Advertisements from Japan’s Golden Age of Art Deco

Glorious Early 20th-Century Japanese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902-1954)

Early Japanese Animations: The Origins of Anime (1917-1931)

A Photographic Tour of Haruki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Memory, and Reality Meet

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

by | Make a Comment ( 2 )

Rome Comes to Life in Photochrom Color Photos Taken in 1890: The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain & More

in Photography, Poetry, Travel | August 26th, 2016

1890 Colosseum

For almost two hundred years, English gentlemen could not consider their education complete until they had taken the “Grand Tour” of Europe, usually culminating in Naples, “ragamuffin capital of the Italian south,” writes Ian Thomson at The Spectator. Italy was usually the primary focus, such that Samuel Johnson remarked in 1776, perhaps with some irony, “a man who has not been to Italy is always conscious of an inferiority.” The Romantic poets famously wrote of their European sojourns: Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth… each has his own “Grand Tour” story.

1890 Trevi Fountain

Shelley, who traveled with his wife Mary Godwin and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, did not go to Italy, however. And Byron sailed the Mediterranean on his Grand Tour, forced away from most of Europe by the Napoleonic wars. But in 1817, he journeyed to Rome, where he wrote the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul!
The orphans of the heart must turn to thee,
Lone mother of dead empires! And control
In their shut breasts their petty misery.

For the traveling artist and philosopher, “Italy,” Thomson writes, “presented a civilization in ruins,” and we can see in all Romantic writing the tremendous influence visions of Rome and Pompeii had on gentlemen poets like Byron. The Grand Tour, and journeys like it, persisted until the 1840s, when railroads “spelled the end of solitary aristocratic travel.” But even decades afterward, we can see Rome (and Venice) the way Byron might have seen it—and almost, even, in full color. As we step into the vistas of these postcards from 1890, we are far closer to Byron than we are to the Rome of our day, before Mussolini’s monuments, notorious snarls of Roman traffic, and throngs of tourists.

1890 Trumphal Arch

“These postcards of the ancient landmarks of Rome,” writes Mashable, “were produced… using the Photochrom process, which adds precise gradations of artificial color to black and white photos.” Invented by Swiss printer Orell Gessner Fussli, the process involved creating lithographic stone from the negatives—“Up to 15 different tinted stones could be involved in the production of a single picture, but the result was remarkably lifelike color at a time when true color photography was still in its infancy.”

temple rome

The Library of Congress hosts forty two of these images in their online catalog, all downloadable as high quality jpegs or tiffs, and many, like the stunning image of the Colosseum at the top (see the interior here), featuring a pre-Photocrom black and white print as well.

1890 San Lorenzo

Aside from a rare street scene, with an urban milieu looking very much from the 1890s, the photographs are void of crowds. In the foreground of the Triumphal Arch further up we see a solitary woman with a basket of produce on her head. In the image of San Lorenzo, above, a tiny figure walks away from the camera.

forum rome 1890

In most of these images—with their dreamlike coloration—we can imagine Rome the way it looked not only in 1890, but also how it might have looked to bored aristocrats in the 17th and 18th centuries—and to passionate Romantic poets in the early 19th, a place of raw natural grandeur and sublime man-made decay. See the Library of Congress online catalog to view and download all forty-two of these postcards. Also find a gallery at Mashable.

1890 Great Cascade

Related Content:

Venice in Beautiful Color Images 125 Years Ago: The Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace & More

Beautiful, Color Photographs of Paris Taken 100 Years Ago—at the Beginning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Behold the Very First Color Photograph (1861): Taken by Scottish Physicist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Make a Comment ( None )

The History of Photography in Five Animated Minutes: From Camera Obscura to Camera Phone

in Photography | August 23rd, 2016

We find ourselves, still early in the 21st century, in an unprecedented era in the history of photography. The consumers of the developed world have, of course, had access to cameras of their own for decades and decades, but now almost each and every one of us walks around with a camera in our pocket. When a particular landscape, building, animal, human being, or other sight strikes our fancy, we capture it without a moment’s hesitation — and, often, without having given a moment’s thought to the technological and artistic history of the discipline we are, if for little more than an instant, practicing.

Most of us, knowing ourselves to be no Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Diane Arbus, would hesitate to describe the snaps with which we document and share our daily lives as “photography.” But in taking any picture, no matter how mundane or even silly, we place ourselves in the stream of a tradition. But we can gain an understanding of that tradition, at least in broad strokes, from “The History of Photography in Five Minutes,” the Cooperative of Photography video above which, in the words of its narrator, offers an insight into — brace yourself for this and other puns —  “how photography has developed.”

Beginning with the camera obscura, the reflection and tracing devices that date back to antiquity (later described and used by Leonardo da Vinci), the video moves swiftly from milestone to photographic milestone, including the first photograph, a “heliograph” taken in 1826; Louis Daguerre’s invention of “the first practical photographic process” in 1833; the first selfie, taken in 1839; the emergence of mobile photo studios in the 1850s; Eadweard Muybridge’s motion-photography studies of the 1870s; Kodak’s production of the first roll-film consumer camera in 1888; the game-changing Leica I hitting the market in 1925; the first single-lens reflex in 1949; the first digital camera in 1975; and, opening our own era, the first camera phone in 2000.

And now our smartphones and their “insanely powerful cameras” onboard have turned photography into a “global passion” that “has truly brought the world closer together.” The proliferation of hastily taken, essentially uncomposed shots of our purchases, our food, and ourselves have given old-school photography enthusiasts plenty to complain about, but the era of accessible photography has only just begun. Most of us are still, in some sense, taking heliographs and daguerreotypes; just imagine how the next fifteen years will, er, expose our true photographic capabilities.

Related Content:

Ansel Adams Reveals His Creative Process in 1958 Documentary

How to Take Photographs Like Ansel Adams: The Master Explains The Art of “Visualization”

Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Decisive Moment

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye, a Revealing Look at “The Father of Modern Photography”

1972 Diane Arbus Documentary Interviews Those Who Knew the American Photographer Best

Getty Images Makes 35 Million Photos Free to Use Online

Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers: Skip the Fancy Equipment & Just Shoot

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

by | Make a Comment ( 1 )

Behold the Very First Color Photograph (1861): Taken by Scottish Physicist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

in Photography | August 22nd, 2016


Since its ancient origins as the camera obscura, the photographic camera has always mimicked the human eye, allowing light to enter an aperture, then projecting an image upside down. Renaissance artists relied on the camera obscura to sharpen their own visual perspectives. But it wasn’t until photography—the ability to reproduce the obscura’s images—that the rudimentary artificial eye began evolving the same complex structures we rely on for our own visual acuity: lenses for sharpness, variable apertures, shutter speeds, focus controls…. Only when it began to seem that photography might vie with the other fine arts did the development of camera technology take off. And it moved quickly.

Between the time of the first photograph in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and 1861, photography had advanced sufficiently that physicist James Clerk Maxwell—known for his “Maxwell’s Demon” thought experiment—produced the first color photograph that did not immediately fade or require hand painting (above). The Scottish scientist chose to take a picture of a tartan ribbon, “created,” writes National Geographic, “by photographing it three times through red, blue, and yellow filters, then recombining the images into one color composite.” Maxwell’s three-color method was intended to mimic the way the eye processes color, based on theories he had elaborated in an 1855 paper.


Maxwell’s many other accomplishments tend to overshadow his color photography (and his poetry!). Nonetheless, the polymath thinker ushered in a revolution in photographic reproduction, almost as an aside. “It’s easy to forget, “ writes BBC picture editor, Phil Coomes, “that not long ago news agencies were transmitting their wire photographs as colour separations, usually cyan, magenta and yellow—a process that relied on Clerk Maxwell’s discovery. Indeed even the latest digital camera relies on the separation method to capture light.” And yet, compared to the usual speed of photographic advancement, the process took some time to fully refine.

Maxwell created the image with the help of photographer Thomas Sutton, inventor of the single lens reflex camera, but his interest lay principally in its demonstration of his color theory, not its application to photography in general. Sixteen years later, the reproduction of color had not advanced significantly, though a subtractive method allowed more subtlety of light and shade, as you can see in the 1877 example above by Louis Ducos du Hauron. Even so, these nineteenth images still cannot compete for vibrancy and lifelikeness with hand-colored photos from the period. Despite appearing artificial, hand-tinted images like these of 1860s Samurai Japan brought a startling immediacy to their subjects in a way that early color photography did not.

Sarah Acland

It wasn’t until the early 20th century—with the development of color processes by Gabriel Lippman and the Sanger Shepherd company—that color came into its own. Leo Tolstoy appeared early in the century in brilliant full color photos. Paris came alive in color images during WWI. And Sarah Angelina Acland, a pioneering English photographer, took the image above in 1900 above using the Sanger Shepherd method. That process—patented, marketed, and sold—thoroughly improved upon Maxwell’s results, but its basic operation was nearly the same: three images, red, green, and blue, combined into one.

Related Content:

Hand-Colored 1860s Photographs Reveal the Last Days of Samurai Japan

The First Color Portrait of Leo Tolstoy, and Other Amazing Color Photos of Czarist Russia (1908)

Venice in Beautiful Color Images 125 Years Ago: The Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Make a Comment ( 1 )

Portraits of Ellis Island Immigrants Arriving on America’s Welcoming Shores Circa 1907

in History, Photography | July 20th, 2016

Guadalupe Woman

The shibboleths of our political culture have trended lately toward the loathesome, crude, and completely specious to such a degree that at least one prominent columnist has summed up the ongoing spectacle in Cleveland as “grotesquerie… on a level unique in the history of our republic.” It’s impossible to quantify such a thing, but the sentiment feels accurate in the fervor of the moment. We’ll hear a torrent of well-worn counter-clichés at the other party’s big convention, and one of them that’s sure to come up again and again is the phrase “nation of immigrants.” The U.S., we’re told over and over, is a “nation of immigrants.” And it is. Or has become so, though the term “immigrant” is not an uncomplicated one, as we’ve seen in the EU’s struggle to parse “refugees” from “economic migrants.”

German Stowaway

The U.S. is also a nation of indigenous people and former slaves, indentured servants, and settler colonists, all very different histories—and academic historians are careful not to blur the categories, even if politicians, ordinary citizens, and textbook publishers often do. Yet rhetoric about who owns the country, and who gets to “take it back,” clouds every issue—it belongs to everyone and no one, or as Wallace Stevens put it, “this is everybody’s world.”

Danish Man

But when we talk about the history of immigration, we usually talk about a specific history dating from the mid-19th to early-20th century, during which diverse groups of people arrived from all over the world, bringing with them their languages, customs, food, and cultures, and only slowly becoming “Americans” as they naturalized and assimilated to various degrees, forcibly or otherwise. We also talk about a legal history that proscribed certain kinds of people and created hierarchies of desirable and undesirable immigrants with respect to ethnic and national origin and economic status.

Algerian Man

Millions of the people who arrived during the peak of U.S. immigration passed through the immigration inspection station at New York’s Ellis Island, which operated between the years 1882 and 1954. The individuals and families who spent any time there were working people and peasants. Among new arrivals, “the first and second class passengers were considered wealthy enough,” writes The Public Domain Review, “not to become a burden to the state and were examined onboard the ships while the poorer passengers were sent to the island where they underwent medical examinations and legal inspections.”

Italian Woman

Many of these individuals also sat for portraits taken by the Chief Registry Clerk Augustus Sherman while “waiting for money, travel tickets or someone to come and collect them from the island.” Sherman’s camera captured striking images like the poised Guadeloupean woman in profile at the top, the defiant German stowaway below her, stern Danish man further down, Algerian man and Italian woman above, and severe-looking trio of Dutch women and Georgian man below.

Dutch Women

These photographs date from before 1907, which was the busiest year for Ellis Island, “with an all-time high of 11,747 immigrants arriving in April.” About two percent of immigrants at the time were denied entry because of disease, insanity, or a criminal background. That percentage of people turned away rose in the following decade, and the diversity of people coming to the country narrowed significantly in the 1920s, until the 1924 immigration act imposed strict quotas, “as immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were seen as inferior to the earlier immigrants from Northern and Western Europe” and those from outside the European continent were limited to a tiny fraction of the almost 165,000 allowed that year.

Russian Cossack

“Following the Red Scare of 1919,” writes the Densho Encyclopedia, “widespread fear of radicalism fueled anti-foreign sentiment and exclusionist demands. Supporters of immigration legislation stressed recurring themes: Anglo-Saxon superiority and foreigners as threats to jobs and wages.” Not coincidentally, during this time the country also saw the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, which—notes PBS—“moved in many states to dominate local and state politics.” It was a time that very much resembled our own, sadly, as fanatical nativism and white supremacy became dominant strains in the political discourse, accompanied by much fearmongering, demagoguery, and violence. (It was also in the teens and twenties that the idea of a superior “Western Civilization” was invented.)

Group Portrait Ellis Island

The portraits above were published in National Geographic and “hung on the walls of the lower Manhattan headquarters of the federal Immigration Service” in 1907, before the hysteria began. They show us the human face of an abstract phenomenon far too often used as an epithet or catch-all scare word rather than a fact of human existence since humans have existed. Becoming acquainted with the history of immigration in the U.S. allows us to see how we have handled it well in the past, and how we have handled it badly, and the photographic evidence preserves the dignity of the various individual people from all over the world who were lumped together collectively—as they are today—with the loaded word “immigrant.”

Ellis Island 2

These images come from the New York Public Library’s online archive of Ellis Island Photographs, which contains 89 photos in all, including several exterior and interior shots of the island’s facilities and many more portraits of arriving people. We’re grateful to the Public Domain Review (who have a fascinating new book on Nitrous Oxide coming out) for bringing these to our attention. For more of the NYPL’s huge repository of historical photographs, see their Flickr gallery of over 2,500 photos or full digital photography collection of over 180,000 images.

Ellis Island 1

via The Public Domain Review

Related Content:

1,000+ Haunting & Beautiful Photos of Native American Peoples, Shot by the Ethnographer Edward S. Curtis (Circa 1905)

478 Dorothea Lange Photographs Poignantly Document the Internment of the Japanese During WWII

The New York Public Library Lets You Download 180,000 Images in High Resolution: Historic Photographs, Maps, Letters & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

by | Make a Comment ( None )

French Artist Creates Digital Street Art in the Sky

in Architecture, Art, Environment, Life, Photography | July 18th, 2016

We humans are a quarrelsome lot. But one thing that unites us is the time spent on our backs, gazing at clouds for the pleasure of identifying whatever objects they may fleetingly resemble.

It’s a very relaxing activity.

I was surprised there’s an actual, medical name for it: pareidolia, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful, image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”

Thomas Lamadieu, the artist whose work is showcased above, has a different, but not wholly unrelated condition.

A photo posted by Artzop® (@artzop) on

Most of us prefer to contemplate the heavens in a bucolic setting. Lamadieu’s art compels him to look upwards from a more urban landscape. The tops of the buildings hemming him in supply with irregularly shaped frames, which he captures using a fish eye lens. Later, he fills them in with Microsoft Paint drawings, which frequently feature a bearded man whose t-shirt is striped in sky blue. Negative space, not Crayola, supplies the color here.

Think of it as street art in the sky.

Not every day can be a brilliant azure, but it hardly matters when even Lamadieu’s grayest views exhibit a determined playfulness. It takes a very unique sort of eye to tease a pink nippled, stripe-limbed bunny from a steely UK sky.

Like many street artists, he takes a global approach, traveling the world in search of giant unclaimed canvases. His portfolio contains vistas originally captured in Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Austria, Canada, Belgium, and the United States, as well as his native France.

“The bearded man in my images stands for the sky itself,” he told The Independent, adding that his is a wholly secular vision.

View a gallery of Lamadieu’s sky art here.

h/t to reader Alan Goldwasser

Related Content:

Google Puts Online 10,000 Works of Street Art from Across the Globe

The Creativity of Female Graffiti & Street Artists Will Be Celebrated in Street Heroines, a New Documentary

3D Street Art

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

by | Make a Comment ( None )