Going up to the 5th floor of McFarlin into Special Collections felt as if I was intruding into a space where I shouldn’t be allowed.
I rang a doorbell to be let in and then signed into a timebook.
Bookshelves covered all the walls. The actual exhibit was in display cases in all throughout the room.
Most of the first case contained daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and cyanotypes, some of the oldest forms of capturing real world images.
There were a couple of things that struck me about these old images.
They were almost all portraits, usually of white, (and likely rich) males, or of Native Americans.
Secondly they were all really tiny, pocket sized and of quite low resolution, if that word even applies to them.
You could hardly see more than the most prominent facial features.
A stark contrast compared to today’s HD photos where every wrinkle and flaw is apparent.
As you went down the cases you began seeing the improvements in technology, orotones, tintypes and finally the polaroid.
Now even the average joe could take a photo whenever he wanted to.
Faces gained definition and group photos and landscapes grew in frequency.
In 1935 Kodachrome hit the market and the age of color began.
The stars of the show for me were the cameras.
In the corner of the room was a huge Century accordion folding camera.
The body was made of wood and the lens of brass and glass.
It stood about 4 feet tall and looked heavier than me.
It was mounted on a cast-iron wheeled base. It was a tool for art and a piece of art in and of itself.
Images are such a cornerstone of modern day communication, entertainment and culture that it’s hard to image a time before photography.
It seems impossible that what we all carry around in our pockets was once rolled around on wheels.
From the first image by Nicéphore Niépce in 1827, to the recent photos of Pluto by New Horizon, it seems amazing the progress this industry was able to accomplish.
The history of photography is important not only to determine how far we’ve come but to experience a little bit of how we got here.
In the first display case the exhibit reminds us that “the photographer has made this image for a reason and we ought to wonder what the photographer is trying to say.”