Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The world's first photograph and our oldest

Though our family did not have any camera or fancied photography, my grandfather's library contained many fine books also from his father's time, on varied subjects including this one, The World's Best Photographs.

It was published by some British Publisher (there is nothing mentioned in it - may be the crucial first page is missing), going by the content. I also do not know if it belonged to a set of books on different themes brought out by them. But it seems to have been published in one of the few years soon after 1939. The editor writes in it that they planned two years ahead and he had space only for 400 best pictures of his choice and he had to reject 19 (also equally good ones) and choose one among the lot - that was the amount of pictures which had poured in from kind contributors for this edition. It is a collector's item, on any day.

I grew up with this book. My mother often used to show me pages from it as a bribe to make this fussy little boy open the mouth to let the spoon of boiled rice in. Some of the pictures that impressed me at that raw age are shown here below. I did not know the quality of its content until I grew up to appreciate photography. Though a box camera was around us since 1969-70, taking pictures were not taken seriously, mostly due to the expense in getting them printed. After I grew a little older, the book rested on the shelf.

The man drinking water was the one that always fascinated me while I wondered how this golf picture could have been taken.

Recently I was turning its pages and trying to read for the first time while 'nostalgiating' on those pictures. In this old book, I found this picture (below) supposed to be taken before 1839, by Fox Talbot. At that time, when this book was published, it was supposed (speculated) to be the first picture (by collotype/callotype process) ever taken.

The year 1839 was marked to be the birth of photography and in 1939, exhibitions were held all over the world to celebrate the centenary of this new medium of recording. This book contains pictures up to that year, taken by many famous photographers.

At that time it was really not known which was the one real first photograph taken. Trying to search for details on the above picture on the internet, I found this picture and learnt a new thing!

In fact, the first ever actual photograph (shown above) was something else, discovered and confirmed many years after the above book was brought out. The story behind the world's first photograph and also its finding is very interesting. Its exposure time was as long as eight hours! With present technology, cameras can take a shot in 1/1000th of a second! Imagine the quickness!

One fine day, I found something in our house which thrilled me. They were a set of negatives. I have seen negatives of pictures on plastic in my time, but this is in glass. There were no pictures of them in our albums. So I decided to get them printed at an acquaintance's studio about 15 years back to see who were all in them. They surely were connected to the family. I have heard about our house having a bullock cart and there it was on record. I was able to compare its shutters with the one on the small almirah's in our house. They are one and the same, converted when the cart got old.

In the following six collage-pictures, the left is the glass original and on the right, its print.

This is the cart - the face seen at the window is of a grand uncle. May be before 1920.

This is my great grandparents taken around 1930.

He may be a home tutor. Going by the age of the boy on the right (granduncle, Narayana) this would have been around 1910.

May be another tutor. Same period. The negative has been shown here in reverse by mistake.
This is the horse cart belonging to the same time, again going by the looks on Narayana there.

Now both tutors are together in this picture. Notice the tuft visible beneath the cap. The headgear was a must and part of the attire, typical of Mysore. There are hardly any old picture i our family pictures of that era showing heads of men without any headgear.

So these become the oldest pictures from our family. The common person in this picture Narayana died young after marriage.

Recorded are so many firsts in photography, be it a first photo of a royal ceremony, or one taken during a war or anything. Here is some information about the world's first colour photograph. The present generation children know only colour pictures. They shy away even when a vintage movie in B&W is shown on TV! They do not know how hard it was to take a movie, leave alone a photograph.

Well, this one could be my first ever "click", in 1969, at Gokarna. My elder cousin (in white on the right handed me the box camera and I looked through the very tiny rectangular hole (view finder) and slowly pushed the lever and heard that pleasing sound of the shutter!

After my uncle took my picture that day probably in 1964 or so, I clearly remember asking him if I can take a shot. Of course with just 12 frames in the roll (full capacity was that -- now we shoot in hundreds in the digital era!), experimentation in the hands of an 8-year old was a no-no!

My late cousin (seen here) who was with us at that time was mostly handling the camera (borrowed from a maternal uncle). He allowed me to take this shot when our house was freshly white-washed as part of the preparation for my 'sacred thread ceremony', in April 1970.

A picture is worth a thous..............


Here are many from our albums and photoframes. The ones in photoframes were removed and converted into album some years back. It was a lot of hard work, worth the pain and time.
Vintage pictures from album - 1

Another smaller set:

Vintage Miscellaneous Pictures

Visit my blog on Photo Studios and old photographs.

I had a weird experience behind the camera.



Nahl said...

Wow, this is some seriously interesting stuff!
Thank you for posting this.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Really cool Dinu, precious pictures indeed. Glad you could tale those glass slides and getting them printed. I remember seeing such glass slides long ago but don't know whose it was! Happy clicking...

YOSEE said...

A treasure trove of antique pictures ! I love the way the ladies of olden days posed for formal portraits !.........the last pic, is it Balamuri ?


You do have a real treasure chest in your house. How nice that you have saved it and shared it. Very nice and interesting article.

wineye said...

One of THE most interesting Blog Posts that I have read so far !!

Do keep more such posts Dinu, its an absolute pleasure !!

My Blogs said...

nice deenu

Achyutha RN said...

Congratulations, Dinakar,

ER Ramachandran said...

Multi-tasking and more than that multi-talented with varied interest! Tremendous.