In 1944 Nine Outstanding Personalities in the Field Express Their Views and Expectations of Postwar Photography
WILLARD D. MORGAN, ELIOT ELISOFON, BERNICE ABBOTT, C. B. NEBLETTE, PAUL STRAND, L. MOHOLY-NAGY, H.A. SCHUMACHER, JOHN S. ROWAN, Sgt. ARTHUR ROTHSTEIN
Photography spent its first hundred years slowly developing its mechanics, its lenses, cameras, emulsions, and lights. But war speeded progress will place the camera in the forefront of man’s technical devices when victory comes. To determine the new uses, new methods, new viewpoints that will give camera work its direction in the postwar period, POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY has asked a trusted photographic editor, a war correspondent, documentary photographer; teachers of photography, manufacturers, and a soldier to contribute to this symposium. Their opinions differ. Yet somehow all seem to feel that the second hundred years will see the camera put to use as never before with the amateur often leading the way. THE EDITORS
WILLARD D. MORGAN (Photography Author)
PHOTOGRAPHY can well afford to pause and take stock of its phenomenal growth. Today, as photographers we have fast films, fine cameras, marvelous color film, highly perfected synchronizers and flashbulbs, efficient lighting equipment, fine photoelectric exposure meters, standard reliable processing solutions, excellent lenses, and uniform photographic paper of good quality. There will naturally be changes and improvements after the war, yet basically we will be using familiar materials. What then for the postwar photographer?
For the commercial photographer I can only see a period of intense production to fulfill somewhat stylized photographic demands. Here and there a creative worker may override static work to produce a variation in style.
The amateur will ride through the postwar years with a free spirit of adventure. Every new film, developer, and piece of camera equipment will be eagerly seized upon and used. These postwar amateurs will form many new camera clubs, eagerly buy all the new photographic books, and become the initial participants in a great proving ground of new equipment and methods which may later become standards for the professional as well.
I feel that the great changes in postwar photography will come from the creative amateur, who is not bound by commercial conventions. To be specific, this creative amateur photographer will learn to give a fuller interpretation to the people and places about him. Changes will come from within the photographer himself. I would like to see the discussions of the future center around the interpretation of the photographic idea and not on endless techniques which will be fairly easy to acquire anyway. In this way we will enter a new century of photography which will be challenging and exciting.
ELIOT ELISOFON (American Photographer)
I FEEL THAT the camera finds its main importance as a recording and communicating mechanism, and I should like to see it develop until it takes its place with the pencil and the typewriter as an instrument of our everyday language. Photography should be taught in the schools along with penmanship as part of postwar education’s expansion.
It is possible to perfect the camera to the point where it will become an automatic instrument which will focus, expose and process the film by the mere push of a button. In this way we will be able to realize a medium possessing an immediacy between seeing and recording unachieved by any other art.
I would like to see the camera and photographic material so refined that we need never use anything larger than a miniature camera exposing single frames of 16 mm film. For this we need grainless film with dyes rather than silver particles as the sensitive medium. The camera should have a built-in lens turret, mounting a wide angle, normal and telephoto lens, a photoelectrically controlled lens diaphragm and an automatic dry processing chamber. A camera of this sort could be easily carried about along with a plentiful supply of film. You wouldn’t have to wait for results. And it would never need intrude itself upon the scene being photographed, leaving reality unchanged. There should be color film with greater latitude and speed and controlled brilliance, as well as the black-and-white which will do for most purposes.
This extreme simplification will bring photography to everybody. It will leave the photographer free to develop his creative and esthetic principles. And art, if it is to come from photography, will come out of the meaning of the photograph and the greatness of the observation of the photographer.
BERNICE ABBOTT (American Photographer, known as Berenice Abbott)
IT IS TO BE hoped that photography in the postwar world will make great strides forward technically, as well as expressively. Serious workers in the photographic field, one after another, have level of technical development of the art-science medium, photography. All the way from cameras and lenses through materials down to accessories, our tools are downright primitive.
To be just a bit specific:
Film slowness: We want to photograph dark machinery in motion at dusk, if necessary. Can we?
Graininess: Excessive grain alone will fog important detail, besides being ugly as Hecuba. It should be eliminated.
Latitude: A dark deep foreground should have as much tonality as a bright sky, without sacrificing one or the other. Artificial lights: Where are our physicists and other scientists? We need lights a thousand fold more powerful.
In a country which boasts itself to be the most advanced technically, I for one fail to understand why the best marvels of blessed mass production produce only cardboard box cameras.
Consciously or unconsciously, our mass photographic enthusiasts show their dissatisfaction with the implements offered them, by the fact that photographic magazines are jam-packed with gadgetries and schemes galore on “how to do it.”
It is well known that our present day printing papers have nowhere like the tonal range (latitude) and brilliance which the older gold chloride and albumin papers had. And what good is a photograph as a serious expression, unless one can count on the print’s surviving at least a generation or two? Photography must realize its destiny as the “language” of the 20th century.
I suggest that photographers get together, therefore, and redesign the whole works, since the entrepreneurs of our mass production industry don’t make the improvements we need. No doubt the above-mentioned gentlemen, after reading this, will name me Cassandra. But history proved her right.
C. B. NEBLETTE, F.R.P.S., F.P.S.A. (Press Photographer)
THE WAR HAS greatly expanded the field of applied photography. We may look forward to the widespread utilization of these applications by industry in the postwar period and the development of many new branches of applied photography.
Integral tripack processes of color photography will supersede existing processes both for negative making and for printing. Color photography will become general, largely replacing black and white.
New lenses of simpler design and superior performance will be available through the use of new glasses, plastics, and nonspherical surfaces.
Except for special purposes, the day of the 11×14, 8×10, and even the 5×7 negative is about over.
Despite almost phenomenal increases in film speeds in recent years, materials of still higher speed are certain. Materials of finer grain are to be expected also. Photography may turn from the silver halides to other photosensitive substances, the diazo dyes for example.
Amateur movies with sound at slight additional cost. Three-dimensional photography in still and motion pictures available for all through new processes.
Greater originality will be displayed in the designing of photographic equipment, particularly in the professional field.
New, simplified, and cheaper processes will be available for the reproduction of photographs by the printing press.
Newspapers will employ more pictures, less text. Wire methods of transmitting and receiving pictures directly as a block ready for printing will enable the smallest paper to obtain worldwide picture coverage of the news.
The use of the motion picture in education will advance by leaps and bounds. In many cases training films will be the textbook.
The blank spaces on the map will be filled in by aerial photography. Photography will be valued more and more as a historical record.
The inclusion of photography in the activities of the secondary school will become general, not for the purpose of training photographers but as a means of developing greater interest and understanding in other subjects.
The place of photography in modern life will finally be recognized by the university, and courses on a par with those in other branches of science and in the arts will be established.
PAUL STRAND (American Photographer)
THE QUESTION of what the future of photography will be in the postwar world is necessarily speculative as it is upon the winning of the war and the character of the peace that the future, not only of photography but of our very lives, depends.
Perhaps we should rather be asking how photography can be more fully used in the war effort. It is, of course, playing a major role as an invaluable aid to the armed forces. Splendid and valuable too are the journalistic records being made at the fighting fronts and the home front. But the artists of photography are not being fully used, those whose ability it is to record, more deeply than journalism, this great life-and-death struggle for the victory of Freedom over fascist slavery.
I believe that the victory over fascism and a people’s peace cannot fail to bring with it an upsurge of democratic culture throughout the world. And in that culture, photography will surely play a role greater even than in the past, in science, in journalism, and as an important medium of artistic expression.
L. MOHOLY-NAGY (Hungarian Photographer)
INSOFAR AS our eyes are concerned photography imparts a heightened or increased power of sight in terms of time and space. It is a plain, matter-of-fact enumeration of specific elements and is purely technical, not artistic in itself. In itself it is not able to divine the power latent in these elements nor prognosticate whence they lead. The photographer of the future, however, will be able to do this of his own skill because he will know for what purpose these elements can be used.
At present photographers do not know their medium enough to use their medium. A writer knows how to write and a composer knows theory of music so that they can extend their arts beyond purely technical elements. But in the future the technique of photography will be so simplified and so widely taught and understood that the illiterate per son will be the one who is not a photographer. Then, with mastery of the purely physical features of photography at his command, the photographer can go as far as his will of expression and his imagination will lead him. Even so, there will be good, better, and best.
Besides the creative mastery of the elements, black-and-white photography has nothing new to anticipate in the future. However, many possibilities discovered and explored earlier will come into bloom.
But the real revolution will be in color. At present color photography is just a poor imitation of museum art, but a cheapened form of it: a repetition of the repetitions of the repetitions. But new forms, new techniques, combined with a complete understanding of life and society (which understanding is absolutely necessary to any artist) will create a new conception of color photography. Abstract rhythm of color and movement of light will give greater depth to a technique that is now too much in the state of an applied art. There must be organization of color to a purpose.
Without culture there is no photographer. Without understanding of man there is no photographer. There is just a clicker shutter snapper.
H. A. SCHUMACHER (Graphlex VP)
AMERICAN WAR plants, daily finding new uses for the camera, in two years of war production have pointed the way to the valuable position photography will occupy in postwar industry.
Industrial relations alone have opened a wide field. House organs use photographs of workers, either at their jobs or in outside activities. Having his picture taken for such purposes is, to a worker, a subtle recognition that rings the bell. Many of these pictures are usable in trade journals, general magazines, and newspapers. Farsighted companies such as Boeing, American Airlines and the Caterpillar Tractor Company, by employing photography to an unprecedented extent, are making their names and products bywords in every household.
Photographs in catalogs have far more sales appeal than sketches or word descriptions. Other industrial uses are:
1. Construction views to show stages of development of a project are valuable not only for documentation, but also as a guide for future attempts at duplication. A series of pictures gives an opportunity for analysis in the cold light of retrospect, which may lead to shortcuts or the elimination of unforeseen errors or obstacles.
2. Job time and method studies.
3. Identification of construction difficulties, faulty setups or faulty parts.
4. Record pictures of equipment.
Modestly priced special equipment can also be utilized in meeting a variety of problems which can best be solved photographically:
1. Identification badge, pass card and record pictures of employees can be taken at the rate of several hundred an hour, insuring accurate identification protection.
2. The fingerprint camera can also be employed to make instantaneous, on-the-spot copies of small records, signatures, credentials, serial numbers, surface faults, and many other data.
3. Microfilm cameras and viewers provide a simple and inexpensive method of safeguarding important documents and working plans, a fast and accurate method of copying detailed sketches.
4. Photomicrography, a camera in conjunction with a microscope can be used to study flaws in castings and other faults or developed difficulties in ____oc ____s.
5. Stroboscopic light with any standard camera permits study of high-speed equipment in use.
6. Meter reading cameras, for making records, automatically or periodically of meters and dials on equipment.
Photography is the perfect substitute for the human eye, with the added advantage that it cannot be easily fooled or distracted and is not afflicted with a failing memory. Where speed, accuracy and low cost are important it is a ready copying device. The staff photographer is becoming one of the most important men in many modern plants. Certain it is that photography in industry has arrived, and that it will play an important part in postwar industrial operations.
JOHN S. ROWAN (President, Photographic Society of America)
IT IS A LITTLE difficult for me to separate the future of photography from the future of the Photographic Society of America, whose main purpose is to encourage the advancement of the art and science of photography.
The Society is indeed fortunate in having in its ranks men who are forward looking, and it is their feeling that photography is in for great strides.
You can’t consider the subject of future photography without wondering what is going to be the influence of the thousands of photographers now in the service. These men are young, many with inventive minds, and their experience is bound to be transmitted into further photographic advancements on their return to normal life. It is possible to look forward, also, to at least a mild revolution on the artistic side. Because many of these photographers have been working under exciting conditions, they will not be satisfied to photograph only the more sentimental subjects. This will most likely be reflected in that great art, advertising photography.
Unquestionably, with the many improvements to come after the war, the thousands of war photographers will provide a combination which probably will develop a photography boom.
Sgt. ARTHUR ROTHSTEIN (Farm Security Administration – FSA)
AT PRESENT, hundreds of young men and women are being trained as photographers. The various photographic schools of the armed services are turning out still cameramen, motion picture cameramen, aerial photographers and darkroom technicians. These newcomers to the photographic profession, in their comparatively short period of intensive activity, are obtaining experience that normally takes many years to acquire.
After the war, the old-timers will get some terrific competition from these energetic, aggressive, well trained young photographers.
Today, cameras are being redesigned and new equipment is being developed for the special needs of our wartime economy. Plastics and synthetic organic compounds will create many pieces of equipment for the photographer. Cameras will be more specialized than they are now. For example, the camera for the news photographer should have no bellows, a self-capping focal plane shutter, an accurate viewfinder, a built-in flash synchronizer and will be able to take plenty of abuse. There should also be a roll film cartridge attachment for rapid successive exposures, a built-in rangefinder, and interchangeable lenses small and compact in size.
There will be more cameras using a negative with an area approximating six square inches. This will do away with the necessity for extremely critical exposure and development required with the 35 mm size but preserve the optical advantages and compactness. All these cameras will be made with an unequalled precision in both mechanical parts and lenses. This will result from the opportunities presented to U.S. manufacturers through the wartime removal of foreign competition as well as the needs of the armed forces. The camera of the present is a makeshift improvement on an old basic model with attachments as an afterthought. We can expect it to be replaced by a camera that is designed from the start so that all the essential parts in a coordinated manner.
Better-trained photographers plus better equipment adds up to better pictures. We can expect higher aesthetic and technical standards for photographs. People will demand photographs as an essential supplement to their reading. Wirephoto and Radiophoto networks will make it possible for everyone in the world to see pictures of news events at the same time. Newspapers and magazines will use more color photography. We may see picture magazines printed in many editions and many languages. Photography will find many uses in research along documentary lines such as in anthropology and sociology. The field of visual education will become increasingly important. Schools will use photo-exhibits, filmstrips and motion pictures as educational aids. V-mail will have applications in peacetime.
The war will bring photography out of its adolescence. In maturity, it will be an exciting, profitable and expanding profession.
Article text reprinted from the February 1944 issue of POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY magazine