The Packing List

I believe that photographers are the one groups of artist that pay no attention to the history of their art, or those who have come before them. It is my feeling that to know what ones work truly is….or will be, it is important to know the history of the media.

A few times on this blog I have said that I am not working with wet and dry plate photography as a means of producing historically pure reproductions of events past. I am interested in using these forms of photography with modern subject matter and sometime combining modern technology. Even with these goals, I have been spending vast amounts of time to the study of photography in America through the 1800’s……and I can say that I have been discovering some fascinating nuggets of information. Through this exploration I have discovered the roots of many photographic traditions and schools-of-thought that can still be found today.

One aspect of early American photographic history I have found interesting is the work of photographers in the Frontier, and the effect their images had on the expansion west. The Expedition photographers of the late 1860’s and early 70’s were able to produce images of the magical west that captured the imagination of the nation, and gave illustration to the many fantastical stories that had been carried back by early explorers.

The work of these expedition photographers is amazing when we stop and think about the working conditions that these people had to deal with. The amount of equipment alone is enough to bend the mind of the contemporary American. The image above is of photographer Timothy O’Sullivan’s (of Civil War fame) photographic wagon (sometimes called a “van”) in the California desert during the King expedition. The amount of hardware needed compared to that for modern digital work in the field is amazing to think about. During my work along the Arizona / Mexico border last year I worked with equipment that often fit into a large buttpack and often though that I needed to lighten my load. Here is an actual list of photographic equipment taken on an expedition to the Frontier in the early 1870’s:

Stereoscopic camera with multiple lenses

5 x 8 Camera box with lens

11 x 14 Camera box with multiple lenses

Dark tent

2 Tripods

10 lbs. Collodion

36 oz. Silver Nitrate

2 quarts Alcohol

10 lbs. Iron sulfate [developer]

Package of filters

1 ½ lbs. Potassium cyanide [fixer]

3 yds. Canton flannel

1 Box Rottenstone [used to clean glass plates]

3 Negative boxes

6 oz. Nitric acid

1 quart Varnish

Developing and fixing trays

Dozen and a half bottles of various sizes

Scales and weights

Glass for negatives, 400 pieces

Now think about that when you start to feel that you brand new DSLR is too big and heavy. Thanks for reading, and I encourage you to conduct your own explorations of photography history.

* The image by O’Sullivan above is linked to from Temple University *


~ by Phil Nesmith on September 7, 2007.

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