Random snappies from the road

“Photography as a fad is well-nigh on its last legs, thanks principally to the bicycle craze.”
Alfred Stieglitz, American photographer, 1864-1946

I frequently try to add a touch of erudition to these sometimes prosaic jottings about bicycling, journeys, writing and other trivia by affixing a germane quote at the top of a blog post.

Alfred Stieglitz

The latest search, as I was rummaging through photos shot during a recently completed transcontinental bicycle journey, turned up the above quote by photographer Alfred Stieglitz.
That prompted an hour or two of research to try to figure out what Stieglitz meant. It was a wet, raw, dreary morning in Fort Worth — too nasty for any outdoor activity except the obligatory dog walk. So the research was a rainy-day pleasure.
The findings: In the 1880s, innovations in plate technology led to development of hand-held cameras, which made photography available to nearly everyone. Like bicycling, the snapping of candid photographs — unposed and unretouched — became the latest fad.

1888 Kodak

In 1888, George Eastman marketed his Kodak camera with the slogan: “You press the button,and we do the rest.”
Stieglitz apparently had trouble reconciling himself to these rapid changes in his chosen craft. Here’s the full quote, from an 1897 essay “The Hand Camera — Its Present Importance,” in The American Annual of Photography:
“Photography as a fad is well-nigh on its last legs, thanks principally to the bicycle craze. Those seriously interested in its advancement do not look upon this state of affairs as a misfortune, but as a disguised blessing, inasmuch as photography had been classed as a sport by nearly all of those who deserted its ranks and fled to the present idol, the bicycle.
“The only persons who seem to look upon this turn of affairs as entirely unwelcome are those engaged in manufacturing and selling photographic goods.
“It was, undoubtedly, due to the hand camera that photography became so generally popular a few years ago. Every Tom, Dick and Harry could, without trouble, learn how to get something or other on a sensitive plate, and this is what the public wanted — no work and lots of fun. Thanks to the efforts of these persons hand camera and bad work became synonymous.

George Eastman with his Kodak

“The climax was reached when an enterprising firm flooded the market with a very ingenious hand camera and the announcement, ‘You press the button, and we do the rest.’
This was the beginning of the ‘photographing-by-the-yard’ era, and the ranks of enthusiastic Button Pressers were enlarged to enormous dimensions. The hand camera ruled supreme.
“Originally known under the odious name of ‘Detective,’ necessarily insinuating the owner to be somewhat of a sneak, the hand camera was in very bad repute with all the champions of the tripod. They looked upon the small instrument, innocent enough in itself, but terrible in the hands of the unknowing, as a mere toy, good for the purposes of the globe-trotter, who wished to jot down photographic notes as he passed along his journey, but in no way adapted to the wants of him whose aim it is to do serious work.
“But in the past year or two all this has been changed. There are many who claim that for just the most serious work the hand camera is not only excellently adapted, but that without it the pictorial photographer is sadly handicapped.”
Stieglitz came to embrace the portability of the hand camera and used it in the 1890s to shoot some of his best known photographs.
I wonder what he would have made of the digital images produced by today’s point-and-shoot cameras and their proliferation on such networking sites as Facebook and Twitter and in the blogosphere.
I’ve found that retirement affords one the time to engage in these pursuits of arcane knowledge.
In any case, here’s a selection of images made by today’s equivalent of the 1888 Kodachrome — a Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS — of fellow participants in the cross-country bicycle trip, which began in San Diego on Sept. 20 and ended in St. Augustine, Fla., on Nov. 21, the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Derrik Maude of Britain, Cathy Blondeau of Canada and Gerben (Kevin) Terpstra of the Netherlands on the ferry to Coronado Island in San Diego

Dolores McKeough of New York and Felix Greiner and Jenny Prasiswa of Germany in San Diego

Reg Prentice in San Diego

The first crank of the pedals at Point Loma Hostel in San Diego

Jim at Ocean Beach in San Diego

Cathy Blondeau on the descent into the Imperial Valley in California

Reg Prentice of Los Angeles and Kami Kitchen of Indianapolis in the Imperial Valley

Kami Kitchen and John Vandevelde at Three Way, Ariz.

Jim at the summit of Emory Pass, the literal high point of the journey, in New Mexico

John Diller of Australia in Austin

Dolores McKeough in Austin

Gerben (Kevin) in Louisiana

John Vandevelde of La Canada, Calif., in Merryville, La.

Jenny Prasiswa, Felix Greiner, Kami Kitchen, Reg Prentice and Gerben (Kevin) Terpstra

Self-portrait of Jim

Kami Kitchen, Reg Prentice and ride leader Dave Cox

Jim at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine



Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys

5 responses to “Random snappies from the road

  1. Ben

    Nice photos and interesting information about the early days of photography. How did you get it to snow on your blog?

  2. zack

    Word. Did you happen to see the exhibit last year at the Amon Carter, The Art of the America Snapshot, 1888-1978. I happened to be in town for a Springsteen concert (this was April of ’08) with a friend, and we had nothing to do and not much money to do anything with, so the Carter was an obvious option. My friend is a photographer, and that particular exhibit happened to be on, so it was quite fortuitous. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I hadn’t been to the Carter in a long time (nor have I much since, either), but it was awesome — the photographs themselves were very interesting and perfectly illustrated the well-researched, cultural-historical arguments that the curators (or whomever) put forth. Unfortunately, there isn’t that much info online, but here’s the link to the past exhibit’s page: http://www.cartermuseum.org/exhibitions/the-art-of-the-american-snapshot-1888-1978-from-the-collection-of-robert-e-jackson

    Will be home Wednesday night of next week. The weather in Columbia is typically 10-15 degrees lower in the winter than it is in Fort Worth, but I hope we have passable enough temps to get some biking in. I’m not a fan of working out indoors, or at least can’t find the same motivation.

    Anyway, see ya soon!

    • zack

      Jesus. In addition to not putting a question mark at the end of the second sentence, I also used “happen” or “happened,” what, at least three times. That’s bad form on my part, Jim — sorry to let you down.

      • zack

        Yo, I don’t know if I’m merely experiencing some déjà vu, or if I actually posted the above content on your blog earlier this year. In which case, I can imagine you were a little baffled; I realized as soon as I left campus yesterday and it’s been haunting me ever since.

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