Thursday, December 18, 2008

John Thomson, Photographer (1837-1921) (Part One)

copyright 2008 R. A. Suomala

King Mongut of Siam

The August 2008 issue of the magazine Architectural Digest contained an article entitled "China, Cultural Reflections". The article featured some of the work of 19th century photographer John Thomson. His remarkable images from 1868-1872 showed a China previously unknown to most of the rest of the world.

I only read the Architectural Digest intermittently but my wife, Sally, reads it more often. Most of the articles are very interesting albeit picturing things that are usually way beyond desires or prudent economic inclinations. Sally called my attention to the article mentioned above. However reading the somewhat abbreviated facts regarding Thomson's life left me wanting to know more. Here is a somewhat condensed version of what I learned about Thomson's life and photographs. And here is the rest of it. John Thomson was born in Edinburgh in 1837, the son of a tobacconist. This also being the year of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne and the golden age of the British Empire, Thomson was in every sense a true Victorian.

In the early 1850's Thomson was apprenticed to a local optical and scientific instrument manufacturer where he learned the principles of photography. Thomson completed his apprenticeship in the 1858 having concurrently attended classes at the Watt Institution and School of Arts where he received the "Attestation of Proficiency" in Natural Philosophy in 1857 and Mathematics and Chemistry in 1858.

In April 1862, Thomson left Edinburgh for Singapore. Initially, he established a joint business with his older brother, William, to manufacture optical and nautical instruments.

In 1863 Thomson established a studio and photographed many of the merchants that lived in and traveled to Singapore. These included according to Thompson “descendants of early Portuguese voyagers, Chinese, Malays, Parsees, Arabs, Armenians, Klings, Bengalees and Negroes from Africa". Thomson soon discovered that more interesting subjects lay outside the studio in the streets and countryside. To this end he equipped himself with a small stereoscopic cameras and a variety of large plate cameras (some contact prints were as large as 14X19 and were probably not full frame) and traveled from 1865 to 1868 to Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The King of Siam was photographed by Thomson. This of course was the same King who engaged the English governess Anna Leonowens the inspiration for the musical play The King and I.

Thomson remained in Siam for 6 months photographing every aspect of the country and people before moving on to Cambodia.

Traveling in Cambodia by boat was not all that pleasant according to Thomson who noted that " Every brush of our oars brought forth myriads of mosquitoes------blood thirsty assailants kept torturing us-----they even swarmed in our mosquito nets, under which we vainly endeavored to sleep". When one of the buffalo carts overturned ruining much of the food supply Thomson, also suffering from a raging fever came across a shrine and two fragmentary "idols" which was his first glimpse of what we now know as Angkor Wat. At the request of the King of Siam, Thomson made a photographic record of ruins including the ruined ancient city that surrounded the temple.

In 1866 Thomson returned to Edinburgh hoping to establish a reputation for himself at the Royal Geographic Society that would hopefully result in some recognition and perhaps even some income. His work was highly praised by a critic in The British Journal of Photography. He found a publisher for an album of the Cambodian photographs. This came out as a very small edition as it was illustrated with actual photographic prints and not printed reproductions.

Returning to the Far East in 1867 Thomson spent three months in Vietnam before moving to Hong Kong. Thomson had met his future wife, Isobel Petrie, in Edinburgh in 1866 and they were married in Hong Kong in 1867. For the next four years Thomson traveled up and down the coast of China venturing inland on some of the many rivers that flow down to the sea.

Bear in mind that all of Thomson's photographs were taken using wet plates. Glass plates and chemicals had to be shipped in by sea from distant sources. His equipment had to be able to stand up to a very humid, tropical environment. In an 1866 article for The British Journal of Photography Thomson wrote " Glass plates have been a fertile source of annoyance to me while in the East ---- When I opened the box I found every glass----useless." and " --a Coolie of artistic taste and oily fingers had ------lifted out each negative-----left two indelible thumb prints (sic) on each--".

By 1870 Thomson had traveled North to Foochow, the river Min and Formosa.

While in Foochow Thomson photographed all levels of the social scale. This included criminals, lepers and beggars. His sensitivity to the lives and misfortunes of others was to become a strong influence on his later work when he moved to London. Part 2 of this article will treat this in more detail.

1. China The Land And Its People,
Early Photographs By John Thomson
(First published in 1873)
ISBN 962 7015 02 4

1. This picture was included in a book entitled Foochow and the River Min published by Thomson in 1873. A recent auction by Sothebys in NY saw an original copy of the book going for $180,000.
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Monday, December 8, 2008

Paul Garrett Recognized

At this year’s WPHS Christmas Party Paul Garrett was recognized for his many years of dedicated service to the WHPS with a beautiful, engraved pen set. President Rick Soloway said in his remarks preceding the annual gift exchange that "Paul Garrett has been the glue that has helped bond the Western Photographic Historical Society together”. Congratulations Paul. Click Here to Read More!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

At the Center for Creative Photography

Oh l'amour: Contemporary Photography from the Stéphane Janssen Collection
November 22 — March 1, 2008

Love — l'amour — is one of art's enduring themes. From classical antiquity to contemporary America, this profound idea, both abstract and physical, has inspired collectors as well as creators. Stéphane Janssen, Belgian by birth and resident in Arizona, is one such collector. Beginning with a love of art that emerged in his teenage years, Janssen went on to assemble an extensive and entirely unique collection that includes almost every creative medium: painting, ceramics, photography, and more. For this exhibition, Janssen generously shares a group of contemporary photographs that reflect his vision as a patron. Sharing elements of fantasy and physicality, exuberance and emotion, these photographs — by artists such as Philip Lorca diCorcia, Sally Mann, Duane Michals, Vik Muniz, and Spencer Tunick, among others — depict love in myriad forms and guises.
The Center for Creative Photography is located in the Fine Arts complex in the northwest corner of the University of Arizona campus, between the Architecture and Harvill buildings. Convenient pay parking is available at the Park Avenue Garage on the northeast corner of Park and Speedway, with direct access to the Center’s front door via a pedestrian underpass. The Center is near several Sun Tran bus routes.
Image Credit:
Anthony Goicolea. Window Washers, 2001. Color c-print. Collection of Stéphane Janssen. © Anthony Goicolea.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Camera Designs of Arthur Crapsey, Henry Dreyfuss and Raymond Loewy

by Rick Soloway and Ralph London
During our exploration into the cameras that famed industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague designed [5], we were tentatively speculating that he may have designed Kodak cameras such as the Brownie Hawkeye, Bantam RF, Chevron and perhaps the Ponys and Signets. Soon our search for Kodak postwar photographic design patents demonstrated to us that Teague had designed none of these cameras. The search also revealed who did.
Teague was certainly involved with Kodak at the time. A former Kodak designer, Arthur Crapsey, Jr. recalls, “In 1946 or 1947 Teague was retained as consultant to the Industrial Design Group being formed under Ted Clement” that already included Crapsey. Fred Knowles and Ken Van Dyck soon joined. Through at least 1958, “Teague was visiting us on a regular basis two to six times a year.” [2] We suggested that Teague might have helped or inspired other designers to create postwar designs.

So if Teague did none of the designs, who did, with or without Teague’s inspiration? Clement started with a 1947 design patent filing for the Tourist. From 1948 to 1958 Crapsey produced a long list of design patents: Brownie Hawkeye, Pony 828, Pony 135, Signet 35, Brownie Holiday, Brownie Bull’s-Eye, Bantam RF, Kodak Stereo, Signet 40, Brownie Starflex, Brownie Starlet, Brownie Flash 20, Signet 50, Pony II (with Frank Zagara), Signet 80, Brownie Starmatic (with Mary Eaton) and the Automatic 35. Crapsey might also have done the 1953 Chevron. Richard Olson and Zagara created the Brownie Super 27 in 1962, and the same year Olson did a camera similar to the Brownie Fiesta. Zagara is responsible for the Instamatic 100, 500 and 300, and Olson the Instamatic 700, all filed on February 14, 1963. Finally, David Hansen has a design patent for an Instamatic filed in 1963. Hansen wrote us, “Arthur Crapsey and Fred Knowles were the industrial designers for the Star line of cameras.” [4] A table of detailed information on these design patents is available from the authors.

Actually, we found no evidence of specific Teague camera designs for Kodak after 1944. Some people might quickly decide that a few of these postwar designs were done by Teague himself. Several websites incorrectly credit the Brownie Hawkeye to Teague. It is noteworthy that in all of our patent searches (which covered 1926 to 1965), Mary
Eaton is the only woman we discovered on a design patent, and this Starmatic patent is her only patent. At Kodak she replaced Gloria Baldwin.

Teague’s camera designs were not limited to Kodak. Teague also played a major role in the early design of the Polaroid Land Cameras. Design patents cosigned by Teague involve the Polaroid Model 95 in 1948, the Highlander Model 80 from 1954, and the 1960 Electric-Eye 900, the first fully automatic Polaroid.

Teague is sometimes discussed together with three other famous contemporary industrial designers: Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes, the first two of whom also designed cameras. Dreyfuss is credited with the design of the 1963 Polaroid Automatic 100 and the 1973 SX-70, the latter design more specifically credited to James M. Connor of Henry Dreyfuss Associates and Edwin Land himself. The SX-70 “was to be the last product worked on by Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) before his untimely death.” Henry Dreyfuss Associates also designed the 1965 Model 20 (the Swinger) and the 1976 Pronto. [3] For Ansco, Dreyfuss did the Automatic Reflex (design patent 157,847), the Pioneer or Chief (121,408), and packaging including the red, white and dark blue design. Loewy also designed for Ansco and is credited with the Anscoflex, Flash Clipper outfit, Rediflex outfit, 2A Home Developing outfit and the luggage style case for the Pioneer (Ansco Jr. Press outfit). [6] The British Purma Special is a 1937 Loewy design. [1] We found no relevant effort by Bel Geddes.


1. Patrick Cook and Catherine Slessor, Bakelite: Illustrated Guide to Collectible Bakelite Objects, Chartwell Books, 1992.

2. Arthur Crapsey, Jr., Transcription dated May 10, 1988 of handwritten notes in response to request to summarize the history of industrial design at Kodak, 2 pages.

3. Carroll Gantz, 100 Years of Design, Industrial Design Society of America website.

4. David Hansen, email, March 15, 2006.

5. Ralph London and Rick Soloway, “Walter Dorwin Teague: Master American Camera Design,” Symposium on the History of Photography, PhotoHistory XIII, Rochester, N.Y., October 20-22, 2006. Also “Camera Designs of Walter Dorwin Teague,” Photographic Canadiana, The Photographic Historical Society of Canada, 2006, to appear.

6. William and Estelle Marder, Anthony: The Man, the Company, the Cameras, Pine Ridge Publishing, 1982. [Loewy is indexed as “Lowey.”]

Rick Soloway (, born and raised in Detroit, graduated from Wayne State University with a concentration of study in the History of Science. Since graduation, he has been a commercial photographer specializing in images for the biomedical sciences. His work has been published in numerous medical journals, textbooks and atlases. Rick's collecting interests include streamline/deco era camera designs as well as compact, miniature and subminiature cameras. Now living in Tucson, he is treasurer and a member of the board of directors of the Western Photographic Historical Society.

Member Ralph London ( collects mainly early wood and brass cameras from the 1840s to the early 1900s plus the catalogs and ads in which they appear. He and wife Bobbi have many of Teague’s cameras. A retired computer scientist living in Portland, Oregon, he contributes frequently to photo history publications. For many years he edited the Cascade Panorama for the Cascade Photographic Historical Society. He also maintains an extensive topical collection of postage stamps on cameras and photography.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Volunteer Photography Mentors Needed!

VOICES: Community Stories Past and Present, Inc. is looking for photographers to work with Tucson youth in a dynamic and creative environment. The 110º After-School Magazine Project provides 30 low-income, high-school-aged youth the opportunity to publish self-driven, personal and community stories in the magazine 110º - Tucson's Youth Tell Tucson's Stories. We are looking for energetic, passionate, self-motivated, and responsible adults to mentor the magazine's youth staff on a weekly basis. Volunteers are an invaluable asset to our magazine project and we need your help finding these qualified individuals.

Volunteers mentor youth in writing, researching, interviewing, photography, editing, professional development, and life skills. We require volunteers to commit to a minimum of 2 hours every week from October 6, 2007 through May 14, 2009. Youth staff work from 4-6:15pm, Monday through Thursday and volunteer mentoring during these hours is key to the success of our program.

Volunteers must be comfortable using collaborative mentoring techniques with youth ages 14-21. In a collaborative mentoring setting, mentors focus on engaging the youth staff in dialogue and critical thinking. Volunteers present their professional skills and knowledge as accessible resources.

If you are interested, please contact Photography Director Krista Niles at or 520.622.7458, ext. 310.

For more information, please visit our web site at
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Monday, October 6, 2008

The Ainger Hall Photometer

copyright 2008 R. A. Suomala
In the process of researching the previous articles dealing with the SEI Photometer I came across reference to an earlier "Spot" meter known as the Ainger Hall Photometer.

British Patent 508122 was issued for this invention on June 27, 1939 having been first applied for on March 25, 1938. The inventors are listed as John Ainger Hall, Francis Harold Schofield and William George Haughton Turl (Note 1).

The patent document describes the invention as "A photographic exposure meter comprising in combination an optical system consisting of an objective lens for forming an image of the field to be photographed and an eyepiece for viewing same; means whereby a small part of the image plane viewable through the eyepiece is illuminated by an independent light source, means for adjusting to equality the brightness of the image of a selected object in the field and said illuminated part, and means for indicating said brightness".

The years 1938 and 1939 (remember WWII?) were probably the worst time to try and market a photographic exposure photometer that was not particularly suited for use by military photographers. This instrument was originally manufactured by the Bowen Instrument Company in England. One source (Ref. 1) indicates that some of these instruments were still being hand made on special order in the 1950's by one of the inventors, W. G. H. Turl.

The Ainger Hall exposure photometer (Schematic shown in Figure 1) has an equivalent acceptance angle of half a degree and its range is just over 1,000,000 to 1. The spot intensity is effected by withdrawing the lamp, the lower part of the body pulling out and turning at the same time under the control of a spiral guide slot (Indicated by arrow in Fig 2). No spot color control or self-calibrating feature is included, but a single adjustable wedge is incorporated for resetting the calibration against a candle flame (Note 2) in a darkened room.

During the October 1945 meeting of the Scientific and Technical Group of the Royal Photographic Society J. F. Dunn and G. S. Plant presented a paper (Ref. 2) describing an improved exposure meter based on the same commonly known principle used in the Ainger Hall instrument. This new instrument was the SEI Exposure Photometer. Whereas the Ainger Hall instrument relied on calibration with a candle flame in a darkened room and depended on stable battery voltage between calibrations, the SEI provided a photocell and rheostat that allowed for calibration at any time. During the discussion that followed Mr. Ainger Hall described the possible problems that the SEI might encounter by the introduction of a rheostat, photocell and ammeter. Some of Ainger Hall's other remarks were recorded as follows: " He thought when he designed his instrument that the twenty-five percent accuracy, which meant about seven percent voltage on the lamp would be a great trouble, but to his surprise using an ordinary unit cell, he found he had not yet used a cell so long that needed any change. He usually took the cell out of the instrument for safety's sake when it was in store and he had always lost the battery before it changed from the first calibration". My experience with the SEI photometer verifies Ainger Hall's comments regarding battery life.

1. J. F. Dunn, Exposure meters and Practical Exposure Control, The Fountain press, London, 1952.
2. The Photographic Journal, Vol. 85B, 1945, pages 114-119.

1. John Ainger Hall, 10 Kitson Road, Barnes, Surrey.
Franicis Harold Schofield, of 8 Seymour Road, Hampton Hill, Middlesex.
William George Haughton Turl, 15 Cambridge Road, Hampton, Middlesex.
2. I tried this with an SEI photometer using a cheap store bought candle and it works but the flickering of the flame makes it a chore. Initially the standard of luminance was that of a special spermaceti candle weighing six to the pound and burning at the rate of 120 grains per hour or 2 grains per minute (The sperm whale was named after the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in its head and originally mistaken for sperm. This substance was used in making candles of a standard photometric value). As the requirement for a more precise standard became necessary the term "candela" was adopted to differentiate it from the term "standard candle". Initially, the candela was defined as the luminous emission of a Planckian radiator, a type of blackbody, at the temperature of freezing platinum (2045 K). This correlated roughly to the light emitted by a typical candle, making it a more precise measure. In the late 1970s, it was determined that the experimental difficulties in creating a Planckian radiator at such high temperatures made the existing definition of candela less than desirable. Breakthroughs in radiometry allowed scientists to have a more specific definition, and so the current hertz/watts definition of candela was adopted. It is technically defined as the intensity in a given direction of a source that emits monochromatic radiation of a frequency of 540 x 10^12 hertz and which has a radiant intensity in the same direction of 1/683 watts per steradian. Personally I rather like the idea of using a real candle since this seems to produce results accurate enough for practical photographic purposes.
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Kodak Flash Bantam

copyright 2008 R. A. Suomala

Back in the 1950's the gracious lady who would become my wife and has remained so for the past 57 years took her whole weeks paycheck plus and bought a Kodak Flash Bantam which she presented to me on Christmas eve. How can anyone not love this kind of woman?

Sometime in the 1970's I had this camera rebuilt by Kodak at a cost that exceeded the original price. By the 1980's I had completely transitioned to 35mm SLR's and the supply of 828 film dwindled so I reluctantly sold the camera to a collector.

The 828 format uses the same basic film stock as 135 film but the film lacks the sprocket holes of 135. The 828 image format is 40 × 28 mm. This provides a 30% larger image compared to 135's standard 24 × 36 mm, yet on the same film stock. Because Kodak targeted 828 at a lower-end consumer market, the film provided only eight exposures per roll. The 828 film originally has one perforation per frame and uses a backing paper with frame numbers that can be seen through a colored window on the back of the camera. The original folding Bantams utilized the single perforation to stop the film at the correct location. One has to press a button on the back to wind the film to the next frame. This is a thinking persons camera as there is no double exposure prevention.

Kodak ceased production of 828 film in 1985. The Traid Fotron camera sold in the late 1960's used 828 format film. This film was enclosed in a proprietary pop-in cartridge that the consumer returned to Traid for processing. The Fotron was a classic scam with door to door salesmen peddling them for 5-10times what they were worth.

I always found that the eight exposures tended to make me much more selective in deciding what pictures to take, unlike today's digital cameras that tend to produce quantity over quality. When wandering about with a small camera in my pocket (like the Olympus XA) I very rarely shot all 20-36 exposures on 35 mm film before processing.

At a recent WPHS meeting I noticed a Flash Bantam on one of the tables and decided to renew my acquaintance with this truly pocket sized film camera

This particular camera had an inoperative shutter but the lens and bellows looked OK. I recently read an article detailing the repair of this camera's shutter on the Internet(1) so I decided to take a shot at it.

Removing the front focusing lens element was easy. Removing the next element was more complicated. The article describes it this way. "Next remove the center lens element. This element simply unscrews, but there are no spanner slots or holes and then lens is likely to be very tight. Use solvent on the threads to loosen them. I had to file two slots in the flange in order to use a spanner wrench before I could get the lens out. Try using a friction tool first".

My friction tool did not work so I filed the slots (see figure 1 below), used a little acetone and a lens spanner wrench to remove the lens.

The shutter assembly was quite dirty. A little solvent was used to remove the visible contamination. A miniscule amount of my favorite lubricant, Breakfree CLP (3), was applied to the pivot pin pins indicated with arrows in figure 2. A touch of shutter grease applied to the speed setting cam (arrow in figure 1) will help keep the shutter working properly.

There seemed to be quite a bit of hand fitting of the parts that made me a little uneasy regarding the results of my efforts. But all was right with the world when the shutter was tested. The 1/25 second speed was right on. The 1/50 and 1/100 second speeds were approximately less than 0.2 stop fast while the 1/300 second speed was 0.5 stop fast. It's a little fast but it will most likely slow up over time.

Now I have to bite the bullet and buy some film at about $20 per roll (4). Just thinking of all the hundreds of 828 film spools I discarded makes me gag.




Note: If you find any errors or tortured English in this article it is all my own doing. Sally, my wife and super editor, is in a hospital in Bangor Maine getting a bunch of pins, plates and screws installed to repair her badly broken leg. I am on my way to Maine tomorrow. RAS 7/31/08
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