Kodakery 7, no. 6 (February 1920). Detail.
Amateur photography is integral to the history of the medium. Beginning in photography's early years, handbooks, manuals, and instructional films played a key role in its popularization. This exhibition examines the promotion of amateur photography in the pre-digital era through early technical manuals by amateurs, promotional manuals by manufacturers, tutorials by major modern artists, specialty how-to books, and vintage instructional films.
Materials are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art Library, unless otherwise noted.
The exhibition is organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library.
Amateurs played a major role in the invention of photography, a medium that emerged in the 1830s. Self-published bulletins, yearbooks, and technical handbooks enhanced communication among early adopters of the medium, addressing subjects ranging from chemical formulations to regional club activities to debates about photography as an art form. Many commercial ventures grew from amateur experiments, and these in turn subsidized the publications, as seen in the prevalent advertising for lenses, plates, and complete cameras.
A. K. P. Trask. Trask's Practical Ferrotyper (Philadelphia: Benerman and Wilson, 1872).
This frontispiece is an actual ferrotype, also known as a tintype. The caption is technical, specifying a "Chocolate Tinted Egg Shell Plate" rather than describing the actual subject—a portrait.
Marcus A. Root. The Camera and the Pencil (Philadelphia: Root, 1864).
In 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot introduced the landmark photobook The Pencil of Nature, with its metaphorical title referring to the camera as a recording tool. Root's "pencil" seeks out human nature, and here he devotes numerous chapters to facial expression and meticulous techniques for flattering portraiture. This comparison of two images illustrates technical manipulation to compensate for
a vertically asymmetrical face. With no pretentions to objectivity, the captions indicate "nature distorted" and "corrected."
Gaston Tissandier. A History and Handbook of Photography (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1878).
J. Towler. The Silver Sunbeam: A Practical and Theoretical Textbook (New York: Anthony, 1879).
One of several didactic publications by E. and H. T. Anthony, a major US emporium of cameras and photography supplies, this "encyclopædia of the art
to date" testifies to rapid technical developments and increasing public demand. See also this digital version of the 1864 edition.
Several issues in this volume include a mounted print showcasing a photographer, printer, and current technology. This one is a collage of views by an engineer and hobbyist taken on "his rambles among Long Island scenery…[It] comes from the leisure hours of a very busy man, and should be an incentive to work to all our amateur friends."
Anthony's Photographic Bulletin 8, no. 9, (1886).
American Amateur Photographer 6, no. 1 (January 1894).
This journal's record of developments among regional groups makes it an excellent chronicle of the activity of photographers in the United States at the turn of the century. Issues such as this one devote pages to "Prominent Amateur Photographers," creating a facebook of far-flung colleagues.
M. M. Gaudin and N.-P. Lerebours. Derniers Perfectionnements apportés au Daguerréotype (Recent improvements to the Daguerréotype)
(Paris: N.-P. Lerebours, 1842).
This foldout illustrates a studio setup, including a chaise longue and a neck holder for portraits (to
help stabilize the subjects during the long exposures). The introduction explains that rapid technical developments are making instructions out of date within a few months.
Amateur Photographer's Annual, 1893.
In this "guide to the leading photographic haunts in the empire," a listing for Suffolk specifies, "A good foreground of water, with an old cask or buoy to catch the light, a brig or schooner . . . and a background of hill and foliage!—what more can the artist wish for?"
P. H. Emerson. Naturalistic Photography (New York: Scovill & Adams, 1899).
The author sees photography as a goddess "who has stolen the light from the sun for mortals, and brought it . . . in silvery drops to be moulded to your lover's wish, be he star-gazer, light-breaker, wonder-seeker, sea . . . or land-fighter, earth-roamer, seller-of-goods, judger-of-crimes, lover-of-toys, builder-of-bridges, curer-of-ills, or lover of the woods and streams."
||T. Stith Baldwin. Photography Self Taught (Chicago: Frederick J. Drake, 1903).
Ueda Chikuken. Anyone Can Master the Latest Photographic Method (Tokyo: Sanseisha, 1920).
Cameras were first imported into Japan in the late 1800s. This manual's dictum that "anyone can master" photography shows how accessible it had become. The book is notable for traditional Japanese illustrations, as in this representation of a darkroom.
Early in photography's first century, film pioneer George Méliès staged this fantasy of an image transmission mechanism.
George Méliès. La Photographie Électrique à Distance (Long Distance Wireless Photography) (Star Film, 1908).
Promotional Publications by Manufacturers
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when complete cameras first became readily available to the amateur, manufacturers used manuals and2guides as a form of advertising. The Eastman Kodak Company famously popularized photography through innovative product design—but also with aggressive promotion through manuals, guides, a magazine, and advertising in other publications.
First published in the early teens, this guidebook was revised and republished for over seventy years. See also this digital version of the 1922 edition.
How to Make Good Pictures (Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak, n.d.).
The Brownie camera of 1900 truly popularized photography in the United States. These diminutive manuals were consistent with the company slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest."
Picture Taking with the Nos. 1 and 1A Pocket Kodaks, Series II (Rochester, New York.: Eastman Kodak, 1923). Detail at left, showing how to hold the camera.
Picture Taking with the Brownie Cameras, No. 3 and No. 2-A (Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak, 1916).
Kodakery 7, no. 6 (February 1920) and no. 9 (May 1920).
In a conscious sales strategy, women and children are depicted as active, outdoor photographers in this magazine, published from 1913 to 1932. "Albums," such as this photographic "biography of a baby," encouraged the creation of nostalgic narratives.
F. M. Needham. Complete Instructions in Photography (Chicago: Sears, Roebuck, n.d.)
Kodak Master Photoguide (Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak, 1973).
"It's just the right size to fit in your pocket, purse, or camera bag, so it will be handy when you need it." Indeed, this guide condenses extensive data into a tiny package, including paper-wheel "computers."
Rollei (Braunschweig, Germany: Franke und Heidecke, n.d.).*
Why Leica? (New York: Leitz, 1933).*
EXA (Dresden: Ihagee, n.d.).*
Better Photography Made Easy (Binghamton, New York: Agfa Ansco, 1943).*
The cover combines two of the most popular subjects in manuals and guides: children and pets.
Ansco Flash Photography Guide (Binghamton, New York: n.d.).*
Which Shall It Be? (Stuttgart: Zeiss Ikon, 1960).*
Smena Symbol: User's Manual (Leningrad: LOMO, 1983).*
The Russian LOMO brand is known for the unusual color effects of a 1984 model. The Smena predates the LOMO but, like it, was made for popular use.
FED 5-B Camera: Users Manual (Kupiansk, Ukraine: Kupiansk City Printing, 1981).
Introduced in 1933, the FED was the first mass-produced Russian camera. Developed by the future head of the KGB (the Sovet Union's intelligence and security agency), manufactured in a commune, and used in the workers' photography movement of the 1920s and 1930s, the FED embodied Soviet values.
Film Camera FED-2 (Moscow: All-Union Mashpriborintorg, n.d.).*
Manufacturers' manuals often depict families, selling the idea that photography is an activity for all ages.
How to Use Your New "620" Reflex Spartus Camera (Chicago: Herold Products, n.d.).*
Introduction to the Canon AE-1 (Canon, 1980).*
Canon introduced its first 35mm camera internationally after World War II, establishing Japanese cameras in the marketplace. This manual shows a cartoon couple asking, "What's all this? Warranty, instructions…We don't need all this stuff."
This mid-century commercial appeals to the target market for instant cameras: middle-class families.
Kodak Brownie Television Commercial (Eastman Kodak, 1958). Excerpts. Archive.org.
At a swinging dance party, a flashbulb camera captures all the action.
Kodak Instamatic Television Commercial (Eastman Kodak, 1961). Excerpts. Prelinger Archives
Tutorials by Major Modern Photographers
As photography became established as an art form, numerous well-known modern photographers published guidebooks. These helped to popularize artistic photography, challenging amateurs to think beyond conventional imagery. Many of the writers used photographs by colleagues as illustrations, showing how the distinctive work of individuals fit into the larger modern movement. These first-person accounts of approach and technique are highly valuable for scholars today.
Berenice Abbott. The View Camera Made Simple (Chicago: Ziff-Davis, 1948).
This modest 1930s syllabus lists lectures by critic Elizabeth McCausland and photographer Paul Strand as well as a workshop with documentarian Sid Grossman.
Berenice Abbott. Photography Syllabus & Readings (New York: Photo League, n.d.). Facsimile
Ansel Adams. Basic Photo Series (New York: Morgan and Lester, 1948–68).
After Making a Photograph (also on view in this case), Adams went on to publish this influential mass-market series. Natural Light Photography, in particular, has introduced generations of photographers to Adams's zone system (developed with colleague Fred Archer) as well as his technique of visualization.
Ansel Adams. Making a Photograph: An Introduction to Photography (London: Studio, 1935).
Here Adams covers technical issues, aesthetics, genres, and expression, intending to "augment the sincerity of individual production and the intellectual and emotional honesty of those who contemplate entering this vast field."
Arthur Felig (Weegee) with Gerry Speck. Weegee's Creative Camera (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1964).
In this book Weegee recalls that he first made "creative" photos "as an escape from the world of naked reality when . . . I covered the police beat in New York City." The pictures were "good enough for magazines like Mad, Sick, Hobo News, Police Gazette, etc."
Andreas Feininger. The Creative Photographer (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1955).
Feininger argues that "the picture is the end . . . the subject is the reason why [and] the camera is only the means."
Andreas Feininger. Advanced Photography: Methods and Conclusions (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952).
Feininger published his first didactic book in the 1930s and continued throughout his career. Here
he creates a self-portrait by way of demonstrating a fish-eye lens.
Harold Edgerton and James Killian, Jr. Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High-Speed Photography
(Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint, 1939, and Charles T. Branford, 1954).
Edgerton's famed milk drop takes its place alongside just about everything that moves, from hummingbirds to well-known athletes to children playing paddleball in this image by photographer Gjon Mili.
Minor White. Zone System Manual: How to Previsualize Your Pictures (Hastings-on-Hudson,
New York: Morgan and Morgan, 1965).
White draws from his teaching experience in this expansion upon Ansel Adams's visualization and zone system techniques (see books by Adams in this case).
Eisenstaedt's straightforward guide includes a section called "Mistakes I Have Made," with reminders to "remove your lens cap before shooting" and "make sure the camera is loaded."
Alfred Eisenstaedt. Eisenstaedt's Guide to Photography (New York: Viking, 1978).
Models come alive in this visit to a magazine photographer's studio.
The Girl on the Magazine Cover (Jam Handy for Chevrolet, 1940). Excerpts. Prelinger Archives
As leisure time, photography, and mass-market books became standard elements of middle-class life, they also became more specialized. As a means for communication between amateurs and professionals, these manuals (from the 1940s to the present day) recall their nineteenth-century predecessors.
Specialized photography manuals have proliferated even into the digital era. But as cameras become ever more automated, disciplinary boundaries dissolve, and interest groups thrive online, the era of print manuals is ending.
Don Herold. Enlarging Is Thrilling (Brooklyn: Federal Manufacturing and Engineering, 1947).*
Glamour Portraiture (Baltimore: Camera Magazine, n.d.).*
Everybody's Photography Manual (New York: Popular Science, 1951).
W. Suschitzky. Photographing Children (London: Studio, 1940).
"You will want to start the pictorial record of your own child as soon as possible": the author confirms today's assumption that childhood will be fully documented.
Philip Knight. Yosemite Picture and Photo Guide (Redwood City, Calif.: 5 Associates, n.d.).*
How to Make Snapshots at Night with Your Camera (Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak, n.d.).*
Willard Morgan. Photography of Nature and Wild Life (New York: National Educational Alliance, 1945).*
David Charles. Photographic Skies: How to Collect, Store and Use Them (London: Iliffe, 1948).*
Handbook of High-Speed Photography (West Concord, Mass.: General Radio, 1967).
In his introduction, Harold Edgerton declares "a new era which brings the high-speed photographic system of experimental research into the reach of everyone."
C. Douglas Milner. Mountain Photography: Its Art and Technique in Britain and Abroad (London: Focal, 1945).
Paul Wahl. Press/View Camera Technique (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1962).
Paul Wahl. The Candid Photographer (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1963).
Robert Simmons. Guide to Winning Photo Contests (New York: Greenberg, 1956).*
Doug Wallin. Basics of Underwater Photography (Garden City, New York: Amphoto, 1975).*
Michael Busselle. Manual of Male Photography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985).*
Manuals about the human figure tend to focus on women. Here the lens is turned toward men.
Larry Miller. Police Photography (Cincinnati: Anderson, 1998).
Glenn Rand. Lighting and Photographing Transparent and Translucent Surfaces (Buffalo, New York: Amherst, 2009).*
Patricia Maye. Fieldbook of Nature Photography (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1974).
Ansel Adams states in the foreword, "What we see
'out there' is chaos; what we see within is form and expression."
Sven Gillsäter. Wildlife Photography (Göteborg, Sweden: Hasselblad, 1974).*
The author is willing to "wait indefinitely in some stinking, steaming jungle hole or in freezing arctic wastes while awaiting an exciting animal subject."
Mikol Davis and Earle Lane. Rainbows of Life: the Promise of Kirlian Photography (New York: Harper and Row, 1978).
Kirlian, or electrophotography, is believed by some to record the "energy fields" of living things. Here, impressions of fingertips upon a charged photographic plate ostensibly yield "colorful but elusive life-bubbles."
Special Problems (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life, 1981).
Larry West with Julie Ridl. How to Photograph Insects and Spiders (Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole, 1994).
Alan Hess. All Access: Your Backstage Pass to Concert Photography (Indianapolis: Wiley, 2012).*
A wide variety of photographic specialties are depicted in this vocational film.
Photography (Burton Holmes, 1946). Excerpts. Prelinger Archives