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19th Century Advice

Recently I was attending school in Chicago and during a project for my photography class, I had to do research on old photographic journals. One of the more prominent volumes was called "Camera Notes", subtitled as, "The Official Organ of the Camera Club, New York." Vice President of the Camera Club was none other than Alfred Stieglitz.  I loved reading through the articles, looking at the ornate advertisements...all written of course in the vernacular of the 1800s. Our language has changed so drastically since then! While some may find it quaint, I look beyond that cliche. Instead I see their language and culture similar in form but far grander in daily practice.

These are some maxims from the January 1898 Edition of Camera Notes:


  • Where Ignorance Brings Sense, It Is Folly To Be Otherwise: When you first begin to make photographs, don't pretend that you know all about it. You may gain knowledge by confessing ignorance.

  • A Gun Is A Useful Weapon: In the hands of a marksman, but a dangerous one in the hands of a fool. Some of the most beautiful effects have been obtained by throwing the picture slightly out of focus, but every photograph thrown out of focus doesn't produce a beautiful effect.

  • Be Original In Your Work Even If You Are Called A Crank: The personality of the photographer is shown by the different results he obtains with the same tools. No part should be mechanical or automatic. The photographer may be likened to the pianist. Two players may perform on the same instrument, striking the same keys as given in the music before them, but the sound produced by one may be full of poetic feeling, filling us with the highest and noblest thoughts, while that produced by the other is cold and mechanical, leaving us unmoved.

  • To Wash A Tramp Is To Endanger His Life: But a silver print should be well washed if you desire it to live.

  • Avoid Eccentricity In Framing: Although the ash-barrel makes a suitable frame for a poor photograph.
Grin32 Grin32 31-35, M 5 Responses Apr 12, 2010

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Thanks for sharing this.

There was a recent exhibit of O'Keefe's work here. I think she's highly overrated. But the photos that Stieglitz took of her were the real show-stopper. What a whooped dog he was. The photos of her hands blew my mind.

Stieglitz is the bomb.

Sounds like a very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

That last one is really good - especially considering the icon for "delete" LOL