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George Eastman House Camera book illustrates history of photography from daguerreotype to digital

For the first time in the two centuries of photographic history, a book has been produced that celebrates both the camera and the art of the photograph — displaying images alongside the cameras that created them.

George Eastman HouseGeorge Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film launches this month “Camera: The History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital” (Sterling Innovation, 2009, 368 pp., $45). The world’s oldest museum of photography, Eastman House is home to a number of world-class collections, including the world’s largest collection of camera technology.

The Camera book spans almost 200 years of photographic progress, from the first faint image caught by Niepce’s camera obscura in 1826 to the instantaneous pictures snapped by today’s state-of-the-art digital equipment. Cameras, and the images they make, have changed forever our perception of the world, and of ourselves. Few inventions have had the impact of this ingenious, elegant, and deceptively simple device. The book features 350 cameras and more than 100 photographs, advertisements, and drawings.

“While choosing collection items for the book, it was continually exciting to access the Eastman House archives, which feature both the images and the cameras that together tell the story of the history of photography,” said Todd Gustavson, author of Camera and the Eastman House curator of technology. “This is the first time a book has showcased photographic history in this way, illustrating a photograph next to the camera that took the image, either the exact model or in most cases the actual camera.”

The book’s illustrations pair a number of well-known photographs with the very cameras and lenses used to make them, including Joe Rosenthal’s “Speed Graphic”, which took the Pulitzer Prize-winning image of the flag raising at Iwo Jima; Nickolas Muray’s Tri-Color camera, featured alongside his image of Marilyn Monroe; Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Delta Reflex with the photograph “The Flat Iron Building, Evening”; and two cameras owed and used by Alfred Stieglitz that created his famed photographs of New York City and wife, Georgia O’Keefe..

Camera also features important artifacts such as the Giroux daguerreotype camera from 1839, signed by Daguerre; an 1840 full-plate daguerreotype camera owned by Samuel A. Bemis, one of the first cameras sold in the United States; an 1860 sliding-box camera from Mathew Brady’s studio; a 1884 Racetrack camera owned by Eadweard Muybridge; the earliest-known Kodak camera, no. 6 off the line in 1888; and a 1900 Brownie from the first month of production. Also included in the book are Ansel Adams’ own Brownie and Kodak Vest Pocket cameras; the pre-production model from the O-Series Leica; a NASA Lunar Orbiter from 1966; and the first digital camera, created by Kodak’s Steve Sasson in1975, along with an image it created.

“Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital” is a feast for the eyes as well as the intellect. It is a tour de force of the cameras at George Eastman House with some great images,” noted Matthew R. Isenburg of The Daguerreian Society.

The book’s informative narrative traces the camera’s development, the lives of its brilliant but often eccentric inventors, and the artists behind the lens. Also featured is a foreword by Dr. Anthony Bannon, director of George Eastman House, and essays by Sasson, inventor of the digital camera, and Alexis Gerard, founder and president of Future Image Inc.

“Camera collectors are engaging and discerning, and this book is in many ways for them. But this book is also for people who may not know an f-stop from a bus stop, but enjoy how the world works, how ideas turn into products that come to mediate human experience on a personal and historical scale,” wrote Gustavson in the book’s introduction. “Telephones, automobiles, and radios changed the first half of the twentieth century; TVs, computers, and a hundred labor-savers changed the second. But all along the camera has been there, working harder to deliver what no other product does: something unique, personal, and permanent. No two clicks are the same, and each fresh picture kindles a slightly different story.”

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