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Primitive Photography: A Guide to Making Cameras, Lenses, and Calotypes Paperback – 19 Dec 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press (19 Dec. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0240804619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240804613
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 21.6 x 28.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 474,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"for those who want a break from today's high-tech photography by returning to the most basic methods of photography using inexpensive materials and methods." - Photo District News

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This chapter addresses the construction of film-holders for use with the calotype or paper-negative process. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By BigAl on 3 May 2011
Format: Paperback
If you are looking for a book that covers in-depth camera and lens making then this is a great book I found some parts very in depth and needed reading a few times to understand but it's all there just give yourself time to take it in
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By jonathan carr on 26 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a great example of how to make an incredibly interesting subject very boring. The content of the book could be reduced to 4 or 5 sets of plans. Most of the rest of the text is needless padding. I gave the book away. I wish I hadn't I suspect the person I gave it to will hate me for it.
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By william cameron on 24 Aug. 2014
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great book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
A passion for craft 9 July 2002
By Michael J. Edelman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the technilogical marvel of digital photography slowly encroaches up, and threatens to replace, conventional silver-based phtotography, practitioners of traditional photography find themselves much in the position that painters did over a century and a half ago: When modern technology can accomplish direct reproduction better than traditional craft, what is the place of traditional craft?
Painters of the late nineteen century reacted to photography by moving away from realism into impressionism and other schools that emphasized aspects other than imitation. Modern photographers have reacted to digital photography in one of two ways. Some have embraced the new medium, happy to be delivered from the mess and isolation of the darkroom. But a few have gone in the opposite direction, emphasizing the craft itself, and seeking to rediscover the charm and the attraction of the earliest photographs.
Alan Greene is one such reverse pioneer. He has looked at the oldest photographs produced by nearly forgotten techniques like cyanotype and albumin, and seen something missing from modern, technically perfect photographs. Part of it is the attraction and charm that comes from the hand-made nature of a primitive, less-than technically perfect image. But another aspect is the more direct participation of the photographer in every aspect of the creation of the image.
Greene finds his artistic satisfaction in not only the darkroom processes, but in the direct creation of the tools and materials of photography. In this he is not unlike those artists who grind their own colors or make their own paper. Whether the finished product is better because of it is not the issue; I think Greene would instead take the position of Walter Benjamin as outlined in his famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". Benjamin argued that it was the hand of the artist that brought what Benjamin called the "aura" or the essence of the art.
To accomplish this end Greene has carefully reconstructed the historical processes and tools of the 19th century photography. Wooden cameras, simple and compound lenses, and traditional chemestries are carefully detailed in a way that a careful craftsman could duplicate. The results, judging from the samples Greene shows in his book, are worth the effort.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Step-by-Step Guide to mid-19th Century Cameras & Negatives. 1 Oct. 2004
By mirasreviews - Published on
Format: Paperback
Originally conceived as a means to "photographic self-sufficiency" -the ability to make photographs completely from scratch, author and photographer Alan Greene has written an impressive guide to making cameras, lenses, and calotypes that will be invaluable to students of mid-19th century photographic technique and any photographers who would like to discover new ways of seeing and photographing the world around them. The book consists of five chapters: "The Film Holder", "The Camera Body", "The Lens", "Calotype Paper Negatives", and "Salt Prints by Development". Each chapter provides detailed step-by-step instructions on how to make these items, along with lists of the tools and materials needed, and some historical background. Instructions are accompanied by detailed diagrams where appropriate and sometimes by photographs illustrating the procedure. Most of the necessary materials may be found at hardware and art supply stores, although you will have to get some chemicals, lens elements and a contact printing frame elsewhere. There is a list of sources for supplies in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography that may interest photographic historians, and an index.

Chapter 1, "The Film Holder", is dedicated to making film holders and focusing screens. Instructions are given for two sizes, one that is intended for wet paper negatives and one for dry negatives. You may choose to make the holders in a different size, however. Supplementary measurements are provided for those wishing to construct a film holder for use in a modern 8x10 view camera, so you won't have to do the conversions yourself.

Chapter 2, "The Camera Body", is dedicated to making two types of cameras: a sliding box camera for use with wet or dry negatives and a collapsible folding camera for use with dry negatives only. (The collapsible camera is meant to be portable, and wet negatives aren't ideal for hauling around, as they don't stay wet for long.)

Chapter 3, "The Lens", is dedicated to making 4 types of lenses: the singlet (landscape lens), the symmetrical duplet (periscopic lens), the asymmetrical duplet (portrait lens), and the symmetrical triplet. These lenses may be used with a modern view camera by substituting the appropriate lens board. Instructions for making lens boards for both cameras from the previous chapter are provided. This chapter also does a nice job of explaining the basics of simple, combined, and compound lenses and the properties of lenses in general: focal length, angle of view, circle of illumination, aperture, transmittance, and various types of aberration.

Chapter 4, "Calotype Paper Negatives", is dedicated to 2 types of paper negatives: wet-paper process and waxed-paper process. Wet-paper is considered most appropriate for portraiture because the negatives must be used quickly after sensitizing, before they dry out. Waxed-paper requires longer exposures but is dry and need not be used quickly. These negatives are suited to landscape, architecture, and anything that requires time to locate. There are lists of recommended papers for both processes. Step-by-step instructions take the reader through Iodizing, Sensitizing, Exposing, Developing, and Waxing the negatives. You can choose from several recipes for Iodizing and Sensitizing solutions.

Chapter 5, "Salt Prints by Development", is dedicated to making prints. The author has chosen to give instructions for making prints "by development", which is a combined chemical and sunlight procedure, because those prints are faster, less expensive, offer more contrast control, and are more stable than prints made with sunlight alone. There is a list of recommended papers. Instructions are given for both Immersion and Floatation Starch-sizing procedures, Salting, Sensitizing, Exposing, and Developing the print. Greene has also included instructions for The Serum Process, which uses whey instead of salt, including directions for how to make the whey from milk.

"Primitive Photography: A Guide to Making Cameras, Lenses, and Calotypes" is a terrific manual for mid-19th century printing processes. I love the digital darkroom, but I find the basics of image capture and camera construction fascinating. To say that building the equipment in this book or making calotypes is a lot of trouble would be an understatement. But being so directly involved in creating an image on paper has an appeal, at least from time-to-time, that pressing a shutter button on an impressive piece of 21st century technology does not. "Primitive Photography" provides some interesting alternative ways to see the world and to capture it.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Do-It-Yourselfers Unite! 8 Mar. 2002
By Eric Lowe - Published on
Format: Paperback
I work as a wet plate photographer & daguerreotypist at a historical site in Utah. As such, I must build much of my own equipment--go to your local photo store and ask for a c. 1855 portable darkroom and you'll understand why. Having built
plate holders (the largest of which measures 10" x 14"), box cameras, sensitizing boxes, silver bathes, plate buffs, polishing stands etc. etc., I was fascinated to discover a book written by someone who's done pretty much the same thing. And what's more, his book contains a wealth of information on two subjects about which I know very little:
*A DIY guide for the manufacture of primitive lenses, and
*The Calotype process.
The chapter on lens construction is very good. Greene builds all of his lenses from scratch. His book describes how to build several different types of vintage lenses from PVC, foam core, and glass elements of modern manufacture.
I, however, have never built any of the lenses I use; rather, I've bought several period lenses from antique dealers and E-Bay. The pride of my collection is a full plate Holmes, Booth, & Haydens daguerreotype lens, c. 1853--it takes as sharp an image
today as it did a century and a half ago! But sadly, using antique lenses has caused me no end of headaches. For example, they are difficult to repair when broken. And I'm always more than a bit nervous when I take that beautiful HB&H into the field...
On the other hand, the only problem with a lens made from PVC is well...that it looks like a hunk of water pipe! Cosmetics aside, Greene's lenses--I imagine--work as well as their vintage prototypes. And if you know a good machineist, you can substitute brass for PVC and create a museum quality reproduction.
Using Greene's instructions, I've already begun work on a pair or single element landscape lenses for a wet plate stereo camera.
Greene's information on the calotype process is also excellent. Though, the attention I devote to producing dagoerreotypes and wet plate images leaves me little time for calotypes. Greene's book is still a valuable reference. Indeed, during the late 1850's, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and calotypes were all being produced contemporaneously. The soft, warm look of the calotype was the perfect compliment to the exqusite sharpness of the daguerreotype.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Now I want to make stuff. 3 Jan. 2002
By Robert Hobbs - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books that makes you want to run out and do something. The first two sections lay out the construction of two old types of camera (sliding box and folding), with film holders for paper negatives.
The third section describes several old lens types, and includes guidelines and step-by-steps for building four types of lenses. I don't know where else you could find this kind of how-to, and considering the easy availibility of surplus optical components, anyone interested in large-format photography should think about making some super-affordable new lenses.
The fourth section is about making calotype paper negatives. While this is interesting stuff, it seems like the least useful to the modern photographer. If there is one area where modern advances are hard to approximate, it is in the quality of modern film.
Finally there is a procedure for making salt prints by development. Every other reference I have read describes Printing-out with salted paper. Developing-out seems like an extremely useful variant on this most basic of alternative processes.
The book is quite clear and specific. Sometimes Greene seems a bit too locked-in to 19th century standards (like plate-sizes for negs and prints) and he relies heavily on the work of one calotypist, Thomas Sutton. In some cases, he has chosen an uncommon method to describe rather than the typical, and some of these would be difficult to find elsewhere. I believe the chapter on developing-out will be worth the price of the book, and the chapter on lenses could literally save thousands of dollars while opening up new possibilities.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Plenty to chew 14 Aug. 2002
By Thom Mitchell - Published on
Format: Paperback
Well done introduction to a wide variety of technical components in the various processes for which he guides the reader into exploring. I would have like to see his section on optics and lenses better explained though more graphs, drawings, etc. A must have book if you are at all mechanically inclined and like to tinker in photography. Also it works for someone who has no intention on building any of the items but would like to know more about the processes of photography. My one gripe is the content of the photos; illustrating salt prints, various effects of toning solutions, etc. leaves a little bit to be desired. Because of slow shutter speeds there are far too many building and static structures and not enough other subjects. Of course this might reflect Mr. Greene's artistic vision, but it limits the power of the illustrative examples because of the simularity of subject matter.
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