2 NOVEMBER 1907, Page 7


WHY "Modern" P Mr. Gibson. Was there any "ancient" photography P We need not ask, as the age of Daguerre and Fox Talbot already seems to some wrapped in the mists of antiquity, so rapid has been the development of photography and its practical application. Next to chemistry, no science owes more to accident, and the early pages of this book, which detail the slow, patient, and, to most of us, blundering ex- periments of Daguerre and his English rival, will fill the minds of the young up-to-date photographer with mingled delight and amusement. We can all sympathise with the discoverer's enthusiasm when, on going to the cupboard in the morning, he found the blank plate had surreptitiously developed a beautiful image. Besides Niepce, who had already taken photographs with bitumen, one must not forget the story which Chevalier, the optician from whom the two inventors bought their apparatus, tells,—the old sad story inevitably associated with all discoveries. A young man appeared one day at the shop and asked the price of a camera—the camera obscure— which the artists of the day used, and the images of which so stirred the ambitions of Daguerre and Niepce. The price asked was obviously too much for his customer, so Chevalier inquired for what purpose be desired it. The visitor, to cut the matter short, handed to the incredulous optician a view of Paris on paper, most certainly not the handiwork of man. This discoverer was never seen again, and Daguerre could do nothing with the bottle of black liquid which the unfortunate stranger presented to Chevalier. This remarkable incident took place before either of the other men had produced any pictures.

From the scientific standpoint the story of Talbot's discoveries are of more value,—first, because the man set out in life with that steady interest in science which means the evolution of some process; secondly, because he invented negatives ; and thirdly, on account of his possessing the scientific habit of mind. Talbot was not an artist, and was therefore the more likely to attain his object ; artists seldom, if ever, invent. He tried to copy the images seen on paper when looking through the prism known as the camera lucida, and then turned his attention to the camera obscure, like his Continental rivals, the survivor of whom, however, made known his discovery in time to forestall the fame that might well have fallen to the Englishman. Daguerreotypes suited the professional photographer, possessing better detail and being more expensive, though amateurs, we are told, preferred talbotypes as being more easily obtained.

The more recent wonders of photography are within the memory of all,—its application to book illustration, to astronomy, to the reproduction of living scenes, and its last triumphs of telephotography and the three-colour process. We have found some of the most interesting pages in Mr. Gibson's book to be those describing the processes of repro- duction for illustration,—zincotypes, the half-tone process, woodbury-types, the beautiful photogravure, and others; also the chapters on the X-rays, the cinematograph, and other mechanical adaptations of photography. A great deal of space and pains has been devoted to colour-photography and its difficulties, and some of this description has not attracted us much. Once or twice, as in earlier pages, Mr. Gibson might have been a little clearer if he had been a little more categorical.

But one thing, among many others, we may be grateful to him for, that he has not brought in the common incidents of the photography of to-day. There is no suspicion of the snapshot-demon in these pages,—he is one of the curses that accompany all great advances in knowledge. The simplicity of the twentieth-century camera is astonishing, and one does not deny the advantages of an instantaneous portrait, picturing the natural man in a natural position; still, it has its limits. Portraiture by the old daguerreotype was an awful ceremonial, and the mind recoils in horror at the thought of sitting motionless in an armchair with one's face painted white, for twenty minutes. At least the photo- grapher's object was honestly to ensure an exact portrait, which is more than one can say now, when the paint is applied afterwards.

• The Romance of Modern Photography. By Charles E. Gibson. London Seeley and Co. [5s.]