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The Great West Illustrated In A Series Of Photographic Views Across The Continent 1869
CREDIT: Andrew Joseph Russell, Avalon Fund and New Century Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Photo books the hard way

Studying stuff in the work of others

Cool and wet this evening so no sky photography. The sky is plain and grey but reminding me of some older work I had studied. As did the issue of having to move about heavy equipment for my moon camera project. Another chance to think about how photographic practice has changed over the years.

The albumen print was introduced in 1850 and was a dominant technology for several decades. Taking a photograph then was somewhat more complex than pressing the shutter on a DSLR, with the use of large paper or collodion glass negatives. As a result photographers had to carry lots of large format camera and processing equipment around with them.

Here is an example from Andrew Joseph Russell, taken in 1869 on an assignment with Union Pacific to document the building of the transcontinental railroad in the US. As a photographer of the time he had it relatively easy -  he was given a railroad car to haul his stuff. However, the photo book was less than easy; a bound volume of around 50 albumen prints.

When I first saw this print at an exhibition in Washington DC I spent some time studying the content. A cold and dusty location for a photo darkroom. And a sky that is plain and grey; probably burnt out. Photographic materials in those times were predominantly blue sensitive so at a guess all sky detail was sacrificed to get the tonal range of the railroad.

Spend some time studying stuff in the work of others; in books and exhibitions. Where would you place yourself in this image? Escapism in these times of confinement.