Advice for amateur photographers from 1905

While I was researching some historical information for the Cardiff Arcades Project the other day, I came across some rather amusing articles from the magazine “In and Around Cardiff.”

The magazine appears to be a sort of listings, what’s on, local culture and notices magazine that first appeared in 1905. One of the regular features was “For the Amateur Photographer”, which, naturally, my eye was drawn towards.

While some of the advice is irrelevant today, unless perhaps you do still have a darkroom in your bathroom, and good for you if you do.

I just love the language that is used in the writing of this time, I do feel it’s a bit of a shame that we don’t write like this anymore. I wonder if people will think us so quaint in 2111? Probably.

These quotes are taken from the very first issue of In and Around Cardiff, published May 1905:

“We will suppose that you have purchased the camera for which your soul has hankered: that you have secured all the paraphernalia which goes with it […] and are now ready for your wicked quest of victims!”

No. 3 Folding Brownie Model B manufactured by Eastman Kodak Co. Ltd. from 1905-09. Picture by Bill Strong.

Next up, they offer advice for your first photography trip: “We should be most insistent in driving the words, “work with an object,” into your cranium”. Quite a literal image there to be opening up, but heck, it really emphasises the message.

“If a novice makes a bad start, there is a good customer gone from the books of the local dealer; a more or less good camera is sold cheap – again robbing the dealer of his legitimate profit; a member of the community has unnecessarily wasted his money; and a ready-made sceptic for everything photographic.”

Camera fiend

The writer goes on to assure that “new pleasures, fresh surprises, and bits of wonderment for the delectation of its devotees” can be had for those willing to “work with an object” – so true. And it’s here that the writer makes reference to the ubiquitous “camera fiend”, or. “he [that] wanders around the earth aimlessly “snapping” at everything within reach”.

Obviously in today’s digital climate, it’s not such a financial burden if someone does “snap away aimlessly”, but it’s something to avoid nonetheless.  Indeed, as I have got more experienced with my photography I find myself taking less and less pictures, not more. I finally realised after several years of full hard drives that it really was about quality not quantity.

Or, as the writer more eloquently puts it, “then, the time will not be unduly extended, ere he tires of his undertaking; a possibly valuable exponent of the art is lost; and disappointment reigns, in every department that has been requestioned.”

They go on, “Haven’t we all seen the young man who, with a set face – and a camera, of course – has stood straddled-legged across the landscape, and with a praise-worthy endeavour deserving of a better cause, has snapped away at everything within reach?” Haven’t we just.

“We have probably wondered, why the youth was so misguided as to waste his substance in this riotous manner? Yes! Now, if the young man has stopped, for long enough, in his wild career to be sure that, say, his camera was “loaded up” with “film sides out;” that the shutter was closed, and in good working order; that his subjects were just ambitious enough, but not too much so; then he would be likely to continue, step by step, in a manner that would be creditable to himself, and enjoyable to his patient friends.”

Truly a lesson to be learned there for every person intent on making you sit through an endless slideshow of boring holiday photos taken from slightly different angles.

By the second issue, the magazine had begun to receive images for criticism, which really have to be seen in the flesh (ask to take a look at Cardiff Central library if you’re in the area) to get the full benefit, but I will share one final paragraph from Issue 2, which just made me chuckle.

“We know that it is difficult to believe, that under favourable conditions, an excellent photograph may be “taken” in a fraction of a second. It is the truth all the same!”.

Well, I’ll be.


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