Category Archives: Photographic Processes

Animal Selfies: A Vintage How-to

P72-115_86, Beaver cutting down tree, photo taken at night by trip wire by SN Leek

(WSA P72-115/86, photo by S.N. Leek)

Long before motion activated trail cameras, photographers relied on ingenuity, and a little luck, capture wildlife on film. Sometimes they were able to stalk the animals and set up a nice shot, but that did not always work, especially at night. Stephen N. Leek, professional photographer and wildlife conservationist, was apparently having difficulty taking photos of beavers, which are most active after dark, so he devised a way for the creatures to photograph themselves. He described the process as such:

There were 5 small trees in this group. A wire was run through  the branches around  them, so whichever tree the beaver cut down first in falling it would pull the wire. This was attached to a trigger firing the flash powder. This in turn was [connected] by wire to release of shutter on camera. The beaver took his own picture by flash light. Note the tree in the act of falling. Photo by S.N. Leek

Today, motion activated cameras are used by scientists, game wardens and sportsmen to photograph wildlife and monitor their movements. These photographs can provide an accurate account of types and numbers of animals visiting a particular spot. Over the course of several weeks or months, the images can also be studied to determine the habits of individual animals.

Game cams are used by the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to prove the effectiveness of several animal underpasses/overpasses installed along wildlife migration corridors to prevent motor vehicle collisions with big game. Cameras have captured deer, antelope, elk, coyotes, bobcats and even moose using the tunnels.

Mule deer using an underpass

Mule deer using the big game underpass at Nugget Canyon near Pinedale. (Wyoming Game & Fish photo)

 

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The Past Future of the University of Wyoming’s Half Acre Gym

Man is of mind and body formed for deeds of high resolve — Percy Bysshe Shelley

So reads the words etched over the entrance of the old gymnasium on the campus of the University of Wyoming. This fall, UW is working towards the completion of Phase I of a renovation of Half Acre Gym on campus, which included the demolition and rebuilding of half of the historic building. The west half of the building was saved and is being remodeled, along with the new east portion, to house modern fitness and wellness facilities.

Half Acre Gym (WSA BCR state government buildings survey photo album, ca 1931)

Half Acre Gym soon after completion. You can see a corner of the practice field in the lower right of the photo.  The original entrance and western half of the building (left side of the photo) is being remodeled. The eastern half has been demolished and rebuilt. 
(WSA BCR state government buildings survey photo album, ca 1931)

When Half Acre was first opened in 1925, it was a state of the art facility. One of the largest indoor university facilities in the nation, its arena covered about half an acre, thus the name Half Acre Gym. The building was home to the UW/Laramie National Guard Armory as well as the athletics program until the field house was completed in 1951.

Aerial view of the University of Wyoming campus in 1931. Half Acre Gym is the large building located on the very edge of campus at the top of the shot, just to the left of the stadium and athletic fields where the student union now stands.  (WSA BCR state government buildings survey photo album)

Aerial view of the University of Wyoming campus in 1931. Half Acre Gym (16) is the large building located on the very edge of campus at the top of the shot, just to the left of the stadium and athletic fields (17) where the student union now stands.
(WSA BCR state government buildings survey photo album)

The following images are part of a lantern slide presentation on the then current and future prospects of UW, created in the late 1920s.

P72-25_49 Print 308, UW Physical Education, New vs Old Gymnasium, 1925-2025, lantern slide

Check out the projected lifetime of the “new” gymnasium. It looks as though at least half of the building will make it to 2025 and beyond. Considering how far exercise and sports medicine has come since 1925, 89 years isn’t anything to sneeze at either. 
(WSA P72-25/49 Print 308)

P72-25_49 Print 309, UW new gymnasium, 1925, lantern slide

The slides themselves are 4 inches by 3.25 inches and made by sandwiching the emulsion layer (the gelatin layer that contains the image) between two pieces of glass. This would then be projected onto a screen or wall for an audience using a candle or later a light bulb. Eventually, glass would give way to celluloid film and the slides would shrink to the familiar 35mm slides before being replaced entirely by digital presentations.

A group of men gather in the Woodmen of the World Hall to view a lantern slide presentation. The contraption on the table is the lantern slide projector.  (WSA Meyers Neg 1009, 1910-1915, photo by Joe Shimitz)

A group of men gather in the Woodmen of the World Hall to view a lantern slide presentation. The contraption on the table is the lantern slide projector.
(WSA Meyers Neg 1009, 1910-1915, photo by Joe Shimitz)

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“You Push The Button, We Do The Rest”: George Eastman’s 1st Box Cameras

On September 4, 1888, George Eastman received a patent for his box camera. Photography was by no means a new concept, but Eastman’s new invention made it a fun and reasonably affordable hobby for the masses.

http://www.geh.org/fm/brownie2/htmlsrc/mE13100003_ful.html

An early Kodak box camera. The thumb screw advanced the film.
Image from the George Eastman House

With this simple wooden box, anyone could now take a picture and be fairly certain of the results. For $25 (about $640 today), you could purchase the camera which was pre-loaded with 100 frames of film. Eastman had developed this paper based roll film a few years early, revolutionizing photography and paving the way for a transition from fragile, heavy glass negatives to light, flexible celluloid based film (which he introduced in 1889).

The cameras were marketed with the tag line “You press the button, we do the rest.” And they were true to their word. The cameras were simple and truly “point and shoot” — no focusing, no adjusting. Once all 100 frames were used, the entire camera was returned to Eastman Kodak where the negatives were developed and pictures printed. The camera, loaded with new film, was sent back with the prints. This meant that budding photographers wouldn’t need to master the darkroom developing techniques or bother with finicky chemicals.

Photos taken with these early cameras are fairly easy to spot since they produced round images. The images from first generation cameras (1888) were 2.5 inches in diameter and second generation (1889) cameras 3.5 inches in diameter.

The photos produced by the early Kodak box cameras were round.  This one is from a 2nd generation camera, which produced a slightly larger circle. You can even see the photographer's shadow! (WSA Carter Print 34, Mr & Mrs Lance Short, Fort Washakie, Wyoming, ca 1889)

The photos produced by the early Kodak box cameras were round. This one is from a 2nd generation camera. You can even see the photographer’s shadow!
(WSA Carter Print 34, Mr & Mrs Leonard/Lance Short, Fort Washakie, Wyoming, ca 1889)

 

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Red Cloud in Blue

Every so often, you come across an item in the collection that is so unusual it makes you stop and stare. This is one of those items, both for its subject and technique.

Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, in 1888. Cyanotype on silk.  (WSA B-82)

Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, in 1888. Cyanotype on silk.
(WSA B-82)

In 1888, Ogalala Lakota Chief Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, sat for an unnamed photographer. He would have been about 66 and she about 53. The two were married  around 1850 and it was said that she was very jealous of other women vying for his attention and was the undisputed head of the household.

During the 1860s, Red Cloud’s band of Ogalala Lakota Sioux warriors joined with several other groups in attacks against the US Army stationed in the Powder River Basin. They attacked Fort Phil Kearny repeatedly, lured and killed Captain Fetterman at what became known as the Fetterman Massacre, and were the cause of John “Portugee” Phillips’ famous 236 mile ride to Fort Laramie for reinforcements. In fact, the entire series of battles became known as “Red Cloud’s War.” (read more about it on WyoHistory.org)

The Treaty of Fort Laramie at 1868 brought an end to "Red Cloud's War." The US Army agreed to abandon forts in Northern Wyoming and build agencies for the tribes in the region. (WSA Sub Neg 5439, 1090, National Archives photo, by Alexander Gardner)

The Treaty of Fort Laramie at 1868 brought an end to “Red Cloud’s War.” The US Army agreed to abandon forts in Northern Wyoming and build agencies for the tribes in the region.
(WSA Sub Neg 5439, 1090, National Archives photo, by Alexander Gardner)

In 1868, Red Cloud participated in the treaty talks at Fort Laramie which lead to the US Army abandoning the forts, including Fort Phil Kearny, in northern Wyoming.  Red Cloud went on to lead the Ogallala Lakota as chief from 1868 until his death in 1909.

The treaty also stipulated that the Lakota be confined to an Indian agency, the forerunner of the reservations. It was named in Red Cloud’s honor and moved three times before it was renamed the Pine Ridge Agency and permanently located in South Dakota.

This particular type photograph is called a cyanotype and was printed on what appears to be silk. Cyanotypes are made by treating paper with potassium ferricyanide and a ferris salt. The negative is placed directly on the prepared paper and exposed to UV light (usually sunlight), which causes the exposed portions to turn a muddy yellow. The prints are then “developed” using plain water and the yellow-green become the characteristic blue and the original color of the paper shows through in the highlights.

Detail of the cyanotype. The image is crisp and clear, despite the texture of the fabric.  (WSA B-82)

Detail of the cyanotype. The image is crisp and clear, despite the texture of the fabric.
(WSA B-82)

The process became a favorite technique for architects reproducing plans which became known as blueprints. Amateur photographers also liked the processes because it was cheap, simple, and produced a wonderfully detailed image, but the blue color made them less than ideal. Pre-treated cyanotype paper is available today in sun print or sun sensitive paper kits. (As a side note, faded blueprints and cyanotypes have a fascinating habit of regenerating to some extent when they are stored in the dark for long periods of time.)

The same process was  used on fabric for this photograph, a technique which is still fairly popular with textile artists who use natural materials and found objects as well as negatives or transparencies to create their designs. Silk is a favored fabric because of its tight, even weave and smooth texture, but modern cottons are also used.

Examples of cyanotypes. These two were amateur snapshots taken in Cheyenne's Holliday Park and then printed on postcards. The large dark spot in the lower photo is a dog's head as it swims toward the camera.  (WSA P71-78_14b & e, ca 1906-1907)

Examples of cyanotypes. These two were amateur snapshots on postcards taken in Cheyenne’s Holliday Park and then printed on postcards. The large dark spot in the lower photo is a dog’s head as it swims toward the camera.
(WSA P71-78/14b & e, ca 1906-1907)

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