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Sherman Says: Would George Eastman have liked today’s smartphone photos?

The man who brought photography to the hands of the masses might not have been too pleased to learn that now, 81 years after his death, everyday people are taking some pretty good pictures, with their telephones.

George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Co., is considered the father of modern photography.

At the advent of primitive photography, exposures were long, because of low sensitivity to light, which was inherent to glass plate negatives. Some photo studios were outfitted with skylights, to allow natural light to illuminate the subject.

Capturing action was out of the question. Cameras were big and bulky, restricting their use. It took bravery for mid-19th century photographers to trek onto battlefields, to become pioneering photojournalists.

Only when Eastman improved roll film, did equipment become more user-friendly. Film speed remained tortoise-slow and was confined to bright, sunny days. Smaller, easier-to-manipulate cameras came with improved optics, and, by the time World War II broke out, the craft of taking photos became common.

Baby boomers were blessed with the option of color film and, with it, color prints. Color transparencies, better known as color slides, were more for entertainment value. Prints made from slides were never sharp and, after all, didn’t everyone want to frame, mail or pass around paper prints? Extra prints were an early version of the photo sharing that Facebook has now made so easy.

What had become a costly preservation of vanity evolved into something everyone carried in their wallets or affixed to their refrigerators.

Photographers began a veritable arms race, buying lenses that could reach farther, capture images in poorer light conditions, or both. While all that was taking place, at the front of 35mm cameras, something else was happening, in the back. A memory card soon replaced the spool of film.

Acceptance was not instantaneous, nor should it have been. Film was still sharper than early digital images. The mechanism for firing off multiple, digital bursts, in rapid succession, was still on the drawing board, making the capturing of sports and other fast action as sluggish as the first daguerreotypes.

Those of us who remained loyal to film were, in fact, just kicking the can down the road. Kodak failed to jump on the bandwagon and eventually slid into bankruptcy.

Just as we were settling into the age of digital photography, another interloper came over the horizon: the smartphone.

The difference between a true camera and a smartphone is so distinct that a new word has been added into our technological vocabulary.

“Although the iPhone’s® camera cannot compete with professional, digital cameras, many amateur and professional photographers are using it as their main photography tool, which is known as iPhonography,” according to www.Photographytuts.com, a website that offers photography tutorials.

The number of effects available as iPhone apps tells me two things. First, images captured via a smartphone are likely to become more distorted and manipulated, making them more of an art form than “pure” photography.

Second, users with no regard for preserving a moment in history will flood social media with wild, unnatural colors and blurry compositions. This is a digital art form.

I suppose Rembrandt would have looked with disdain at the works of Picasso. The former’s attention to realistic detail is far from the latter’s abstract illustrations. Both were still painters.

One of the more interesting apps is called Camera Awesome. It allows users to modify the real world, by applying special effects, setting focus on a specific object in the scene, modifying colors, cropping the image and selecting slow or fast motion. It might be awesome, but it’s not true photography.

The photos I post to Instagram are nearly 100 percent accurate, as to how the subject matter appeared. Send me an email and I will consider sharing my Instagram© account with you.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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