Photographic technology history

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by kdoxley, Jan 10, 2019.

  1. Hi there

    I hope this is the right forum. I understand that 'history' questions belong here, in 'philosophy'.

    I am not a photographer but I hope to beg the expertise of the many of you that are.

    I'm doing some creative writing on a story set in the 1940s in the UK. Part of the plot hinges on the idea that a photo taken in the mid 1920s (an image of the person) could pass as having been taken in 1942-1943.

    In terms of the technology of photography of that era - is this believable?

    Thanks so much in advance for your time.
  2. Technology didn't change drastically between the dates you mention.

    Most photographs during that era would have been contact prints, that is, the print was the same size as the negative. So if you wanted a bigger print, you used a bigger film size. Films, mostly roll films from the 1920's were generally still around during the 1940's. (and some are still available today). The 35mm format was introduced during the 1930's but it was still rather rare and expensive, and not many people would have had 35mm cameras in the UK wartime. I believe many were requisitioned by the government for war use.

    As far as cameras go, again there wasn't a vast difference. Most people would have used box cameras with simple lenses which gave a characteristic look to the pictures, sharp in the middle, blurry towards the edges. More expensive cameras had better corrected lenses with better overall sharpness. Have a look here for some pictures I recently did with a 1920's box camera:

    An Ernemann Film-K

    As to whether a 1920's print would still look new enough in the 1940's, well, much would depend on the way it was stored.

    Hopefully others will come in with things I haven't thought of. If not you may get more feedback if you post in the Classic Manual Cameras forum here on
    amispec and kdoxley like this.
  3. Dustin McAmera

    Dustin McAmera Yorkshire

    120 film was introduced in the first years of the 20th century,and is still *the* medium-format film. Both professonal and popular cameras making (say) 2¼x3¼ inch pictures would have been made throughout the period you give, and into the 1950s (and anyhow, I suspect people kept their cameras for longer then). Some, like the Kodak Brownie box cameras didn't change all that much over the period. You could make it an Ensign, to be even more British.
    127 'vest-pocket' film would also be around, and used in many popular cameras. I don't think professionals ever used this size much.
    For more serious photographers, bigger film (quarter-plate is 3¼x4¼ inch); would be available as either glass plates or film; there was even roll film that gave negatives this size; I have an Ensign Carbine folding camera that size, which can use either the roll film or plates.

    The mid-20s is a bit too early for 35mm; the first Leicas were only just being developed then.

    I suppose if your detective were able to get his hands on the negative, that might be more likely to give the game away; the maker's markings on the edge might give a clue about the age.

    About lenses, I guess a 1920s camera for a serious user is more likely to have a double-anastigmat and by the 40s that might be a triplet lens or a Tessar. In challenging circumstances that might show in the photograph, but not in a simple shot taken in good light. I think even by the 40s, people were still taking studio portraits with Petzval lenses (an absolutely ancient design) to get a soft rendition and blurred periphery. Box cameras had simple meniscus or meniscus-achromat lenses, or at best a Rapid Rectilinear, and didn't change during that period, I think.
    kdoxley likes this.
  4. Hi, I have no idea about the camera/film technology but I'm also a member of the genealogy forum "Rootschat". Rootschat has this sub-forum dedicated to dating and restoring old photographs. In dating photos, different 'clues' are used, including technology, but especially clothing fashions, photographic (portait) styles, frames, degree of fading, etc. The folks there are pretty knowledgable.

    You might want to post your question to the Rootschat sub-forum too. There may be certain types of photo (outdoor? winter clothing?) that might be more 'believable' than others (studio? summer clothing?). I'm not sure whether this fits in with plot but perhaps having a film from the mid-1920's developed in the 1940's and passing it off as 'recent' would perhaps be more believable than a 1920's 'print' still having the same print quality (no fading) as a 1940's 'modern' print.

    You'd need to register before posting a question at Rootschat but membership is completely free. If you already have a photo in mind, you can upload this with your question. The folks there are a friendly bunch and I'm sure they'll give you all the help they can.

    I might be making too much of this but I suspect that there are more differences between 1920's and 1940's printed photos than simply 'camera/film technology'.
    Hope this helps.
  5. The first camera I had (back in the mid 1970's) was a 120 roll film camera which would have been practically indistinguishable in features from models available in the 1920s.
    A well preserved print from 20 years previous certainly could look like one from only a year or two back.
    As Dustin mentioned labelling on the negative might date the film used but I know people who have recently used 35mm film from the 1970s with good results, so old film COULD have been used anyway.

    In aging photos it's often the clothing that gives things away more than other aspects, though the processes used before 1900 did look quite different - they are still used occasionally but went out of regular use fairly rapidly once film became available.
    kdoxley and mikemorrell like this.
  6. HI everyone
    Wow. I'm overwhelmed by the amount of responses and the comprehensive nature of your knowledge! I think I have all I need to go on for now but will certainly follow up with all the avenues you suggest if I need to in the future.
    Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
  7. You're very welcome!

  8. Maybe too late for the OP, but I wonder if printing paper technology changed over those years.

    Well, I suppose old papers would have still been around, but a newer paper might be easy
    to distinguish from an older one. Some papers now have brand names written on the back,
    but older ones that I know didn't have that.
  9. Again, I'm late to the party- but, for the sake of future posters, the older instruction to post history in the philosophy forum pre-dated the origin of the historical threads on Classic Manual and Modern Film.
    michaellinder likes this.
  10. Maybe that is why I don't read this one often.

    Ones about cameras could go in those, and I suppose ones about film in either
    Black and White or Film and Processing. Maybe ones about paper could go in
    one of those, too, though maybe less obvious.

    But some of the really old ones, like collodion or albumen processing
    might not go in one of those, so maybe could go here.
  11. I think that any such post would get more attention and readership in Classic Manual Cameras and it would still fit there, even the ones on a camera obscura, for example.

    You may have noticed that the Philosophy forum has its very own 'cachet' that is not exactly 'antiquarian'. :rolleyes:
  12. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Be glad to move this - pick a forum!
    michaellinder likes this.

Share This Page