The art of photography
After graduating from Goucher College with a degree in Historic Preservation, James fine-tuned his craft working as a laboratory technician processing and printing images for Jack E. Boucher, HABS/HAER/HALS’ longest-tenured professional photographer.
James takes photographs the old fashioned way: with a large-format view camera that itself is a work of art. It is simple yet sturdy: a metal frame with bellows (leather that folds, accordion-style, and keeps out light) perching on long tripod legs. James slides a single large-format negative holder in, ducks under a black cloth to view the image on the ground glass inside the camera, then sets the shutter to snap open the “eye” of the camera lens. In that instant, the 5 x 7 inch, silver gelatin negative is exposed to the light and the image of the cabin—or chimney, or screen porch—imprints indelibly onto film. Photographers still use silver film because it is very stable: in the archives, it can last up to 500 years, a measure of its “archival stability.” Digital photography may be more convenient, but it has not been proven to have the same archival stability as film. All of the today’s negatives will be scanned at high resolution; the negatives will be stored at the Library of Congress, and the digital images that result will be available to the public online at the American Memory website of the Library of Congress.
The large-format camera is the key to photographing buildings; no other camera can match its ability for documenting historic structures large and small. In service at HABS/HAER/HALS since 1964, this German-made Linhof mono-rail studio camera takes a type of photograph that has existed in some form for 160 years, going back to the origins of photography itself. Instead of having to tilt the camera up to include the tops of buildings in the frame, the photographer levels the camera, then slides the camera’s lens up or down on vertical rails. The advantage: there is no distortion near the top of buildings that make structures look as if they were tapering to a point. Straight, clean lines mirror what the eye would see, and architects who make drawings based on the photographs can measure each piece of the building accurately.
To read more about HABS/HAER/HALS and what happens when James returns from the field, go to page 3: History: the whole story.
Did You Know?
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