Camera innovations, from photography’s earliest beginnings to the present day, are an intriguing journey of twists and turns. Many efforts to improve the picture-taking experience through new designs, features and accessories were successful but, as with any maturing technology, photography’s evolutionary tree is also riddled with dead-end branches.
In his presentation “A Brief Look at Unusual Solutions to Early Photographic Challenges”, Rob Niederman, collector and historian specializing in pre-1900 American wood & brass cameras and accessories, will show and describe some lesser-known designs that might be considered perplexing and even outlandish by today’s standards.
The discussion includes items from Rob’s collection: a rare lens-mounted Daguerreian prism to correct the issue of lateral reversing of “hard-images”; a variety of wet- and dry-plate equipment capable of creating multiple images on a single plate using different methods; late-19th to early-20th century hybrid cameras able to make pictures on both plate and film; plate cameras with odd shutter arrangements; and two rare accessories—an intimidating early-1900s pistol-shaped powder-flash and a deceptive c.1906 accessory claimed to retouch photographs while being made.
Researching the lore and legacy of photographic apparatus and documenting their “stories” is an important aspect of Rob’s collecting. In 1998, he created and continues to update a website devoted to his collection, www.antiquewoodcameras.com, which includes a dedicated webpage listing worldwide photography sites as “recommended.” He also has Instagram accounts displaying some of his collection and photography: @antiquewoodcameras and @robniederman.
In 2011, working with another collector, Rob completed a 1 1/2 year endeavor called The Digitized Kodak Catalogue Project which was made available to the collector community. In addition to including digital scans of 67 Kodak catalogues spanning 1886 to 1941, keyword searches for cameras and other items can be conducted across all catalogues.
His articles about wood & brass apparatus and accessories appear in publications by the Photographic Historical Society of New England, the Photographic Collector’s Club of Great Britain, the American Photographic Historical Society, the Michigan Photographic Historical Society, the Cascade Photographic Historical Society, and the Chesapeake Antiquarian Photographic Society. Rob’s extensive working knowledge of photography contributes to his understanding of early equipment. He built a darkroom at the age of 11, began shooting large format up to 11 x 14 inches by age 17, and continues to study pictures by master photographers. In 1980, he was accepted into Ansel Adams’ Yosemite workshop.
Before collecting cameras and pausing his photography pursuits, Rob attended the University of Arizona. He is a retired IT executive with over 35 years in the fields of tele- and data-communications and large-scale datacenter management and operations. Over the years, Rob has been contacted by museum curators, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, professors, and authors looking to identify and clarify the use of early equipment and processes in their proper context for exhibitions and stories.
Don’t miss this engaging presentation and discussion Sunday, Nov 5, 2023 at 7:30PM ET on Zoom. Be sure to visit the PHSNE Virtual-Meetings channel on YouTube (@phsnevirtual-meetings8752) for more photographic history presentations.
What the heck…
Are Those Even Cameras?!
Join the PHSNE Newsletter and learn more about photographic history and preservation. Already an expert? Come and share your collections and knowledge as we celebrate the history and advancement of photography.