Saturday, April 27, 2013

How Photography Changed Time: Part 2

All media are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment. Marshall McLuhan
The camera has offered us amazing possibilities, which we are only just beginning to exploit...for although photography is already over a hundred years old it is only in recent years that the course of development has allowed us to see beyond the specific instance and recognize the creative consequences. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Technologies can extend our reach physically and allow us to go beyond the limits of our senses. Television brings events from around the world into our living rooms, for example, and photography lets us see in the non-visible part of the light (electromagnetic) spectrum such as in the x-ray or infrared wavelengths.

X-ray of a human hand (left);
normal photo of a tree (bottom right),
infrared shot of the same tree (top right).
The camera can 'see' in ways that the human eye cannot. 
But, as I said in my first article, How Photography Changed Time: Part 1, photography also extended our ability to perceive time. It has expanded our sense of time -- which I believe is another sense just like touch or smell or hearing but even more important.

As you will see in the following photographs, we can now take a one million second exposure to reveal 10,000 galaxies in the furthest part of space and also millisecond or nanosecond shots of subatomic particles. These long and short exposures give us a slice of time and the power to see worlds unavailable to the eye. The ability of photography to do this has allowed us to confirm that the universe was created with the Big Bang. It has  also allowed us to discover the most fundamental building blocks of matter with photographs of subatomic particles released in high speed collisions.

In my research I found that "starting as early as 1840, cameras were designed to take photographs with astronomical telescopes. After 1900 large telescopes were optimized for photography rather than for observation -- making them essentially telephoto cameras." Coupling photography with astronomy has led to many of the major discoveries about the universe during the last 100 years -- discoveries that were only possible with long exposure photographs. (Quoted in part from my article at A Brief History Of Light & Photography: Part 2)

This composite photograph was included in Edwin Hubble's doctoral dissertation of 1917 and shows photographs of different types of 'spiral nebulae'. Later Hubble proved that spiral nebulae were galaxies outside our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Up until then everyone had assumed that the Milky Way was the entire universe but because of photography scientists found that the universe was much larger than anyone had imagined. From Edwin Hubble's Ph.D. dissertation: Photographic Investigations of Faint Nebulae ( 
Even in the normal world photography can 'see' things that the eye cannot see: events that happen much faster and also events that happen much slower -- such as a photo finish at a race, a bullet piercing a light bulb, the time lapse growth of a plant or the slow motion replay of a touchdown at a football game.

In addition artists have used photographic long exposures to capture continuous motion -- to reveal a moment in time smeared across the picture area like a painting. Or photography can capture moving light sources, such as flashlights used like paint brushes, to create light painting photographs taken over many seconds or even minutes. As a photo artist I have used both of these techniques for over 10 years now and have written a book about it: Experimental Digital Photography, Rick Doble, Sterling Publishing, New York/London, 2010.

Chronophotography: Named for the primal Greek god of sequential time, Chronos, chronophotography was invented by Edweard Muybridge in the 1870s and produces a number of sharp photographs of movement in sequence. Series on the right shows Muybridge's famous sequence of a horse galloping in which he proved that all four hooves left the ground at the same time (top right) -- which the human eye could not see. Photo on the left shows a modern day chronophotograph of a diver, very similar to diving photos now at the Olympics. (

One million second exposure of deep space by the Hubble telescope; this is a cropped enlarged detail showing over a hundred galaxies. The full original photo shows about 10,000 galaxies in the deepest part of the universe. (

Photograph of the first atomic bomb test, code named Trinity, 25 milliseconds after its detonation in New Mexico USA on July 16, 1945. Taken with a Rapatronic camera developed by Harold 'Doc' Edgerton, the high speed photography wizard, exposures of atomic blasts were frequently about 10 nanoseconds (0.00001 milliseconds).

A streamer chamber photograph of subatomic particles: a proton-antiproton interaction at CERN’s Super Proton Synchrotron in 1982. (

Very fast photo triggered at the moment a bullet pierced a light bulb.

Photo finish of a race. (

The same water current taken at a very fast and a very slow shutter speed. The fast shutter speed photo at the top shows water in sharp frozen detail, much sharper than the eye can see; the slow shutter speed photo at the bottom shows the same water soft and foaming -- again in a way that the eye cannot see. (

'Light painting' digital photograph: a self-portrait taken at eight seconds. Digital photography has expanded the ability of artists to use photography for artistic purposes. This self-portrait I took of myself was done entirely by me with a handheld flashlight in one shot. (Rick Doble)

Time lapse animation of a flower blooming.

NOTE: Not only did photography reveal the subatomic world, its discoveries led to the invention of the digital camera -- as the image sensors on digital cameras work because of our understanding of quantum physics.
For more about the history of photography 
and how it changed human perception 
see the reprint on my series:
at the Light Painting World Alliance website

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How Photography Changed Time: Part 1

As a photographer for the last forty years, I only just begun to appreciate the power of photography and how it changed the world.

Time is very different now than it was before photography. Before photography there were only written records, which were often subjective, along with paintings and drawings -- plus memories that were often flawed or that faded within a few year's time.

Photography freezes time. Photography can record reality, objects and details in the real world, independent of our memories. This objective ability can allow us to view the past without the mist of emotions, the rose colored glasses that often tint our recollection of the past.

Why photography is the art of time: A photographic exposure is a combination of the amount of light coming through the lens combined with the amount of time that light is allowed to hit light sensitive material. Time is at the core of photography. This works in two ways. One: the moment the photo is shot freezes an instant in time. Two: the length of the shutter speed can capture an image so that it looks normal to the human eye or capture a picture in ways that the eye cannot see. My next blog will cover that second aspect in detail.
Photographs are used routinely in court cases and other legal matters because they are believed to show an objective picture of reality. While not entirely true, the phrase, "the camera doesn't lie" echoes this idea. 

Time, in a sense, can now be grabbed, taken hold of. We can look at our past in our family photo album or an old yearbook.

100 years ago when Kodak introduced the Brownie, photography became available to every level of  society, from government, to companies, to the upper class and to the average citizen. 

The Wikipedia article on the Brownie included this fascinating comment: "In 1908, the Austrian architectural critic Joseph August Lux wrote a book called K√ľnstlerische Kodakgeheimnisse (Artistic Secrets of the Kodak) in which he championed the use of the camera for its cultural potential. ...he argued that the accessibility the camera provided for the amateur meant that people could photograph and document their surroundings and thus produce a type of stability in the ebb and flow of the modern world."

Now, of course, there are many subjective aspects to photography in which a photographer can chose what to photograph or emphasize and what to leave out -- or even stage the shot. Yet at the moment the shutter is snapped, the photograph is a real world record of what was in front of the lens. (See footnote about Photoshop.)

Look at your family album with photos from ten or twenty years ago. A sharp shot will show the patterns on a dress, the hair cuts, the toys, the decorations in precise detail -- detail that could not have been preserved any other way.

We might call the time before photography, pre-photographic 
just as we call the time before written records, prehistoric. 

If there is truth to the idea that "a picture is worth a thousand words" then visual/photo literacy is now just as important as the written word.
The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.  Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
If you think that I am exaggerating the importance of photography, try to imagine the world without it: no television with photography (film, video, still photos), no instant replays, no YouTube videos, movies, camera-phone snap shots, no photos sent to you on your cell phone, no baby pictures, no yearbook portraits,  no photos in catalogues, online stores, newspapers, books or blogs...

These pictures demonstrate the power of photography. They affect us today not only because they document war in precise detail -- detail that historians will study for centuries -- but because we know that they recorded an actual moment of real people whose lives were wrenched apart. No other art form has this feeling of reality and brings the past alive. 

NOTE: This series of photographs shows war in all its horrible extremes from death to unbridled joy when the war was over -- and contains pictures that may be disturbing to some readers. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Union locomotive "Hero" was captured by Confederates
in the US Civil War during the fighting in Atlanta.
(Mathew Brady - 

Blowup of a portion of the above photo.
A railroad buff would be able to glean volumes about the construction
of this engine from the sharp detail in this photograph.
(Mathew Brady - 

Did you know that balloons were used in the US Civil War? 
I didn't. This photo reveals a variety of information.
(Mathew Brady - 

Ambulance during the US Civil War.
(Mathew Brady - 

Dead Confederate soldier at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia --US Civil War.
(T.C. Roche - 

The last photograph of Lincoln before he was assassinated.
(Mathew Brady - 

Damage in London by German bombers during the Blitz -- World War II.

People walking by smoldering destruction
in London during the Blitz in World War II. 


Abandoned boy in London toward the end of the war -- World War II.

German Solder during World War I. 

The famous Soviet T-34 tanks in night fighting in the winter during what the Russians called "the Great Patriotic War." (

Soviet soldiers relaxing during a lull
in the fighting during the Great Patriotic War. 


A US officer looking at a dead German 'last stand' soldier he believed had killed a number of his men in the battle for Cherbourg, France -- World War II. (

Destruction in Berlin as a result of the war -- World War II. 

Celebration in Times Square, New York City
after the surrender of the Japanese in World War II.
This photo shows the many happy faces of young men
who now knew they would not have to fight and die. 


Civilians caught in the middle of deadly fighting
during the Vietnam War
being directed by a South Vietnamese soldier. 


Wounded US soldier during the Tet offensive
in the town of Hue during the Vietnam War. 


One of many confrontations between protesters and authorities 
in the United States, during the Vietnam War. 

Footnote: Okay -- Photoshop can change what the camera saw, but that is a different question. Plus digital manipulation is usually pretty obvious  and only a tiny fraction of the billions of photos being shot now are being altered.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Revolution in Time

A little more than a hundred years ago, a revolution occurred, a revolution that echoes today and that many people still find troubling. Darwin, Freud, and Einstein radically changed the understanding humans had of their place on Earth. In addition another revolution was taking place in manufacturing -- as Henry Ford pioneered mass production.

And while these ideas were about human evolution, human nature, physics and consumer goods respectively, they also contained new ideas about our understanding of time.

Prior to this, most people believed that the world had been created about 6000 years earlier. Instead Darwin asserted that humans had evolved for possibly millions of years. Geologist later found that the Earth itself was 4.5 billion years old and astronomers established that the universe was 13.8 billion years old. Freud made the assertion that childhood affected us for the rest of our lives and that our adult behavior could be controlled by our early upbringing. Einstein said that time was part of a space-time continuum and could not be seen as separate from space. And even more troubling, he stated that time was relative.

Freud believed that adults were often ruled by their childhood, 
thus making them prisoners of their past. (

Darwin's findings meant that humans were not a special species created by a supreme being but instead had evolved from animals. The related findings of geologists and astronomers meant that humans had only been alive for a tiny portion of the time that the universe had been around and therefore were not that important.  Freud's ideas meant our adult behavior was controlled by our past childhood and therefore we were not nearly as rational or in control as we thought. And finally Einstein showed that time itself was changeable and not what we had believed.

The cumulative impact of these findings was to divorce us from our previously cherished ways of understanding and relating to time.

The short time that humans have been on this Earth pales in comparison to the vast age of the universe. This very modern understanding of time has only come about during about the last 100 years. The latest contemporary estimates put the age of the universe at 13.8 billion years. (

Then Henry Ford developed the assembly line which sped up production by a factor of eight. With his new system, for example, a Model T took 1.5 man-hours to put together, whereas before it had taken 12.5 man-hours. Based on efficiency, time now became just another commodity which could be utilized. This method was so successful, it was copied around the world and led to millions of mass produced quality goods while shackling workers to repetitive boring work and the iron grip of the clock.

Henry Ford's assembly line is now applied to a wide variety of tasks, 
even to making doughnuts! It is a critical component of the industrial world 
which treats time as a commodity. (

But the revolution did not stop here. The invention of electronic communications, the adoption of standards for world time and time zones, plus the invention of incredibly accurate clocks created a world where clocks were synchronized to each other and could be found everywhere.

Standard Railway Time was adopted in the United States in 1883, 
dividing the country into 5 time zones. Many protested. The Indianapolis Sentinel 
wrote that people would now "eat sleep work ... and marry by railroad time."

In addition, still and film photography, video and television all created a different sense of time. They recorded the world so that we could look at the past as it happened -- so that time, in a sense, could now be grabbed and taken hold of. Family photo albums, instant replays, news reports and YouTube allowed us to freeze the past and to look at time in a totally new way.

Yet there was still another dramatic change in the human relation to time -- a  shift  caused by the switch from a farm culture to an industrial one. Only one hundred years ago, around 1900, most societies were agrarian and most people worked on farms. Yet with industrialization, people brought up on farms moved to the city to find work. And so farmers who had woken with the sun were now going to work by the clock.

All of these different revolutions signaled the end of long held beliefs, the end of a close relationship to the Earth and the dominance of clock time. 

I believe that much of the alienation, 
felt in cities today, is due to a disconnect 
between people and their world around them --  
which is partly due to the dominance of clock time

We are governed by clock time -- be late to work and you'll be fired. Be late to class and you'll flunk. Be late to a restaurant and it may be closed. Stay in the bathroom too long and you'll miss the beginning of your favorite TV show. And at the same time be constantly on alert 24/7 for text messages, phone calls, e-mails and voice mails. 

What is needed now is a more nuanced understanding of time -- one that realizes the human experience of time is different from clock time. The clock has allowed us to manage time and to coordinate. Our state-of-the art devices can slice, dice and synchronize time like never before. And this is very useful. Yet human nature and human needs operate differently -- so it is essential that we be in touch with that aspect as well.

The point is that there are occasions when we should divorce ourselves from clock time. We should develop another way of relating to time, while realizing that work and such will be governed by it. Clock time keeps us focused, vigilant, on the lookout -- which will cause a person to be nervous and anxious if that is their only experience of time. 

We need to have two time skills:
one by the clock
the other off the clock
Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. 
William Faulkner
The society already provides a few ways to escape the grip of clock time. 

Films, for example, are never a specific length. When we go to a movie we simply let the story and music carry us along until the end. Music often does not have a specific duration. Go to an art gallery and lose yourself in the timelessness of the art. At bars people forget about the time. We tend to let weekends be less rigid than workdays.

A number of slang terms express this sense, such as: chill, hang out, down time, off the clock, veg out, vegging, take it easy.

Nevertheless the modern world makes it hard for us to relax while experiencing the 'now moment' (see my blog) as it happens. Our minds are often elsewhere -- thinking about plans for tomorrow or mistakes we made today.

If you really want to turn off the clock and feel time in a different way, go watch a sunset. Get caught up in the drama of the lengthening shadows, the changing colors on the clouds, the golden light -- the magic time as filmmakers call it. But don't rush off the minute the sun sinks below the horizon, instead stay there and watch the light fade, the gradual shift from color to black and white -- okay I'm a photographer, I notice these things -- the twilight time when light passes into night. And BTW, shut off your cell phone :)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Continuity & Time

Closely related to duration, yet quite different is the concept of continuity. 

Continuity means that we expect the sun to rise every morning, we expect the road we drove down yesterday to be there tomorrow. Continuity means that things continue from the past into the present and into the future; things remain. Continuity can also incorporate a sense of change that is regular or predictable such as expecting our children to grow taller as they grow older. With continuity time in a sense stops or stops being noticed. Even though your workday was different, your house is the same when you come home and does not change, for example.

Continuity provides the framework for 'meta-time' that I wrote about in an earlier blog -- it is the basis for our mental maps of our office, our home, our favorite bar or coffee shop.

Without a sense of continuity it would be hard to function and do our jobs. We need to assume that roads are safe, that electricity will be available, that the phone will work. 

This medieval 'calendar' shows the work needed for each month, starting with January at the top. Known as the Crescenzi Calendar, it is a monthly calendar of tasks for successful farming. Adhering to these tasks at the appropriate time insured continuity. (

The observance of annual rituals such as New Years and Halloween are ways that societies assert a sense of continuity -- with traditions that reach back thousands of years and that will also be celebrated in the future.

The daily news is often about a break in continuity. We expect planes to take off and land safely; we assume ships will have uneventful trips across the Pacific Ocean. So when a boat sinks or a plane crashes, this is reported.

A sense of continuity extends not only to things but also to feelings and conceptions. A middle class adult who has been to college may see the world as generally benevolent; a teen brought up in an area with gangs and drive-by shootings may see the world as dangerous.

When continuity suddenly changes, it can be quite traumatic. This is because it calls into question what we had assumed would continue. Expecting a loved one to be home by a certain time and then finding that they have been in an accident, for example, is a break in continuity.

Accidents interrupt continuity and bring about uncertainty. 

A break in continuity can also lead to artistic, creative, and conceptual leaps that see the world in a new way.

When the young Charles Darwin was on shore during his voyage on the ship, the Beagle, he experienced a severe earthquake in South America -- something he had never felt before. He wrote:
“A bad earthquake at once destroys the oldest
associations: the world, the very emblem of all that
is solid, has moved beneath our feet like a crust over
a fluid; -one second of time has conveyed to the mind
a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection
would never have created.”

Charles Darwin
In this case, Darwin's assumptions about the stability of the Earth had been upset. Rather than being rock solid, the earthquake showed that the Earth had an almost fluid nature and that it could move substantially over time. And if the Earth itself was not unchangeable, what else might be brought into question?

I believe his experience of this earthquake became a metaphor for what he himself was to do years later, i.e. create a scientific and conceptual earthquake by asserting that humans were descended and had evolved from apes. This idea was a wrenching break in the continuity of thought in which people had believed that humans had been created by a supreme being in one stroke. 

Annual rituals, such as the Chinese New Year, 
are an expression that continuity will continue. (