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Noah James December 18 1978

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Noah James December 18 1978

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Years ago the art of amateur photography was little more than an $8 box camera and a family album of fuzzy Spot, Dick and Jane pictures taken sparingly on birthdays, weddings and holidays. Anything more was difficult, only of interest to the professional or serious amateur. It meant figuring out focus, speeds, f-stops, exposure meters, and more often than not some-

thing went wrong—pictures didn’t turn out. That doesn’t happen anymore. Or it shouldn’t. Today’s photographer with today’s camera has little more to do than aim and shoot.

As a result, anybody can be a photographer and just about everybody is, from grandparents to grandchildren. The new automatic equipment, which does everything but snap the shutter, has transformed photography from a mere hobby into the people’s art.

The camera has become constant companion.

Classes, labs, seminars and studios are crowded with photography buffs. Photo galleries are becoming common. Photography books are the new coffeetable conversation pieces. The number of camera clubs is sharply increasing. Joan Powell, director of the Toronto Camera Club School of Photography, says that interest in photography has never been higher and that lectures draw as many as 200 people. “Publications like Canada, A Year of the Land have generated a great deal of enthusiasm,” she says. “Everybody wants to take beautiful pictures.”

Mark Freiman, who teaches Canadian pop culture at the University of Toronto, describes photographs as the “great keepsakes of our time. During the 19th century, when memory was all important, people kept locks of hair as sentimental remembrances. Today, we take pictures to immortalize landmarks in our personal lives. A photograph holds great charm. It preserves an experience that is unique, that no one can take away from us.”

Taking pictures has travelled a long way since George Eastman, a young Rochester, New York, photographer put his Kodak No. 1 on the market in 1889. The model was priced at $25 and was packed with enough film for 100 shots. The camera and exposed film had to be sent to Rochester by the customers for developing and prints. The camera was then returned, loaded, for $10. Eastman’s slogan: “You press the button—we do the rest.”

That slogan has never been truer than it is today. Photography has been made easy. The new cameras, although incredibly complex and sophisticated on the inside, demand only that the photographer press the button. The camera does the rest. As a result, 85 per cent of Canadian households own one or more cameras. This year alone amateurs will spend more than $300 million on cameras, film and flashbulbs. This, along with professional purchases, adds up to a $700-million industry, bigger than the Canadian jewelry and giftware market, bigger than the sporting goods market. Retail sales are increasing at the rate of $30 million a year. Business hasn’t been as good since the

invention of the 35mm camera.

Today, lenses are fast enough to permit shooting low light level pictures and shutter speeds have a range to capture most action. Automatic exposure, once for the novice only, is now available from such makers of professional single lens reflex cameras as Canon, Pentax and Nikon. Minolta makes a camera that locks automatically when the lens is mistakenly set to overexpose or when the batteries are too weak. Konishiroku recently introduced an auto-focusing camera and experts predict the idea will catch on. Built-in flashes and zoom lenses are becoming standard equip ment on many cameras as well as builtin motorized auto-winders that permit the photographer to shoot pictures rapidly without having to wind the film after each shot.

Last month, RCA Corp. announced that it’s developing an electronic handheld camera that might revolutionize photography because it doesn’t require film or flash and has no moving parts.

Still in the design stage, the company says the camera will be rugged, lightweight and so sensitive that it can take excellent quality photographs—color or black and white—without flash in any light, even on a dark, moonless night. Photographers may view their pictures immediately on a television-like screen on the camera and erase the ones they do not want. Pictures they want to keep will be retained* on a computer-like memory chip in the camera, and either prints or transparencies will be obtainable by feeding an electronic signal from the camera into a photocopy machine at home or at the nearest drugstore or photo shop.

It has a science-fiction quality which no doubt has caught the attention of the “instant” camera makers who are the the leaders of the big boom in cameras. Some 75 million instant cameras have been sold since Dr. Edwin Land invented the Polaroid camera 30 years

ago. They are fun, easy to use and instants offer the excitement of seeing an image appear seconds after clicking the shutter.

Close to one million cameras were sold in Canada last year and about

400.000 of them were instant cameras, with Polaroid leading the way in sales over Kodak. “We are turning out cameras 24 hours a day but cannot keep with the demand,” says Han van Eesteren, general manager of the company in Canada.

David Heath, a photography teacher at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, maintains that the instants are a vital new medium in photography. He totes one wherever he goes and in the past two years has taken more than

10.000 instant pictures ranging from abstracts to portraits and snapshots. “I guess you could call them instant autobiography. I value the spontaneity and the fact the camera frees me from the darkroom.”

Polaroid has recently made big news

in the home-movie field with the introduction of an “instant movie” system which produces color movies 90 seconds after they have been taken. Critics point out that the system cannot be edited, that it needs a special projector.

Yet there is some indication that instant camera buyers have more faddish tastes. Robert Black, president of a chain of camera stores, says the people who buy the more expensive cameras use them more than the instant camera buffs. Sales of 35mm cameras have expanded so much in sales, he says, that there have been periods of shortages in film. The trend, he says, is for people to buy more and more in the $200 to $300 range.

Camera simplicity has led to a great awareness of the entire photo field. “People aren’t afraid of cameras anymore,” says Mark Wolfson, vice-president of Henry’s Cameras of Toronto, which has a corner on two per cent of Canada’s photo business. “Photography is an art that has become accessible to the masses. Not everybody can write or paint or dance but just about anybody who can press a button can take a good picture.”

James Borcoman, curator of photography at the National Gallery in Ottawa, is not convinced that the new technology in photography will bring the art any closer to its creative potential. “People may be taking more pictures but that doesn’t mean they are putting any more thought into it. Hobbyists tend to live within their own shells and are more likely to imitate than innovate.”

Lorraine Monk, head of the still division at the National Film Board, says, “I hate the concept of isolating anything and calling it art. A great image is a great image. I’ve seen enough to know that there are great pictures being taken by amateurs.” She is promoting the idea of a Canadian Centre for Photography in Toronto that would be a place to view and discuss a variety of styles and photo interests.

Photo dealers are predictably advising customers to buy now and it makes sense. Most of the cameras on dealers’ shelves were ordered six months ago, which means that purchases won’t suffer the bite of the devaluation of the Canadian dollar, especially against the Japanese yen.

The Japanese have something approaching a monopoly on the camera market, accounting for 75 per cent of Canadian sales. Most of the existing stocks, dealers predict, will be depleted over the Christmas buying season. And many are predicting a 10-per-cent price increase in Japanese cameras by the spring. Noah James