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Primitive Photography: A Guide to Making Cameras, Lenses, and Calotypes Paperback – November 19, 2001

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Primitive Photography: A Guide to Making Cameras, Lenses, and Calotypes + The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes + Jill Enfield's Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes: Popular Historical and Contemporary Techniques
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 1 edition (November 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0240804619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240804613
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8.5 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #922,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"for those who want a break from today's high-tech photography by returning to the most basic methods of photography using inexpensive materials and methods." - Photo District News

From the Publisher

Primitive Photography combines the simplicity of pinhole photography, the handmade quality of alternative processes, and the precision of large-format. For those seeking alternatives to commercially prepared material as well as digital photography, it provides the instructions for creating the entire photographic process from the ground up. Given its scope and treatment of the photographic process as a whole, this may be the first book of its kind to appear in over a century.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Greene's book is still a valuable reference.
Eric Lowe
Wooden cameras, simple and compound lenses, and traditional chemestries are carefully detailed in a way that a careful craftsman could duplicate.
Michael J. Edelman
Well done introduction to a wide variety of technical components in the various processes for which he guides the reader into exploring.
Thom Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 9, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the technilogical marvel of digital photography slowly encroaches up, and threatens to replace, conventional silver-based phtotography, practitioners of traditional photography find themselves much in the position that painters did over a century and a half ago: When modern technology can accomplish direct reproduction better than traditional craft, what is the place of traditional craft?
Painters of the late nineteen century reacted to photography by moving away from realism into impressionism and other schools that emphasized aspects other than imitation. Modern photographers have reacted to digital photography in one of two ways. Some have embraced the new medium, happy to be delivered from the mess and isolation of the darkroom. But a few have gone in the opposite direction, emphasizing the craft itself, and seeking to rediscover the charm and the attraction of the earliest photographs.
Alan Greene is one such reverse pioneer. He has looked at the oldest photographs produced by nearly forgotten techniques like cyanotype and albumin, and seen something missing from modern, technically perfect photographs. Part of it is the attraction and charm that comes from the hand-made nature of a primitive, less-than technically perfect image. But another aspect is the more direct participation of the photographer in every aspect of the creation of the image.
Greene finds his artistic satisfaction in not only the darkroom processes, but in the direct creation of the tools and materials of photography. In this he is not unlike those artists who grind their own colors or make their own paper.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Originally conceived as a means to "photographic self-sufficiency" -the ability to make photographs completely from scratch, author and photographer Alan Greene has written an impressive guide to making cameras, lenses, and calotypes that will be invaluable to students of mid-19th century photographic technique and any photographers who would like to discover new ways of seeing and photographing the world around them. The book consists of five chapters: "The Film Holder", "The Camera Body", "The Lens", "Calotype Paper Negatives", and "Salt Prints by Development". Each chapter provides detailed step-by-step instructions on how to make these items, along with lists of the tools and materials needed, and some historical background. Instructions are accompanied by detailed diagrams where appropriate and sometimes by photographs illustrating the procedure. Most of the necessary materials may be found at hardware and art supply stores, although you will have to get some chemicals, lens elements and a contact printing frame elsewhere. There is a list of sources for supplies in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography that may interest photographic historians, and an index.

Chapter 1, "The Film Holder", is dedicated to making film holders and focusing screens. Instructions are given for two sizes, one that is intended for wet paper negatives and one for dry negatives. You may choose to make the holders in a different size, however. Supplementary measurements are provided for those wishing to construct a film holder for use in a modern 8x10 view camera, so you won't have to do the conversions yourself.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Eric Lowe on March 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
I work as a wet plate photographer & daguerreotypist at a historical site in Utah. As such, I must build much of my own equipment--go to your local photo store and ask for a c. 1855 portable darkroom and you'll understand why. Having built
plate holders (the largest of which measures 10" x 14"), box cameras, sensitizing boxes, silver bathes, plate buffs, polishing stands etc. etc., I was fascinated to discover a book written by someone who's done pretty much the same thing. And what's more, his book contains a wealth of information on two subjects about which I know very little:
*A DIY guide for the manufacture of primitive lenses, and
*The Calotype process.
The chapter on lens construction is very good. Greene builds all of his lenses from scratch. His book describes how to build several different types of vintage lenses from PVC, foam core, and glass elements of modern manufacture.
I, however, have never built any of the lenses I use; rather, I've bought several period lenses from antique dealers and E-Bay. The pride of my collection is a full plate Holmes, Booth, & Haydens daguerreotype lens, c. 1853--it takes as sharp an image
today as it did a century and a half ago! But sadly, using antique lenses has caused me no end of headaches. For example, they are difficult to repair when broken. And I'm always more than a bit nervous when I take that beautiful HB&H into the field...
On the other hand, the only problem with a lens made from PVC is well...that it looks like a hunk of water pipe! Cosmetics aside, Greene's lenses--I imagine--work as well as their vintage prototypes. And if you know a good machineist, you can substitute brass for PVC and create a museum quality reproduction.
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