"Well played!" whispered Monica.

I have been acquisitive of books on photography from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s for a few reasons. First and foremost is to get original source material on photographic printing processes that were not yet considered historical at the time. Second, I’ve been looking for images of vintage equipment and advertisements for use in this blog. Third, I’ve been looking for fine examples of photogravures and some books from this period have exquisite examples. 

One such find was The Artistic Side of Photography: In Theory and Practice by A. J. Anderson, a fundamental statement on pictorial photography published in 1910 with hand pulled gravures whose production was overseen by Alvin Langdon Coburn.

I curled up the other night reading it and relishing the gravures. The book’s curious structure is one of presenting the material on pictorial photography then recapping the points in analogy with a third person (besides the reader and the author) named Monica. I wanted to share one brief dialogue (with two gravures from the book), which as I read the passage was left wondering if photography was a metaphor for something else.
The Pianola versus Billiards
“They say,” said Monica sadly, “that artistic photography is like playing the pianola; and I don’t like the pianola, Mr. Anderson.”
“They do say it. I have heard even Evans say it; but it isn’t true.” The girl’s face brightened.
“If I had to make a print from a negative taken by someone else, and my work consisted only in softening some parts and emphasizing others, then I should be like a pianola player. Pictorial photography is like billiards.”
“Go on! Please go on!” urged Monica.
“One has to calculate the angles at which the light rebounds from an object, just as one has to calculate the angles at billiards; one has to calculate the rebound from soft and coloured objects, just as one has to calculate the absorption of energy and alteration of angle in the rebound from a soft cushion; one has to get the exact strength in both exposure and development, just as one has to get the exact strength in a billiard stroke; and one has to play for the break. A break commencing with exposure and ending with a perfect print from an enlarged negative is no small break, and each step must lead up to the next.”
“Well played!” whispered Monica.
“All this time the hand is governed by the eye and brain, just as in billiards; but herein lies the difference: in making a billiard break, two players aim at exactly the same result – an addition to the score; whilst in photography each artist aims at something entirely original. Good average pictorial photographers are about as common as good average billiard players; but taking everything into consideration, is it strange that absolutely first-class men are rare?”
“No, indeed.” said Monica.
“As rare as a Roberts or a Stevenson?”

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