Before There Was Photoshop, There Was Lewis Reed…

If you take a look at the state of photography today, such as the advances of digital cameras and the artful image manipulation by Photoshop, it is easy to forget that back in the 1900s photographers couldn’t just go into a computer program and change their images any way they wanted. They did what they could with the tools they had. Double image exposure was one tool Lewis Reed had in his photography tool belt. He was doing crazy things to images and creating humorous effects over 100 years ago. With double exposure technique, you could create certain effects like placing the same person on both sides of a picture simultaneously. Photographs were pieced together in the darkroom from separate photographs.

Spotting these manipulated photos in Lewis Reed’s extensive collection has been both easy and difficult. It wasn’t until I viewed the high resolution scan that the modification jumped out at me. The photograph below taken at Black Rock Mill, highlights Lewis Reed’s photo manipulation. (click image to enlarge)

Double exposure image at Back Rock Mill 1905

This is a double exposure photograph of Lewis Reed and the same two ladies with bundles of flowers appearing twice – standing on a bridge over Seneca Creek at Black Rock Mill – and on the left at the foot of the bridge. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1905

With double-exposure technique, Lewis Reed learned how to make a subject appear twice in a frame, as if they had an identical twin. To capture these images, he would snap a picture of the subject in one position. Then, he would have to move into another pose before the following photo was shot. Rotating lens caps and special glass plates (the precursor to film) were also part of the process. The final image was then pieced together and developed in the darkroom from the separate photographs. The result was a playful and surreal approach to early photographs.

Double exposure technique often left a telltale vertical line running down the center of the image that is lighter than the left and right sides — a fuzzy stripe separating the two exposures. This is the area where the two exposures overlapped. The picture is lighter where the images overlap because the exposure value is doubled (causing over-exposure) in that specific vertical area. The left half of the image (standing at the foot of the bridge) ends where the light band becomes dark on the right side. And vice versa for the right half of the image (standing on top of the bridge).

Today we are accustomed to Photoshop and people manipulating images, but back in the early 1900’s photo manipulation was used as a form of whimsy.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

2 responses to “Before There Was Photoshop, There Was Lewis Reed…”

  1. Jonathan B. Richards II says :

    Good Evening, Ms. Jeanne Gartner,
    Photo manipulation characterized as a ” form of whimsy “. Perfect. From my
    standpoint , as a forever amateur photographer, the double-exposure technique resulted from accident rather than intent. In the day of antiquated mechanical advancement of the film within the camera body an incomplete advancement of the film sometimes resulted in a double or at least juxtaposed exposure of two subjects. For your grandfather Lewis Reed photography was an art form as well as a means for him to preserve and document his life and the world in which he lived. His sense of the passing of that history and his life is beautifully reflected in the photo images he has left for us to enjoy. Stay well and keep on blogging. Sincerely , the old man in Missouri.

    • Reed Brothers says :

      Thanks for stopping by Jonathan, and taking the time to leave your comment. I always enjoy hearing from you. My very best wishes to you and your family for a Happy Thanksgiving!

      Sincerely and wishing you good health,

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