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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.

New Online Exhibit: Early 20th Century Photo Magic

Photo MagicMontgomery History has launched a new Photo-Magic section of their recent exhibit, “Montgomery County 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed“. Learn about about 20th century photo editing tricks — and find out how the photo above was manipulated. The new exhibit section details how self-taught photographer and pioneering automobile dealer Lewis Reed edited photos before computers existed, using techniques like hand-tinting and double exposure. This exhibit was co-developed by Blog Author, Jeanne Gartner and Montgomery History Librarian & Archivist, Sarah Hedlund.

Lewis Reed’s ‘Ghost’ Photograph

spirit photography

Surrealistic, ghost-like effect of Lewis Reed (right) standing next to a tree in the middle of train track. From Lewis Reed’s Photograph Collection

Lewis Reed had a passion for photography and had the know-how to try out a few of the trick shots that were popular at the time — including creating double exposures that made it look as if there were ghosts in the picture.

When I saw this photograph — which is slick enough to fool anyone not paying attention to detail — I became curious. How on earth did he do that? So I did some research to get some information on what went into this type of photography. This technique often left a telltale vertical line along the center of the image — a fuzzy stripe separating the two exposures.

Supernatural effects were mainly accomplished using double exposure. When developing the photos, a pre-prepared glass plate would be used which already had the image of a person on it. This would be the ‘ghost’. It would then be inserted into the camera in front of an unused plate which was used to shoot the photo. The developed negative comes out with both images on it — an incompletely exposed ghostly image as well as a sitter, looking perfectly unaware.

I think it’s really amazing how Lewis Reed’s early photography shows such versatility and creativity.

Photo Manipulation Without a Computer

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. Instead of retouching an image on a computer, as it’s done now, it originally took place on the negative.

Photo manipulation was one tool Lewis Reed had in his photography tool belt. He was 100 years ahead of his time by creating special effects to images long before the convenience and efficiency of digital photography and Photoshop were ever imaginable.

I was hugely interested in how this was undertaken, and by the fact that the modification looked so seamless in the printed image. Spotting these manipulated photos in his extensive collection has been both easy and difficult. Some were simple double exposure images or hand colored images. The addition of these hand-drawn backgrounds was a little more difficult. It wasn’t until I viewed the high resolution scan that this modification jumped out at me.

Reading up on the subject I have become aware that retouching is in fact an art that evolved right alongside the birth of photography. The photographs below were retouched by hand (also known as “handwork”) on the glass negative using a hard graphite pencil and pieced together in the darkroom from separate photographs. The two photographs, one of the people standing on the edge of a cliff, and the other of the hand-drawn mountains, appear to be joined at the edge of the cliff where the mountains begin. All of this required a degree of artistic skill and access to a darkroom. Lewis Reed developed his own photographs in a darkroom in his house — in the kitchen, to be exact — and worked at night to develop the negatives.

The photographs below show two unknown people posing on a cliff in front of a hand-drawn background of mountains.

1900s digital manipulation

An original photograph retouched with hand-drawn mountains by Lewis Reed

1900s digital manipulation

Same photo as above, different angle, retouched by Lewis Reed.

Today, we can look back and appreciate the time and creativity it took to edit these photos without Photoshop.

Lewis Reed Shows Off His “Photoshopping” Skills… 100 Years Ago

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.

Below are eight (circa 1920s) photographs from Lewis Reed’s collection that will make you do a double take. No digital manipulation here. (click on photos to enlarge)

1900s double exposure image

A double exposure image of Lewis Reed’s brother, Edgar, seated on both sides of a table.

1900s double exposure image

Lewis Reed standing on both sides of a steamroller

1900s double exposure image

Another double exposure wonderment. Wanna Fight?

1900s double exposure image

Oh No! What on earth are they doing? I don’t know, but this one is epic.

1900s double exposure image

Don’t Shoot! Lewis Reed is standing both front left and front right in this photo

1900s double exposure image

Surrealistic, ghost-like effect of Lewis Reed standing next to a tree in the middle of train track.

1900s double exposure image

More “photoshop” fun. Lewis Reed pushing the same man in baby carriage on both sides of the photo.

1900s double exposure image

It’s a bird, it’s a plane .. no, it’s a man up in a tree!

 

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