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            Oskar Barnack


                        By Eugene Struthers

Humanist photography.



Oskar Barnack (1879-1936)




In an optical factory Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar, Hesse Germany which was renowned for developing world class microscopes since 1849. Oskar Barnack a German precision mechanic and industrial designer had been employed by the Leitz company between 1913 and 1914. He was Head of development and was instrumental in wanting to progress and move the company forward away from the traditional. Barnack suffered from asthma   and sought to reduce the size and weight of the heavy plate camera and supporting equipment. He wanted to search for a total new form of camera technology. In 1905, Barnack had researched and put forward an idea of reducing the negative format and enlarging the photographs at a later date. His 35mm design assisted the overall concept of exposing a small area of film to create a negative, then enlarging the image in a darkroom. In the capacity of development manager, Barnack was able to test exposures for the film and improve the device which held it, he developed the Ur-Leica. The Ur-Leica became the first truly successful small format camera in the world. The small picture format of 24x36mm was achieved by doubling the 18x24mm film format The photographs which were created by this new technology in 1914 were of outstanding quality for this time in history. The onset of World War I delayed the first Leica from series production until 1924, and it was only introduced to the public in 1925 at the Leipzig Spring Fair as the Leica I. It was only until Leica's chief optician Ernst Leitz took a risk with the new technology that he authorized the production of one thousand cameras. Dr Max Berek at Leitz had designed the Elmar 50mm f3.5 lens (which was a design influenced by the Zeiss Tessar). The Tessar is a famous Photographic lens designed by Paul Rudolph in 1902. This lens was patented by the Zeiss company. The lens type is commonly known as the Zeiss Tessar (Comprising four elements in three groups, one positive crown glass element at the front, one negative flint glass element at the center and a negative plano-concave flint glass element cemented with a positive convex crown glass element at the rear).


The word Leica stood for a contraction of the wording Leitz and Camera. The new Leica camera used a standardized film strip instead of the exposure plates used in past Leitz cameras. This they adapted from the 35mm edison roll-film. The 35mm film derives its name from the basic film gauge (being the width) most commonly used for both still photography and motion pictures. This has remained unchanged since its introduction since 1892 by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson (3 August 1860 - 28 September 1935). William Dickson was an Anglo-Scottish inventor who devised an early motion picture camera under the employment of Thomas Alva Edison. Using film supplied by George Eastman (1854 - 1932) founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and inventor of the roll film. George Eastman was instrumental in bring photography to the mainstream. Eastman was fascinated by photography but found the whole process of great inconvenience . As it required coating a glass plate with a liquid emulsion, which a photographer had to quickly use before it dried.


After several years of experimentation Eastman had been able to develop a process by which to replace the British gelatin emulsion. In 1884 Eastman had been able to replace the fragile glass plates with a photo-emulsion coated on paper rolls. His invention had greatly increased the process by which multiple images could be recorded. Eastman had coined the marketing phrase, "You press the button, we do the rest." For a ten dollar processing fee, the camera owner could send the camera to the company. The company would develop the film, print off the 100 images and send you back a new roll of 100 exposure film. Four years later after consultation with his mother Eastman registered this company the trademark Kodak.I thought I would share this with you as it is the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Oskar Barnack. As I recently bought a second hand Leica camera from a village market. I thought I would dedicate a few words to this industrial designer.

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