Thursday, June 26, 2008

Assistants' Notes: Sight and the Photographer.

Sight and the Photographer.

           IT goes without saying that sight is the most important bodily function from a photographic point of view. One might imagine an armless, legless, deaf or dumb person performing some job or other connected with the business, and even one with deficiency of intellect might posses some little photographic skill, bat a blind photographer is impossible.
           It follows that a photographer's eyes, good or bad, should not be neglected, but accorded at least a modicum of intelligent consideration. A good many pros. hold the belief that the practice of their craft is in itself sufficient ultimately to damage the sight, and judging by the number of workers one meets whose eyes are not so good as they might be, the belief seems reasonable. On the other hand, there are craftsmen of ripe age whose sight is still perfect in spite of yean of hard work. The fact is that photography can – not must – damage or even destroy the sight of anyone engaged at it, the damage usually being brought about by circumstances many of which are in themselves inconspicuous and therefore unsuspected.
           These circumstances depend on the nature of the work, each branch of the business having its own peculiar sources of possible eye strain. In the studio the eye may suffer from constant straining at a too thick or coarse focusing screen, or focusing with the lens stopped down. This is a small thing, but in a very busy shop when the operator may be behind the camera for bourn at a stretch, the strain will tell. Where roach focusing has to be done, as much light as passable should be allowed through lens and screen, and the work done smartly. Indecision ceases strain, and does not improve the final definition of the picture.
           The continual itching from abort to long focus, occasioned by looking first at the sitter and than at the screen, may tire an eye but if the eyes (and the general health also) are this should prove more of an exercise than a strain.
           Working with artificial light, an operator may damage his sight by allowing the light to fall directly on his face too often; in other words, by looking long or often at the lamp. Continual witching on and off from full light to semi-darkness, as also going in and oat between studio and plate-changing room, will leave its mark on the sight if carried on to a great extent. The moral here is to keep a fair amount of light in the studio all the time, and have an assistant changing. The latter can keep his or her gaze away from the bright end of the studio without any trouble.
           In the dark-room the red or yellow lamp is often blamed for tired or failing eyes. This is not strictly right, though the position and strength of the coloured light is very often to blame. A lamp should never be in a position to sand direct light into the eye when working, and for this reason a hanging lamp, shedding all its light downwards, is to be recommended. The strength of the light should be as great as the sensitive materials will permit. With regard to the printing room, I would say to those who can please themselves: Discard bromide for gaslight, have as much light as you would in your drawing-room, and be comfortable.
           Where yellow or red light is compulsory all walls should be painted vary light: it will obviate much eyestrain in groping about for things which are invisible.
With printing and retouching direct light is mostly used, but in neither case does it – so far as my experience and observation go hart the eye to the same extent as in the case of the dark-room lamp. The difference is this: in one case the eye is working with the image supplied by the direct light and nothing else, in the other the direct rays are worrying the eye and distracting it from its work. This can continue for a long time without the victim being aware of it, even though the eyes and the work may be suffering.
           For retouching, the use of direct light, however, is not compulsory; many workers prefer to work against a white or tinted reflector, and one retoucher I know claims that this practice is repairable for his sight being as good as it was twenty years ago. Retouching with weak light, particularly if the negative is yellow or dense ceases eye strain, while the remarks on dark-room lamps apply also to extraneous light near a retouching desk. Working on very small beads is apt to be trying, and for this a magnifier may lessen the strain, bat it should not be used habitually, otherwise it may become an indispensable crutch.
           Spotting and working-up require sight that if perfectly free from automation, and when done by anyone whose sight is not normal, and not corrected by glasses, this work will greatly aggravate the weakness. At the slightest sign of strain the lighting conditions should be examined, and if not at fault astigmatism should be needed and the eyes tested. Spectacles, however, are not likely to cure bad light; they will correct the vision and so do away with strain, but that is all.
           Before going any further it may be as well to say that this article does not pretend to deal with its subject from any but a purely photographic standpoint. The many defects of vision caused by such things as nerves, bad blood, cigarettes, etc., are not within my scope, and when a photographer's eyes give trouble it rests with him or his doctor to decide whether his craft is to blame or not; it is always possible that some outside influence is causing the mischief. At the same time, a few remarks on the care of the sight may not be out of place. Tired or overworked eyes can be benefited by bathing, and any chemist will make up an eye-bath cheaply. The simplest and safest of these is boric acid.
           Sight can be greatly improved by country walking, particularly in districts where long clear views prevail. In my own experience I find nothing to equal daily gazing at landscape the foreground of which is mostly green, with distant planes stretching to far off mountains. Unfortunately, we cannot always enjoy this kind of cure for tired eyes, but in any case and at all times it pays a photographer to care for his eyes, even if it means a little extra trouble. This applies particularly to young workers. In the vigor of youth details are not so readily noticed as they are in alter years, and a young enthusiast may go on working in conditions which are bad for the sight without worrying until the mischief is done. Years after it may cost a good deal to undo what a little forethought could have prevented. – THERMIT.

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