About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Friday, February 17, 2012

How to Read a historic photograph

The Barkerville, B.C. Bridge photograph examined.

I am an eBay lurker. I track many items that come onto eBay, in particular those with a history or provenance related to the Cariboo gold rush or Barkerville Historic Town here in British Columbia.  About a year ago a photograph came up for auction, one that showed the main street of Barkerville, not surprising, but also a bridge across the street.  When I wrote my book on Barkerville I had come across references to this bridge, but no photos, which is odd because it is a remarkable structure.
Copy photo Leif Grandell. Original photographer unknown. Proprietary rights Richard Wright.

The eBay item was not a normal photograph but rather a glass slide such as used in a magic lantern. There were other bidders, of course. So I used my usual auction ploy, practiced at many a farm auction. I sat back waited until the last few minutes and then bid an amount well over the current bid prices. Though expensive, I got it.

A simple Magic Lantern similar to one that would have been
used for the Barkerville slide. Image from Creative Commons.

The goal now was to see what the photograph told us about the bridge and the town. The first step was to scan the glass slide to get a good digital image, but that was more difficult than expected. As the slide is 3 dimensional the scanner only wanted to scan one face. I passed off the slide to my friend Leif Grandell a great photographer and technician, who coincidently has a great interest in Barkerville history. A few days later he was back with a CD containing a few dozen image. He had taken photos at various exposures to bring out specific features and some closeups of certain details, such as three men standing in front of a store.

A slight under exposure adds detail to sky and shows the massive flagpoles that Barkerville's "Valley of the Flags" was known for. One even has a yardarm of some kind. This exposure also shows detail in the surrounding mountains, such as Mount Murray in the centre.
All photos: Original photographer unknown. Copy photo Leif Grandell. Proprietary rights Richard Wright.

There is no photographer's name on the slide and there is nothing at present to indicate who it might have been, but in the upper left corner a label reads: "Painted by Newton & Co. 3 Fleet Street, London."
According to "Early Photography UK" Newton's was a well-established firm producing cameras, magic lanterns and globes with an extensive catalogue of lantern slides and films. The site says: "The Newtons were an old established family working in the diverse areas of globe making, patent agents and civil engineers. Advertisements claim establishment in 1704. John Newton (b.1759 d.1844) worked from 97 Chancery Lane from c.1780; John's son William (b.1786 d.1861) joined the firm forming J&W Newton. Miles Berry joined the firm in 1831 forming Newton, Son and Berry, which lasted to 1841. Berry was the patent agent for Daguerre and was issued the first Photographic patent in England. William's son, William Edward (b.1818, d.1879) was part of the Fleet St. branch.

"The firm were important suppliers of lantern slides and equipment they also sold cameras and equipment during the wet-plate and early dry-plate periods. In 1920 the two partners in the firm, Herbert Charles Newton and Russell Stuart Wright separated, Newton continued at the King St. address selling lantern slides and Wright at the Wigmore St. address selling optical instruments, both firms continued to use the Newton and Co name."

So our Barkerville slide has some interesting provenance and a connection with the earliest days of photography through Daguerre and his Daguerrotype, and may be a slide that was in a Newton catalogue. The UK collector I purchased from bought the slide as one of a group of 3400 glass slides in an estate sale in middle England.  It appears there are no others of Barkerville in the collection. How did this slide get in the collection? Likely we will never know.
In the bottom right corner a careful look with a magnifying glass shows the words: "Street in Barker-ville 83." So the date is narrowed down to the spring (if it is a flood time) of 1883.

This unknown photographer, perhaps an early stock photograph shooter, set up his, or her, camera at the corner of the Theatre Royal and the Barkerville Hotel and took the photograph looking north or downstream toward St. Savior's church, which can just be seen at the end of the street under the bridge.

Other than the bridge itself the first remarkable feature is the height of the boardwalks. Buildings in Barkerville were built on the ancient creek bed and periodically the creek would flood and wash tailings gravel down the street, threatening the buildings and filling in foundations. Stores and homes had to be built on pilings or stilts and periodically jacked up above the rising street level. This did not always work and some buildings, such as the dual use Williams Creek Fire Brigade hall and the Theatre Royal had their bottom floor, or in the case of the schoolhouse the whole building, covered in gravel. Boardwalks were built to access the raised buildings, and to keep pedestrians out of the muck and manure of the street.  However, today's restored Barkerville has boardwalks at almost street level, more like what is seen the 1860s and 70s.  Here in this photograph we see the boardwalks are approximately 10 feet off street level, judging from the steps and the height of the men.

The bridge runs from Kelly's General Store on the right, next to the Barkerville Hotel, across to the old Hudson' Bay store, now called Mason and Daly.  Three men stand in front of Mason and Daly. Leif Grandell noticed that at the bottom of the stairs on the right there are a number of large stones. It would seem unlikely that these stones would have been left here for any length of time. And, the street is littered with large rocks. We know from present day examples that the weight of even the single stagecoach going up and down the street soon grinds any errant stone to dust.  Leif's guess is that the photo was taken immediately after one of the frequent spring floods, and in fact that may be why the photo was taken.  Let's move closer.

If we zoom in with another exposure several more features become evident. On close inspection we see the bridge is accompanied by a water line braced with two long struts. Another water line, which we know were used to carry water from fresh hillside springs to businesses, can be seen further down the street.
St. Savior's white paint is weathered down to just a border under the eaves.  To the right of St. Savior's the shaft house of the Davis claim can be seen on the eastern bank of Williams Creek. Further down the street the boardwalks are lower. And, contrary to a popular belief today, there is a wagon, perhaps two, parked on the right side of the street.
Now let's crop again to the left side of the bridge, in the shadow.

With Leif's cropped image and some photo enhancements of mine in Aperture 3, such as contrast, definition and sharpening, we can read a sign: "A. Pendola". Angelo Pendola was a Barkerville merchant, a Mason, who supplied many miners with goods.  He married hurdy gurdy dancer Martha Luhrsden in about 1878, had one son and left in about 1883 to move to Savona near Kamloops where in ran a brewery. He died in New Westminster in 1889 and is buried in Vancouver's Mountain View Cemetery. Until now the location of his store was not confirmed. Now we shift our focus to the right side of the street.

Here we can see a sign with the word Hotel and something indecipherable, perhaps related to the quality or meals.  This is in approximately the location of present day Nicol Hotel. The second water line and a flagpole can be seen to the left of the sign near a wagon or stairway. Finally, we move in on the group of men.

These three men are standing in front of what was the Hudson's Bay Company store. HBC sold to Mason and Daly in 1885.  The men are unidentified and facial features are not discernible. It would seem likely they are associated with the HBC. The man in middle bears a resemblance in posture and clothing to Richard (Blue Dick) Berry, as seen in the photo of Barkerville Oldtimers, PABC #C10180. Barry, who was a California 49'er, died in Barkerville in 1908.

So here a single photograph has opened up a new window to the 1880s streetscape of British Columbia's major historic site, Barkerville Historic Town.  We can only hope that similar images will continue to emerge from dusty attics and locked trunks.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Richard T. Wright website goes live at Photoshelter

Website live at Photoshelter

Lantern parade during the Chinese Autumn Moon Festival in Barkerville.
An image from the Barkerville gallery on my Photoshelter website. Richard Wright photo.

            It’s been a long time coming but my new website has finally gone live at Photoshelter, a site that hosts and markets photographer’s images.
            You can find the website at: http://richardtwright.photoshelter.com/

The site is still in its infancy, with only a couple of hundred photos uploaded of what will soon be thousands of images.  First I had to build the site from templates and drop down menus, then select photos and divide them into galleries. And, while Photoshelter has some great templates and tutorial videos, and says you can go live in just minutes, the reality is that it will be some hours or days later that you are finally ready to launch. There were nights this last week when I thought my brain would explode.

A wedding shoot on an island near Hong Kong. Richard Wright photo

            One issue is deciding what your gallery titles are going to be, and, how much you want them to have SEO or search engine optimization – which of course affects the name you give the gallery.  Right now mine are basic.  Then each photo has to have a file name, caption, headline, title and then keywords.  This is a labourious process that can be made easier, I am told, by software. So far, I am plowing my way through with some batch changes and some individual image changes.  Those who are familiar with IPTC fields know there are lots of other fields that can be filled in as well.

Annabelle, my granddaughter, waiting for breakfast at Stanley, Hong Kong. Richard Wright photo.

            Within a couple of weeks clients will be able to order prints or reproduction rights directly from the website with payment made through any number of payment schemes such as Paypal.
            I opted for this route after a year of research on agencies and web hosts. The business has changed a lot from the old days of physically filing transparencies with a Vancouver or Toronto agency. (One of whom ripped me off of hundreds of transparencies - but that is another story.) The top agencies such as Getty are hard to get accepted into, always have been, and the so-called micro-agencies offer photographers bulk sales (they say) at low income. For instance, for a magazine cover photo that would normally bring a minimum of say $350.00 up to thousands, the photographer might get .50 cents. Not interested. So a middle road is sought by most photographers, perhaps combining several niche agencies and a site like Photoshelter, essentially a photo agency as well as a website host.  There are others but they offer more website and marketing assistance than anyone else I was able to find.

Blue fish boats near Clearwater Bay, Hong Kong. Richard Wright photo.

            I will report back on how it goes. Right now I have to finish taxes for the year, keep shooting, tag more photos with information, upload more galleries such as one on Grassland of B.C.'s Interior, and prepare for our flight to Hong Kong next week. Stay tuned.

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Copyright Richard T. Wright 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nikon's D800 released

A confession: Why I had to order the new Nikon D800.

The new Nikon D800, from the Nikon website.

 When I attended Joe McNally's light workshop in Vancouver in early January there were two buzzes at the Nikon display: One, the just release D4 and two, the holy grail for some photographers, the rumoured D800. Nikon reps would not respond to queries but the sense I got was that it was still a rumour. I told my son not to hold his breath or keep his hand over his nether regions.  He said I was wrong.  He was right.

Just when I was trying to talk myself into the purchase of Nikon’s new D4 they have announced, on February 7th, the much anticipated, much awaited, D800. It will be released Mid-March.  Okay, this is my camera. Below are some links to the full story but here are a few features that suit my interests and work, in no particular order.

First of all the D800 is a 36 megapixel camera with a full frame FX-format CMOS sensor, a sensor that equals the size of 35mm. So if you want detail for landscapes for instance, or the ability to crop verticals from horizontals, or just increased detail then here it is. This is the lightest full-frame digital camera made; the highest resolution of any 35mm DSLR, ever, and is reckoned by some to be the biggest news from Nikon since 2008.

For example: There are now many photographers wanting to shoot in High Dynamic Range or HDR. This is usually accomplished by taking three photos (or less, or more) at different exposures, say one exposed for the background sky, one for middle tones and another for shadow areas.  Then in software the three are combined for outstanding images.  Now, with the D800 you can shoot two images in the camera. The camera then instantly combines them to cover a wider dynamic range. In-camera HDR.
            There is a virtual horizon, minute white balance control and a new shutter speed control for auto ISO sensitivity control. It handles USB 3 for faster file transfers. The on-camera flash can be used in Commander mode for multiple flash setups. Auto focusing is now available up to f8, not the previous f5.6.  Why is this important? When you take an f4 lens and put on a 2x tele-converter you are at an effective f8, so no auto focus.  I just tried that a few weeks ago and had to go back to manual focus.  Now, it will auto focus down to f8.
            The ISO range is 100 to 6400, expandable to ISO 50 to 25600 equivalent. Film photographers will remember having to push develop film to get 1600 ASA – and those images broke down in grain. The D7000 is remarkable for night or low light shots, constantly amazing me with what it can see. At this range of ISO the D800 is not what some photographers wanted or expected. Many hoped this model would have the same ISO range as the D4, which extends to an amazing 204,800. Talk about shooting in the dark! But not so. If you want 200k ISO choose the D4.
            The D800 will not be the favorite of sports or action photographers. It will shoot up to 4 fps in FX mode. In DX mode it will increase to 5 fps. Add a battery pack and it is 6 fps.  The D4, however is a stunning 10 fps. The battery is the EN-EL15, same as the D7000.
            A big feature for me is the ability to shoot in multiple formats, that is FX and DX. My D7000 is a DX and many of my lenses are designed for DX, not the full frame FX. But, I can crank on a DX lens and the DX format is automatically selected on the D800.  So, photographers with a few DX lenses (which tend to be less expensive) can still use DX format. In DX resolution drops to 15.4 megapixels. And the D800, like the D7000, is backward compatible to 1977 lenses, of which I have several.
           The Picture control button provides six preset options: Vivid, Monochrome, Neutral, Standard, Landscape and Portrait for stills and video while nine customizable settings provide personalized color control. Of course you can still do most of this in post-production.
            The camera shoots time-lapse photos or video, similar to the D7000, and offers a wireless transmitter accessory. It offers two card slots; one for SD and another for CF or CompactFlash which offers more speed and capacity (important for video). The list goes on and on. 
So, one more feature that makes the new model a closer for me. As many of us know Nikon has fallen behind Canon in one area - video. Many independent video producers have come up with elaborate rigs for shooting video on Canon DSLRs. Well, that is over. The D800 will shoot broadcast quality video! Plug in your external mic, your headphones and get live-view from the HDMI port.

What does this mean for me? Well, I used to shoot several film formats: 4x5 for scenics, Hasselblad 2 1/4 for scenics and some action, then 35mm in black and white and color (so two bodies minimum) and 16mm film for my TV work. Often the choice was which to shoot first. I missed lots of good 35mm shots while I was shooting 16mm. With my setup I could crank a 35mm lens onto my 16mm with a C-mount. It gave me great film with superb Nikkor lenses and a crop ratio of 1:2, so a 300mm Nikkor gave me the equivalent of a 600mm in 16mm. But the choice, still or motion picture, was always hard.

A young grizzly boar near Atlin B.C.  Richard Wright photo
A similar example occurred a couple of years ago. For the last few years I have been using a Canon HV30 for video work. I have shot hours of video at the Theatre Royal, Barkerville for instance. A couple of years ago Amy I took a fall vacation north to Dawson City, Yukon Territories. For a couple of days we traveled down to Atlin, B.C. where I spent several weeks some 35 years ago to shoot a CBC documentary. On the way we stumbled on a remarkably cooperative young grizzly. For an hour I took several still frames and close to 30 minutes of video as he wandered around and dug roots. Again, the choice of formats was difficult. And, the resulting video while HD, was not broadcast quality. I remarked to Amy that had this been years ago and had I been shooting 16mm, that footage would have brought me a minimum of several thousand dollars. With the D800 I could be shooting stills and with the flick of lever and push of a button be video recording in high rez broadcast quality. The D800 will shoot in several formats and will take 29 min of video at normal resolution. How times have changed.

There are of course, many other features. These are just a few of those that affect me. I always try to think of a new lens or camera in terms of what it will do for me that I cannot do with the equipment I have. If it won’t effect my final images or workflow then I don’t need it. This model will allow me to shoot images I cannot capture now, and in higher resolution. It also opens up video/film shooting to me once again. I can offer clients greater options, and shoot photos closer to what I imagine or envision, and that is the ultimate goal.
Finally there is another dealmaker. The D4 retails at $6300 Cdn. The D800 retails at $3149. Is it the D4? Nope. But having it will not stop me buying a D4 if I need it or can afford it in the future.
There is one negative issue of course: How to get your hands on one. Remember it is not being released until mid March, so they are not on store shelves, and likely will not be for several months. I called a Vancouver B.C. camera store which I favor and they already have 16 preorders, which they do not expect to be filled until the end of March.

I am number 17. Be still my heart.

Watch the web for reviews and example photos but here are some links to get started if you are interested or in the market.

Nikon Canada

Nikon United States

Nikon D800 brochure

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

How Tombstone's Wyatt Earp avenged a Barkerville, Cariboo miner

Barkerville B.C. to Tombstone, Arizona
The story behind a photograph.
(See the April 12, 2013 post for an update.)
Sometimes we don't know why we take a photograph. Sometimes an image speaks to us. Sometimes it is, we have to admit, just a fortuitous shutter click.  Such is the story of this photo, the grave of "Van Houten, 1879", in the Boot Hill Cemetery of Tombstone, Arizona.

John Van Houten, a Cariboo miner, lies buried  in
Boot Hill, Tombstone , Arizona. Richard Wright photo

In 2009 Amy and I travelled south through Montana, Utah and Nevada to Arizona, eventually, many adventures later, arriving at the quintessential Old West Town of Tombstone. Our goal was to visit as many mining town as we could, gathering stories and background for our work at the Theatre Royal in B.C.'s largest heritage site, Barkerville Historic Town.  Research has shown me that we tend to forget or ignore the fact that all the folks who came to the B.C. gold rush came with back stories. Contrary to oft-quoted ramblings these men and women were not all "19-year-olds."  The medium age was 34. Many had mined before.  Some had been soldiers, 49ers, drunks and business men, from around the world. And similarly, many would go on to create wonderful stories outside and beyond the rushes of Cariboo and Fraser River.

Researching census records in the Tombstone archives. Amy Newman photo

As we left Tombstone, awash in the characters and stories of the Tombstone silver rush, I remarked to Amy that wouldn't it be great if we found that Wyatt or Doc had travelled to Barkerville, just as many Cariboo miners had travelled to Nevada and Arizona. For by this time we had a long list of what we might call Cariboo ex-pats in places like Elko Nevada; Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona.  There is little doubt that migration worked in both directions.  For that we can evidence Boone Helm, a western killer who rode north to Cariboo and then south to Virginia City, Montana, where he was hung.

Some further research when we returned home showed that there was indeed a strong connection between the two towns. By the time Tombstone was booming the Cariboo gold rush was declining.  In fact, one of the classic "gunfights" acted out in the town involved a Tombstone constable and a Cariboo miner. But that is another story.

"Wyatt Earp" at the re-creation of "The Gunfight at OK Corral." Richard Wright photo

This story centres around one John Van Houten and his ill-marked grave.  It is, as you will read, a photo I took while I wandered Boot Hill cemetery. I did not even know I had taken the photo until much later.

Now, unfortunately, for the complete story you will have to click again and go to:


This is the story I wrote for another blog at Theatre Royal, Barkerville. Google is cautious, as they should be.  If I was to cut and paste the story here it would be seen as plagarism, even though I wrote it.  I appreciate that Google. So click on the link above and read the story behind the photo.
Should the link not work for you search on Theatreroyal.ca and Wyatt Earp.

For an article titled: "Tombstone Arizona as a mirror to Barkerville B.C.", go to:

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