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Harlo White and the invention of photography

  1. Feb 12, 2005 #1


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    On Monday I got to wear my inspector’s hat for a few minutes. The fellow who does our roofing and plumbing repair was brought out to fix a leaking pipe. He shoveled his way down to expose the copper pipe, and then hack-sawed through it in two places to cut out the faulty piece so he could splice in a new piece. He knew me from his having been out on earlier calls, and he was in a chatty mood.

    “It’s maybe gonna be tough to solder the joints, ‘cuz there’s enough water in the pipe to soak up the blowtorch heat. I sometimes use some bread to soak up the water.”

    “Then you gotta pull the screens off the faucets to let the bread get out of the line?” I asked.

    “Nah. It dissolves.”

    A moment later he mumbled, “The bread of Life.”

    “Beg pardon?”

    “Bread of Life… You know, I bought a big study Bible. It gives the real meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek words. You’d be amazed at how different the modern translations are from what was intended.”

    “For example?”

    “You know what the word describing Adam is?”

    “Nope,” I admitted.

    “It’s a Hebrew word meaning ‘without a body.’”

    “You mean just a head?”

    “I mean Adam and Eve were Spirit beings. They weren’t physical being like us. And you know what ‘Hell’ was?”

    “I have heard it comes from a Hebrew name for the smoking trash dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

    “That’s right. And that is where they wanted to take the body of Jesus after they crucified him. You know what else? The Rapture--that ain’t even in the Bible. I defy you to show me where it says ‘rapture.’”

    “Well, I’ve heard many a preacher on radio and TV use that word.”

    “Man, them guys are awful. Hagee, he’s the worst of 'em all. All they want’s your money. Olsteen, he ain’t too bad, but the others, I’ll tell you what…. There was a preacher I knew, Harlo White. He dared to preach the truth. He had to move out of state. The other preachers couldn’t stand it--that he preached what is really in the Bible the way it was originally written. They run him off.”

    The conversation continued from there, and after a while I asked, “What did the Bible mean when it said, ‘There were giants on the Earth in those days’?”

    “That was dinosaurs.”

    “You mean dinosaurs co-existed with humans?”

    “Yep. They died out in Noah’s flood. Let me tell you, the Earth ain’t as old as they used to think it was. They now know that they were getting it wrong when they looked at fossils. Did you know that they now realize that peat stays peat, and coal stays coal? Peat don’t change to coal, like they used to say.”

    I didn’t try to argue this last point with him. I changed the subject a bit by asking, “Does your study Bible have the same books in it as the King James? Or does it have those extra ones that you sometimes hear were a part of the early canon, but got tossed out at some point?”

    “No, it just has the same ones. Hey, did you know that Pontius Pilate wrote a book years after the crucifixion?”

    “No, I sure didn’t. There were probably a lot of writings from that early Christian era that would make for interesting reading, if only they survived. You know, it would be neat if photography had been invented a lot earlier. Imagine if photographs had been taken of those folks, and the photos survived into modern times. Wouldn’t that be neat?”

    “Cameras ain’t all that complicated. My father had a Brownie camera that you could-a just about built yourself.”

    “I wonder what prevented the invention of photography from being made way back then. A simple wooden box with a shutter that was moved directly by hand could have sufficed. Papyrus as the base material for film! As far as lenses, didn’t they already have glass back then? Maybe not. At any rate lens grinding didn’t happen until the Middle Ages, I think. But even a pinhole camera would have made useable pictures, if the subject was stationary so that a long exposure could be made without blurring the image. Maybe emulsion was the problem.”

    “What’s emulsion made out of?”

    “I’m not sure. Some compound of silver is the traditional one, I think. Silver iodide?”

    “Where do they get that from?”

    “I don’t know who first made it, or who first realized it changed color after exposure to light. But silver mines have been around for many centuries, and if there had been some process involving the ore that took it through a stage where it was made into iodide, maybe somebody would have noticed what happened when it was brought out into sunlight…”

    So my basic questions are: What was the main thing that held back basic black & white photography until sometime around the middle of the 1800s? What sorts of compounds would work as the light-sensitive part of film, and how early were such compounds known? How feasible is a pinhole camera, i.e. one that has a small shuttered hole rather than a lens?

    [Moderators: feel free to expunge the religious part of this post. I just thought some readers would enjoy this little slice of blue-collar life.]
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2005
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