Last Photographers

Series Introduction

For centuries, extraordinary individuals have made their living by documenting the lives of others, for generations to see. The earliest photographers utilized their hand and eye, not a computer, to manipulate the photo. With the cost of large format cameras, tedious set-up of cumbersome instruments, thoughtful composure and lengthy exposures, and the use of poisonous chemicals when developing, photographers were forced to better visualize and carefully plan images. However, like steam engines, shoe cobblers, and drive-in theaters, this type of photography is obsolete.

Some of the earliest camera designs were written about in the fourth century by philosophers such as Aristotle, when he incorporated the idea of pinhole photography while viewing a partial solar eclipse. During the 1500s, artists Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci used Boyle and Hooke’s Camera Obscura to reflect colored images on surfaces, to assist them in sketching. The famous View from a Window at Le Gras, taken in 1826 by Nicephore Niepce, is the earliest known photograph. It required an eight-hour exposure, and washing with lavender oil and toxic chemicals to preserve the image. Louis Daguerre then collaborated with Niepce, and in 1837, the birth of practical photography was born with daguerreotype processing. Harsh chemicals, such as silver nitrate, and iodine and mercury vapors, were used in the development, and exposure times decreased to several minutes.

Though not world-renowned, Finley Taylor was a master photographer and philosopher of the human spirit. Upon the arrival of the 20th century, Finley lugged his 5X7 Rochester field camera through rugged terrain, documenting the activity of those who existed and toiled in the Allegheny forests during the logging era in Richwood, West Virginia. Also an accomplished studio photographer, he understood lighting intimately, and capturing the true essence of his subjects was his gift. For half a century, he saw inside the souls of those he photographed, exposing their hidden passions and fears. In Last Photographers: Finley Taylor, his timeless images, with amusing and heartwarming anecdotes, brings to light a time that has been buried deep in the mountains of West Virginia.

When we look back at photographs from yesteryear, it’s those printed pieces of paper that were once young and vibrant, and the stories that accompany them will preserve their existence. These images take us back to a place in our lives that were the best (or worst) days, which we can always revisit with a photo.

Toward the end of this volume of work by Finley Taylor, another musty box of his negatives were discovered. These images, hidden for 100 years, have only been seen by his subjects when taken. These photos are believed to be his earliest work, when Finley was honing his craft, paving the way for some of the best images taken during the 20th century. These new images will be showcased in another volume of Last Photographers: Finley Taylor.

Also in forthcoming volumes of Last Photographers, read about other brilliant photographers, such as famed editor of West Virginia Hillbilly, Jim Comstock, whose skill and artistry reveal a golden age in history.

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