We humans are designed to make mistakes. Fortunately, we are also given the ability to design machines to remedy this deficiency. Today we are surrounded by smart devices and technology that help us navigate our day-to-day lives. A long time ago, before the invention of electronics, we relied on pure mechanics to perform calculations. From the basic abacus, to the most sophisticated Babbage Difference Engine, countless mechanical devices have been invented and used for centuries.
In contrast to today’s technology, the mechanical calculating devices were designed to perform only one function. However, they were capable of performing their tasks for decades without electrical power, updates or upgrades. They were critically important to many scientists, engineers, and accountants. Seemingly overnight, with the invention of electronics they became obsolete.
The Wet Collodion photographic process was invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. This process revolutionized photography and laid the foundation for the next generation of photographic processes and media like plastic roll film and motion picture film which are still used today. And just as the mechanical calculating machines were abandoned for newer technology, wet collodion process was abandoned in the late 1880’s for dry plates.
As a computer engineer I had always been attracted to the history of my profession and collected old computers and mechanical calculating devices throughout years. Photographing them using the wet collodion process gave me the opportunity to connect deeply with those devices, their designs and inner workings. Observing physical numbers carved on metal disks turning around cranks and levers and finally displaying the result of a complex calculation is as magical as observing the sudden appearance of a wet collodion image on a plate.
With the “Calculus” series I am trying to travel back to the beginning of technology and photography and pay tribute the brilliant minds who invented these devices and the processes which eventually led to the technology rich world we live in today.
Calculus : Any mathematical system of calculation involving the use of symbols. Origin : Latin ; pebble, stone used in reckoning, from calx small stone, counter