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Lapse-Time Camera - 1912
From: Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life 
            Quotes from Pages 17 - 26

A book is written, representing years of research and thought; you read it in a few days.  A Flower grows, a season's combined efforts of sunshine, water and soil.  The result, seeds to carry on another year, perpetuating its life of beauty and usefulness.  Only a few can see it, but a motion picture, starting at either end of its life history, shows one step, then another.  Later they are joined in their natural sequence, and in a few moments the story is told, to be seen. 

Man looks at a flower in passing; the eye would soon tire of trying to watch its growth or change of position, but the lapse-time camera, running at a speed to record in the time we have to see it, registers every change of position day and night with a tireless lens eye, and all from the same chosen position, writing on the film what happens in lines, expressing position, growth and color until finally death, or better call it, when its parts have fulfilled their life's duty, passing into another form. 

A beam of light for a brush, a silver salt for paint, a transparent ribbon of celluloid for the canvas, chemicals to render it visible and permanent, the thousands of individuals sketches, taken at uniform intervals of figures seconds or minutes, then projected some 1,440 a minute on the screen, the result, true  and lasting representation of form, color and also sound.  

Such are the modern results.  Starting as I did, in the corner of a small crowded room, with a home-made camera run with a small motor, fitted with a reduction gear of changeable speed, each flower subject an unknown problem, as regards time of opening, speed of growth, size at maturity, combined with elements os photography, lighting and correct exposure, the after treatment of negative and print and combining all of these and many others to get an artistic, pleasing result.  In the forthcoming chapters I am going to endeavor to tell you how each one was handled, how the picture was painted.  


From 1906 to 1927 I held a government photographic concession in Yosemite National Park, where in 1912 I started taking motion pictures of the wild flowers of the Sierra.  I had bought an old, almost worthless camera, remodeling it and began getting scenic pictures.  Those of the waterfalls were wonderful, full of action, but the grand old cliffs were not as good, having no movement except that shown by the jerky movement of the cameras of those days.  I conceived the idea of making the individual pictures in the film at one or two second intervals and at once my pictures of the cliffs sprang into life, the clouds went drifting by and their shadows on the cliffs added to the lifelike appearance.  It took much more skill to judge the speed of the clouds in order to produce on the screen a slow, steady movement-otherwise they would race across the screen when projected at the normal rate, then, of sixteen pictures a second. The method had wonderful possibilities for all sorts of slow moving subjects. 

At this time I had made still pictures of many of the Sierra flowers, and they, like motion pictures of the cliffs, lacked life and movement.  So I decided it was feasible to do in motion pictures of the flowers what I had done to the cliffs in giving them action, picturing the movements of the clouds and cloud shadows on their stationary sides.  The flowers had their own natural movements if I could only picture them.  


One of the first reactions of seeing a reel of flowers growing and opening was to instill a love for them, a realization of their life struggles so similar to ours, and a wish to do something to stop the ruthless destruction of them which was fast causing them to become extinct.  At that time no attempts were made to protect the flowers in any National Park, but soon enough agitation was started to show the necessity for it, and Mr. Lewis, the superintendent of Yosemite, asked me to name six flowers most necessary to protect. This was done and the next year six more were added to this number.

About that time the Wild Flower Conservation Societies took up the matter, and women's clubs all over the country were interested in protecting them.   

The Yosemite Park Service had been mowing the meadows for the small amount of grass they could get as food for the service horses, killing off the meadow flowers in that way.  It happened that there was a conference of the park Superintendents and the Director of Parks in Yosemite that fall.  I showed my pictures, talked conservation and the necessity of all parks to protect them as a very valuable asset.  I had still pictures  of the meadows taken in early days in '95 showing them covered with flowers waist high and the same meadows as they were at this time.  As a result, the next day all flowers and all living things were protected in every National Park, and the mowing machine, as the people in Yosemite expressed it, "was put on the blink." 

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