Systematic geological photographs

Jack Rhodes

In 1910, a young man by the name of John (Jack) Rhodes (pictured right) joined the Survey as a general assistant. Within a year of his appointment he was involved with the photographic work of the Survey, processing and printing plates. He soon became involved in the taking of photographs, a job which he held until he retired in 1956.

"... we are experiencing a 'digital' revolution, where, along with conventional photographic equipment, computers and image manipulation tools are an essential part of the photographers kit ..."

Jack Rhodes

During this long career with the Survey, Rhodes added almost 9000 images to the collection, spending much of his time photographing in South West England.

Travelling by donkey or horse and cart...

In the early days he would travel around carrying his equipment on a donkey or horse and cart, for which he received a daily hay allowance. He was later supplied with a motorcycle and sidecar, which must have made his life easier, and by 1945 he had the use of a motor car.

The early Survey photographers used large format glass plate cameras in quarter-plate (3 1 /4" 3 4 3 /4") and half-plate (4 3 /4" 3 6 1 /2"). The main benefit of using large formats was the quality gained in the resolution of the image, providing extremely sharp and finely-detailed results even by modern standards.

However, one of the main drawbacks, apart from the cumbersome size of the equipment, was the long exposure times needed, even in the brightest conditions. Generally, exposure times varied anywhere from an eighth of a second to tens of seconds, and exposure times of several minutes are recorded.

The devil is in the detail

Many of the early photographs in the collections are recorded in meticulous detail which includes: location in latitude and longitude (in degrees, minutes and seconds), the date and time of day, direction of view, and weather conditions. Technical photographic details were also recorded, including film type, lens, lens aperture and length of exposure.

It was quite common in those days to contact print negatives and therefore pho-tographers would generally make their negatives to the size of print they required. However, enlargers and the enlarging process had been around since the 1850s, enabling the photographer to make large display prints without the need to carry around exceptionally large formats of camera] such as whole-plate (6 1 /2" 3 8 1 /2"), a format usually suited to studio portrait work. Carrying such large equipment would have been virtually impossible for Survey photographers.

From black and white to colour

He was also the last recorded Survey photographer to use a large format wooden field camera in his work. By the 1960s it had become common to use lighter monorail cameras, with cut sheet 5"x 4" film, medium format roll film cameras and 35mm format cameras. Also, the use of colour films, both print and transparency, had become popular and had begun to take over from black and white film, changing the face of the archives forever.

By the time Jack Rhodes retired, he had contributed some of the collection's finest images, capturing a wide range of geological subject matter throughout Britain.