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    jimgalli's Avatar
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    Etymology of the word Plastic in Photography

    It appears in many discussions prior to what we know as modern plastic. I've been doing some word searches trying to get my brain around what someone like Alfred Stieglitz would have meant in 1905 if he had used that term in regard to a photograph. Lens manufacturers refer to it, and indeed bringing it right into current times, our beloved Plasmats use the root of plastic to describe what their original manufacturer thought his lenses produced. Is it simply the idea of a photograph that leaves the single dimension flat world and brings a 3 dimensionality like a molded statue? What think ye?
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    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Do you mean plastic as in polymer, or plastic as in aesthetic/artistic? (In French, the catch-all term for the arts in high school education is "plastic arts", in opposition to "applied arts").

    The OED would be your friend, as it's an etymological dictionary.
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    jimgalli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mhv View Post
    Do you mean plastic as in polymer, or plastic as in aesthetic/artistic? (In French, the catch-all term for the arts in high school education is "plastic arts", in opposition to "applied arts").

    The OED would be your friend, as it's an etymological dictionary.
    "plastic" as used in 1907 in the arts. There were no polymer's.
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    Dave Wooten's Avatar
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    Greek (plastic-plastick-plastiqueplastik-plastica-the art of modelling figures primarily in clay or wax-also in a wider sense in a harder material by sculpture-

    1st recorded noted use....1598 "Painting, Carving, and Plasticke are all but one and the same arte (Haydock tr. Lomazzzo) 1614 Plastique is not only under sculpture , but indeed is very sculpture itself (Wootton)

    1850 "The living plastics of the gymnic games and choral dances were afterwards exalted in a surprising manner by sculpture in stone and brass"
    (excerpt from C.O. Muller's Ancient Art-)

    Plastic--a moulder, a sculptor, a modeller, a former, a fashioner , a creator

    1644 "it is impossible for any Painter or Carver or Plastique, to give right motions to his works or hand...

    1886--Plasticine--proprietary name for a composition capable of remaining plastic for a long timeused in schools as a substiture for modeling clay.

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    When used to refer to a material, 'plastic' refers to the property of being able to undergo plastic deformation - which means that when force is applied, the material permanenetly deforms - as such clay would be a good example of a plastic material which is the way I imagine the word would have been used prior to the widespread use of polymers known as plastics.

    When applied as an adjective, plastic would refer to the ability of something to reshape to it's environment, and I believe that the many of the original Plasmat lenses were 'convertibles' - is it possible that the convertible nature of the lens is what led to the term plastic when applied to optics?

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    Oxford gives it as "moulding, giving form to clay . . . causing growth of natural forms [ironic, huh?] . . . capable of forming living tissue . . . pliant, supple . . . " from the Greek plasso for mould.

    I think you'll find the first man-made polymers, including cellulose acetate, being made in mid-1800's.

    In engineering, plastic behavior is the non-reversible change of shape in response to an applied force.

    In terms of art, not a clue.

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    Dave Wooten's Avatar
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    The word was used in the art world....the creator, the substance behind or under the creation...it was adopted by the scientific community after the emergence of polymers etc. after the 1850's or so- from Kingslake "Lucite and Plexiglas in the United States; and Perspex in England were developed in the 1920's"

    Keep in mind, Stieglitz-was the most avid promoter at the time in America of "Modern Arts" Picasso, et all, not just photography...

    I recommend The book STIEGLITZ: A BEGINNING LIGHT by Katherine Hoffman-recommended-Hoffman's speciality is tracing the influence of the artist on varoius other plastic arts and music---(from a review)

    so to answer Jims interesting question--Stieglitz using the word plastic would have been in the ancient arts origin of the word plastic...which originated from the Greek-

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    Last edited by Dave Wooten; 02-20-2007 at 10:36 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: spelun and other stupid errors

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    Quote Originally Posted by jimgalli View Post
    It appears in many discussions prior to what we know as modern plastic. I've been doing some word searches trying to get my brain around what someone like Alfred Stieglitz would have meant in 1905 if he had used that term in regard to a photograph. Lens manufacturers refer to it, and indeed bringing it right into current times, our beloved Plasmats use the root of plastic to describe what their original manufacturer thought his lenses produced. Is it simply the idea of a photograph that leaves the single dimension flat world and brings a 3 dimensionality like a molded statue? What think ye?
    I'd be astonished if it were anything other than 'three dimensional', and indeed that is how I have always understood it, but I have just been through the OED entry and there are several other obsolete meanings that are even harder to grasp.

    Incidentally, celluloid (a plastic by any reasonable definition) was invented in about 1871, and other 'plastic' subjects trace their description back to the classical Greek root, 'capable of being modelled or moulded'.

    Cheers,

    R.

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    The meaning of the word is that of the physical transformation of one shape to another, like the flour dough to bread. I can't see how it can be applied to photography. Isn't the term "writting with light" poetic enough? As a matter of fact, "poetic" would apply better to photograph, since the root of the word is "creation" and thus more vague.
    I don't know what you people do with greek words anyway...
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    Dave Wooten's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arigram View Post
    The meaning of the word is that of the physical transformation of one shape to another, like the flour dough to bread. I can't see how it can be applied to photography. Isn't the term "writting with light" poetic enough? As a matter of fact, "poetic" would apply better to photograph, since the root of the word is "creation" and thus more vague.
    I don't know what you people do with greek words anyway...
    Thanks Ari,

    If possible, maybe you could access an English Oxford Dictionary which gives the earliest known printed uses of the word and its history (in English)....it gives it in Greek but I have no way of producing the alphabet spelling here, nor do I have the ability to translate.

    I also feel that the word plasmat probably does not have a connection the the Greek use of the meaning of plastic....I think plasmat is more related to plasma-also Greek- and "plasmatic" etc..thanks As to Jim's question, Stieglitz use of the word I feel was totally in the ancient art sense use of the word which does quite fit the definition you have given .

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