View Full Version : 100 Years of LF Photography - and Aviation

17-Dec-2003, 17:33
For reasons I don't fully understand, most of my life since the last year of high school has been tied in some way to aviation. That's thirty years - or almost a third of the time that's passed since the Wright brothers first flew one hundred years ago today. And for almost as long (thirty years, not one hundred!) I've been interested in photography. The very well-known photograph of Orville piloting the Wright flyer for that first flight in 1903 was taken with a 5x7 camera (which brings this somewhat on-topic). The Library of Congress website (note 1 (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wrighthtml/wrightphot.html) and note 2 (http://memory.loc.gov/pp/wrihtml/wribac.html)) has some interesting information on the subject of photography and the Wrights. Apparently the Wright brothers found great interest in photography, using both 4x5 and 5x7 formats and the glass negatives of the day.

"That the Wright brothers truly delighted in photography and did not use it only as a means to document their work is revealed in a lecture Wilbur delivered in 1901 before the Western Society of Engineers. Using lantern slides of his gliding photographs to illustrate his talk, Wilbur discussed the difficulty of capturing a moving target on film-and detoured into a brief discussion of the pleasures of photography:

'In looking at this picture you will readily understand that the excitement of gliding experiments does not entirely cease with the breaking up of camp. In the photographic darkroom at home we pass moments of as thrilling interest as any in the field, when the image begins to appear on the plate and it is yet an open question whether we have a picture of a flying machine, or merely a patch of open sky.' "

On this day which marks the centennial of flight, it might be interesting to inquire what aviation-related large format photographs you have and suggest that perhaps you share your favorite in this forum. I'll ante up my own photograph at my homepage (wfwhitaker.com) and admit right off that it may be a bit abstract. If you hadn't seen the Wright Memorial, you probably would not recognize the subject matter. But it works for me, both compositionally and symbolically.

I look forward to seeing and reading your responses.

Best regards,

17-Dec-2003, 17:38
I'll try that last link again:

Feels more like 100 years of HTML....


John Kasaian
17-Dec-2003, 18:36

Alas, a scanner I have naught! It is interesting that it has only been 100 years since the Wrights flew their "Flyer" and reflect on how much aviation has changed. As a kid on my bike, I got to explore Furlong Field, a decaying AAF training field not far from where I grew up. I got to sit at the controls of a Waco glider that had somehow survived the war and eventually came to rest in a vacant lot behind a tire dealer after it apparently blew off the roof where it served as a sign!(or was it taken down? Being blown down makes for a better story!) I got to meet Charlie MacCarthy, a veteran of the Lafayete Escadrille in WW1, WAAFs, Pappy Boyington, and numerous other pilots including some Army WO "Rotorheads," Air Guard Interceptor pilots, and Navy Attack pilots of whom I stand in complete awe(and recently, an old Corsair pilot who is a docent at the California State Military Museum in "Old Town" Sacramento.) I was fortunate enough to fly a Supercub up the Alaska Highway in 1992, landing at the old airfields set up to ferry lendlease aircraft to the Soviet Union during WW2 and often sleeping with my bedroll on the turf, under the wing like the barnstormers of old. Gosh,...I wish I had a LF back then! In my dealings with young(er) people, the addiction to aviation sadly seems to be a thing of the past. Sure, lots of kids want to do the "Luke Skywalker" but I doubt many will ever get the chance in the near future, unlike in the not all that distant past, when you could help someone wash their Cessna in exchange for a ride around the patch(with Mom or Dad's permission, of course) LF aerial photography is a real kick for me now. I know Bradford Washburn has "done it" but my photos are special, at least to me. To paraphrase an article on Washburn in View Camera awhile back, "(Aerial Photography)...isn't for wimps!" and there is nothing like the view of a snow covered mountain peak when seen at It's own level, up close and personal from the air while in an open cockpit.--Cheers!

17-Dec-2003, 18:48
A new statue has been erected at the Wright Brothers Memorial. A stainless Steel life size Wright Flyer along with two bronze figures. The display is set up to replicate the photograph that is so well known of the plane taking flight. Since I live two miles down the road, I was going to wait until the celebration is over and the crowds gone and take a digital (I know...) of the figure which is modeled with a camera, that took the original photo. The camera sits on a stainless tripod and the camera is bronze. It looks so real that I had to tap on the bellows because it looked like they bronzed a real camera.

I went to the celebration most of the days. It was fun but it was not 4x5 camera friendly.

Jay DeFehr
17-Dec-2003, 19:34
My interest in aviation, as my interest in photography resides squarely in the realm of the large format. Before the Wright Brothers managed to get their glider off the ground for a few hundred feet, Zeppelins ruled the skies, and for my money, have never been equaled. Photography and aviation both were born in France, and around the same time. It could be argued that both enjoyed their Golden Ages around the same time as well. I hope to merge the two for myself by making Large Format photographs from a Balloon. A trivia question: What was the largest Airship ever built?

Gem Singer
17-Dec-2003, 19:44
Hi Jay,

I was watching the History channel on TV today. They said that the largest airship ever built was the Hindenberg. It was just seventy feet shorter than the Titanic ocean liner.

Jay DeFehr
17-Dec-2003, 20:20
Hi Eugene. The LZ129 Hindenberg was big, no doubt about it. She was 803.8' long,135.1' in diameter, with a lifting gas capacity of7,062,100 cu. ft. But there was one bigger. After the hindenberg disaster, her builders vowed never to fly with hydrogen again, and built her successor, the LZ130 Graf Zeppelin, to be lifted by Helium, which has less lift/cu. ft. than Hydrogen, and so was built accordingly lighter, and a few feet longer at just over 810'. The Graf, often referred to as the Graf II, had a sophisticated water recovery system to conserve the costly helium, The Americans refused to supply the builders with helium, so she flew with hydrogen until she was retired in 1940 and subsequently was dynamited along with her namesake by the Nazis, who were often at odds with Dr. Eckener and his staff.

John Cook
18-Dec-2003, 04:19
I grew up a few streets away from the old Springfield (MA) Airport, which is now, alas, a shopping center. It was the home of the Granville brothers, makers of the famous Gee Bee Racer. Of slightly less historical interest, the place I took my first airplane ride. It was 1946 and a yellow Piper Cub.

A high school classmate of mine, Dick Bolt, later bought the large format negative files of Art Photo, who photographed the airport and many other scenes of Springfield from around 1900 to 1960.

He has posted them on the web. Here is the address:


I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Pete Caluori
18-Dec-2003, 06:29

I heard a story on the BBC two days ago, that reported the Wright brothers were not the first to achieve sustained flight in a powered craft (airplane.) They reported a South American, I beleive from Brazil, accomplished that feat before the Wright brothers and it was whitnessed. While not relevant to LF photography, it is nonetheless interesting. I had never heard this before.

Regards, Pete

Chad Jarvis
18-Dec-2003, 06:54
I think the earliest true documentarian of flight was Jacques-Henri Lartigue (French, 1894-1986). That's not to diminish any contribution the Wrights may have made, but I've never seen a single example of their photography.

David Richhart
18-Dec-2003, 07:06
The original Wright flyer and the glass negatives spent several days under water during a terrible flood in Dayton, Ohio in 1913. Fortunately the artifacts survived. The glass 5x7 negative does have a broken corner so it is usually cropped to look like a 4x5. The airplane was restored and the cloth was replaced by Orville Wright. It is now displayed at The Smithsonian in Washington DC.

An extensive collection of original photographs, letters, and drawings can be found at Wright State University in Dayton. The camera, and the 1905 flyer that the Wright's used to perfect the art of flying, can be seen at Carillon Park in Dayton. A 1907 flyer and more artifacts can be seen at the Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton. They still don't allow you to see the flying saucers and the dead aliens though. -Dave

Jim Galli
18-Dec-2003, 08:19
This will be a fun thread Will! Just excellent.

The Wrights didn't fly first, we didn't really go to the moon, Paul didn't write the book of Romans and so it goes ad infinitum ad nauseum. I am struck again by the enormous weight that the photographs add to the Wrights claim. Perhaps they didn't fly first. We'll never know, but they're the ones that knew how to make a photograph! A visible record. Interesting too that they seemed to understand the angle of the wedge view that would slow things down enough to get it onto their slow emulsions. My hat is off to them. I'd challenge anyone to put some APHS Ortho (ASA 2-3) into their 5X7 and try to do what Wilbur and Orville did. They must have had some primitive "fast glass" and knew how to use it.

Colin Carron
18-Dec-2003, 09:08
The Wrights' photos and film are some of the all time great photos IMO. The history of early flight is one of attempts,successes and failures of the development of a viable idea whose time had arrived. Before them Leonardo designed a hang glider and in the 1850's Sir George Cayley in England was supposed to have built a glider and launched it with his coachman on board. (No photos tho) This was the first glider flight. The coachman resigned. Otto Liliental developed the hang glider and when killed in about 1900 he was succeeded by Englishman Percy Pilcher who also developed a powered version. He was killed before he could fly it. Santos Dumont in Brazil was also one of the early pioneers and there were others. The Wrights alone seemed to have worked out 3 dimensional control based on wing warping, rudder and elevator. This was the crucial breakthrough. All the others were hang glider type designs. If the Wrights had not succeeded someone would have done probably within a year or two. But the Wrights got there first.

John Kasaian
18-Dec-2003, 09:47
A little known footnote to early aviation history is the fact that my great grandmother "Sadie" Kasaian was reputed to be the first woman to experience "powered" flight. The flight lasted some 3-1/2 seconds and was powered by the hind end of an especially ill tempered donkey. That was on February 2nd, 1904. Sorry, no photographs or glass plates survived! ;-)

Matt Miller
18-Dec-2003, 12:23
Here is a good read (http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/symposium/john.htm) on the Wright brothers' photography.

Bob Salomon
18-Dec-2003, 12:55
I was in the 363rd RT squadron at Shaw AFB and we used RF101 Voodoos and RB66 Widow Makers and then the RF4C Phantom II and shot 5x5, 9x9 and 5" roll panoramics.

Does that count as LF and aerial?

You can see some of the film we shot over Cuba on the TV and at the Aerospace Museum in D.C. we also flew the Universitys of Alabama and Missippi during the intregration demonstrations in the early 60's.