Thursday, 7 December 2017

APS biography of Professor Wood

The American Physical Society published a biography of Professor RW Wood in October. It was part of their This Month in Physics History series and commemorated Wood's Royal Photographic Society lecture in 1910. (The biog says this was the first publication of infrared photographs, but that was actually in The Century Magazine in February 1910.)

If you are unfamiliar with this fascinating, and omnitalented, chap then I suggest you give the piece a read:

www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201710/physicshistory.cfm

[Thanks to Professor Paul Feldman of Johns Hopkins for the heads up]

Friday, 15 September 2017

Laurie Klein competition and exhibition

Laurie Klein is the author of Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared and co-author of Infrared Photography: Artistic Techniques for Brilliant Images. She is putting together an exhibition of infrared imaging at the Photoplace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont next month and is running an open competition for inclusion.

Information on this is on her web site and if you would like to submit images there is a fee of $35 for up to five images and then $6 each over that. You can submit any number (electronically) and Laurie will choose ones for the exhibition. It's a blind jury process so she won't know who has submitted what. The deadline for submissions is September 18th.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

View from the roof

During the 1930s infrared photography was regarded as being one of the wonders of the age. It was featured regularly across the pages of national newspapers, especially The Times, demonstrating its ability to cut through haze and show distant landscapes.


This was brought home to me while perusing a 1938 book called Byways of the BBC which included the photo above, showing the view north from the roof of Broadcasting House towards Regents Park. Including an infrared landscape was clearly quite a reasonable thing to do then. BBC hands will realise that this is before the extension, let alone the current additions, so such a view is probably not available now.

Monday, 24 July 2017

From Wimbledon to the remote Pacific

Two online news stories caught my eye recently.

The BBC web site has a short video montage showing photographs taken by Belgian photographer Sanne de Wilde on the Pacific island of Pingelap. This island is notable because a disproportionate number of the inhabitants are totally colour blind, a condition called achromatopsia. They basically have no functioning cones in their eyes. The cones are what provide us with detailed colour vision, while the rods are more sensitive but only register brightness and at a lower resolution. Our brains combine the two and while we think we see everything in sharp colour, this is not actually the case and only the centre of our vision is actually sharp and colourful. There is another difference between the two parts of our vision, which is that we process the rod images faster than the cone ones. The result of this is that if you look at a bank of TV screens, all showing the same programme, and watch for cuts between shots the screens you are not looking at will seem to cut first.

The colour blindness on Pingelap results from a genetic bottleneck, when most of the population were killed by a tsunami in the 18th century. One of the survivors happened to have the colour blindness and since the population was so small the genetic defect became more prevalent. Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about the island in his 1997 book The Island of the Colorblind.

Sanne de Wilde has also produced a book with this title but in her case she has uses faux-colour infrared photography as a way of looking at the islanders' condition and has produced some striking images. A 10 minute film was also shown at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and a book is available (which has a UV-sensitive cover!). Check out the web site at www.sannedewilde.com and those of the book's publishers, Kehrer Verlag and Uitgeverij Kanibaal.

You probably know that Wimbledon fortnight has just finished and, with it, the 2017 tennis championships. The Guardian's sports photographer, Tom Jenkins, decided to take some faux-colour infrared shots at the championships and you can see the results on this web page. My only niggle is that whoever wrote the captions is confused between near-infrared and thermal imaging because these photographs are not thermal images and do not show heat. Nevertheless they are fascinating, partly because Tom has sometimes used selective focus to increase the otherworldliness of the scenes, making them take on the appearance of models.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Biggles shoots infrared photographs over Mount Everest

There has been news coverage recently of the digitisation and publication of films from the archive of the Royal Geographical Society, and BBC reporter Pallab Ghosh narrated a film on the BBC News channel (available during June 2017) about some of them. One such film comes within our purview, being a record of the 1933 Houston Expedition which flew biplanes over the Everest range. They shot movie footage and stills, including some infrared plates provided by Olaf Bloch at Ilford.

In the early 1930s, infrared photography was something of a popular sensation and from about 1932 newspapers regularly printed large IR photographs demonstrating the ability to penetrate atmospheric haze and achieve extremely long distance views.

Everest summit and Chamlang taken from 100 miles away
The published book documenting the expedition, 'First over Everest', goes into some detail about the infrared setup. Plates came from Ilford, and by this time the sensitivity of infrared plates was such as to allow exposures 'as rapid as one-sixtieth' of a second. Taylor, Taylor & Hobson loaned a lens with an aperture of 4.5 and a focal length of 25 inches (635mm). The camera 'was a somewhat rough and ready improvisation made of plywood' which was sourced with the help of The Times newspaper and its legendary art editor Ulric Van den Bogaerde (father of actor Dirk Bogarde). There was, presumably, a quid pro quo because the Times had first publication of images from the expedition. On May 8th 1933, almost exactly a month after the flight, the Times was able to publish the expedition's most famous photograph, showing the summit of Makalu, the fifth-highest mountain in the world and 22 km east of Mount Everest itself, rising above cloud from a distance of over 100 miles.

The camera was very big and heavy and required special mounting in the plane. It was three feet long by a foot square and was placed under the fuselage, hanging in vibration-proof mountings where this aircraft was designed to carry torpedoes, and set up pointing forwards so that the field of view did not include the bottom cylinder of the engine. Plates were changed through a hatchway in the floor of the observer's cockpit. The observer had to hang upside down and put his head and hands through the floor to reach the rear frame of the camera and so access the wooden double half-plate dark slide ... hoping that the wind didn't whip it out of his hands. From this position the camera shutter could be operated. Lining up the shot involved either using the plane's intercom or, if necessary, writing notes. The cue between pilot and observer to take the shot was done using a piece of string. A sharp tug telling to pilot to line up and fly right, with a reverse pull giving the cue to fire the shutter.

The size and weight of the infrared camera were such that it couldn't be fitted to the aircraft for the high altitude flights, so infrared photographs were taken on subsidiary flights, after the main sorties had been completed. There was the added problem that, being outside the fuselage, the camera and lens would have frozen up at the higher altitude. Electric heaters were used for both men and equipment (these were open cockpits) but heating an external camera would have taken too much current.

Even though it doesn't mention the infrared work, the 1934 documentary film of the expedition, which won an Oscar that year, was called 'Wings over Everest' and is well worth a look. It's available to view freely on the BFI web site. There is a definite 'Boys Own' feel about the whole affair, and the BBC described observer Major Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker as being a real life Biggles. While some of the documentary was re-enacted in a typically 1930s way that we now see as being wooden, the real people are featured. But the expedition was filmed as it happened, including aerial footage shot from the cockpit which is a combination of shots from three of the flights.

Two final notes: the expedition was named after Lady Lucy Houston (pronounced How-sten), who provided funds and was quite a character herself (check out the Wikipedia entry on her) and, as the BFI points out, the while thing was inspired by novelist John Buchan.