Friday, 19 March 2010

1910-1930 ... filling the gap

You may recall I was concerned to have a big hole between Wood's infrared photos published in the Illustrated London News (ILN) in June 1911 and the first infrared photo published in the Times in March 1932. As my research continues I am plugging that gap.

A few key items:
  • Kenneth Mees, then at Wratten and Wainwright, took some infrared landscapes in Portugal, also in 1910 (when Wood took his first published infrared images). Mees acknowledges Wood's images from 1910 as earlier and I have not, as yet, seen the Mees photos but they are in the Kodak archive at the University of Rochester in New York state. Unlike the Wood images we have, which come to us only as printed versions in the Photographic Journal and ILN, Mees's images still exist as both negatives and large prints. Very exciting! (Mees was taken to America by Eastman and founded Kodak research. In the UK he was an active member of the Croydon Camera Club, which is still going strong.)
  • We know the military on both sides of the Atlantic were investigating infrared for long distance photography during the first world war. Now I have tracked down an image from almost that period. The Kodak archive includes an aerial infrared image from 1919 taken (probably) by the Fairchild Corporation.
  • Chappell, Wright and the two Shanes were exploring infrared photography at Lick Observatory in the 1920s. These included panoramic views of the Sierras and Yosemite Valley taken from over 100 miles away. Wright was interested in comparing terrestrial photos in both IR and UV in order to apply the same kinds of clarity (or lack of it) to photographs of Mars (at its 1924 conjunction) so that he could work out the possible consistency of the martian atmosphere.
The most fascinating piece of information concerns a photograph of a plaster figurine (bust) illuminated only by the near-infrared from two flat-irons. This image was taken at the Kodak labs and is included in the first two editions of Clark's book (and in the Kodak archive). It turns out that the image is a fake! The photographer admitted, much later, that he grew tired of waiting for the exposure to work and helped the process along with a blow-torch. That bust now becomes almost as apochryphal as Abney's kettle.

I have to report that the people at Rochester (both the University and George Eastman House) and at Lick Observatory have been amazingly helpful as I pursue this trans-Atlantic quest remotely. What did researchers do before the internet?

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