Wednesday 24 October 2012

Matson infrared photographs

An interesting and unexpected source of infrared photographs from the 1930s is the American Colony in Jerusalem, later the Matson Photo Service. According to the Library of Congress, where the collection [infrared photographs | whole collection] is now kept, the colony was “an independent, utopian, Christian sect formed by religious pilgrims who emigrated to Jerusalem from the United States and Sweden. The history of the Colony is intimately linked to the photography collection it spawned.” Eric and Edith Matson continued the photographic work in the middle-East and around east Africa after the colony broke up in 1934. They were innovative photographers working with infrared, colour, 3D and aerial photography although most of the collection is conventional.

This is one of the infrared plates in the collection, entitled Haifa, looking across the bay from Carmel showing harbour & Acre beyond. It's a 5 by 7 inch dry glass plate, which begs the question of where this was sourced. Given the climate in what is now Israel my guess is that the plate was sensitised locally.

More detailed information on the colony and the collection can be found on this LOC page. There are thousands of fascinating images in the whole collection and many of them can be seen online. You can find a few more infrared photos by searching using infra-red but this also hits a lot of false drops since the term appears in a general descriptive field (hover over the thumbnails of the first few photos to check titles for the word infra-red). I should also add that there are photos taken around Africa as well as in what is now Israel.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Top of the World with Albert W Stevens

This week's breathtaking freefall from 128 thousand feet by Felix Baumgartner has reminded me of another high-flying pioneer who also plays his part in the history of infrared photography.

Up to 1956 the record for a balloon ascent was held by Albert William Stevens and Orvil Arson Anderson of the Army Air Corps who reached 72,395 feet on November 11 1935 in their sealed gondola named Explorer II. They launched from South Dakota with millions listening on live radio. [Pathé newsreel coverage here.] Stevens and Anderson, together with William Kepner, had made a previous attempt, 1934 in Explorer I over Nebraska, but the balloon burst and the intrepid trio had to parachute to safety from the plunging gondola. There's a good piece about Stevens and the preparations for this ascent in the March 17 1934 Literary Digest. You'll note the photograph of him and a huge aerial camera, for Stevens was an accomplished aerial photographer.

Many of his photos were taken on infrared film, to combat the problems caused by haze when photographing from altitude. He took the first photograph to show the curvature of the earth and he photographed the shadow of the moon on the earth during the 1932 solar eclipse over the US. His images from Explorer II included the highest photograph ever made (a record that also stood until the 1950s) and covering the largest area ever taken with a single lens, showing a horizon around 330 miles away. (The specification was 1/25th second using a Fairchild F4 camera with a Kodak 304mm f5 lens on Eastman infrared Aero film through a red filter.) This wasn't the longest distance Stevens managed to photograph. His 1933 aerial photograph of Mount Shasta in California was taken from a plane flying at 23 thousand feet from a distance of 331.2 miles. The atmospheric haze rendered the mountain invisible, so the camera was oriented using a compass. The Mount Shasta photograph, courtesy of the Kodak Archive in Rochester, was included in the Infrared 100 exhibition.

Stevens's adventures were usually undertaken with the help of the National Geographic Society and stories of his exploits and many of his photographs can be found in editions of that journal from the first half of the 1930s. The Explorer II gondola is now in the US National Air and Space Museum.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

... and now the Marsden calendar

If you fancy a 2013 calendar of infrared photographs ... and sorry but I don't do one .. you should look at a collection of superb infrared photos in the latest edition from Simon Marsden's archive.

Available from the Marsden web site. Even if you don't fancy the calendar you should look at the photos: all taken on Kodak HIE from Simon's private refrigerated stash.