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6 Feats of Aerial Photography Before the Airplane

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Wikipedia

The first aerial photographers didn’t wait for the invention of the airplane. There were other ways of getting a camera up in the air, with or without a human operator.

1. Balloons

In 1783, Etienne Montgolfier ascended in a hot air balloon, making him the first human to see the Earth from the air. But he didn’t have any snapshots to show for it. Photography didn’t exist yet.

It wasn’t until 1858 that Gaspar-Felix Tournachon, known as "Nadar," rose 80 meters above the French village of Petit-Becetre in a tethered balloon to produce the first aerial photograph. It was an astounding feat, considering what taking a photo entailed back then.

Photography had progressed since Nicéphore Niépce produced the first lasting image in 1826, but Nadar couldn’t simply snap a roll of film and drop it off at a drug store to be developed. In fact, the then state-of-the-art collodion wet-plate process involved applying emulsion onto glass plates just before exposure and developing them quickly afterwards. He had to carry a complete darkroom in the basket of the balloon.

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Unfortunately Nadar’s earliest aerial images no longer survive. The oldest existing aerial photo is this one of Boston, taken from a balloon in 1860 by James Wallace Black. 

2. Free flying balloons

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The invention of the dry-plate process allowed faster exposures and made it unnecessary to carry so much equipment aloft. According to the Professional Aerial Photographers Association (PAPA), Triboulet took the first free-flight photographs over Paris in 1879.

This aerial view of Paris was taken by Alphonse Liébert in 1889.

3. Kites

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The invention of the electrically released shutter in 1869 meant that photographers on the ground could control high-flying cameras. Using a string of kites with a camera attached to the last, English meteorologist E. D. Archibald became one of the first to successfully photograph from kites in about 1882. In 1889, Arthur Batut suspended a large camera from a single kite. A slow burning fuse triggered the shutter soon after the kite was launched.

The above photo is the French village of Labruguière photographed from kite by Arthur Batut in 1889.

4. Panoramic photos from kites

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George R. Lawrence designed a large-format camera with a curved film plate for capturing panoramas. The hefty, bulky camera required 17 kites to lift it 2000 feet into the air. His photos of the devastation following the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco are still some of the largest aerial exposures ever taken.

5. Pigeons

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The Bavarian Pigeon Corps was already using carrier pigeons to transmit messages in 1903 when Julius Neubranner patented a miniature camera that could be strapped to a bird. It was set to snap pictures every 30 seconds as the pigeon flew. 

6. Rockets

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Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel is best known for inventing dynamite and for establishing the prizes that bear his name, but in 1897 he was the first to successfully produce an aerial photograph with a rocket-mounted camera. In Germany in 1906, Albert Maul obtained aerial photos from a more reliable rocket propelled by compressed air. When the camera reached 2600 feet, the shutter would snap and the camera would be ejected and parachuted to the ground. Maul kept tinkering with rocket-cameras, but by 1912 airplanes had taken over as the way to get cameras airborne.

The above photo is an aerial shot of the Swedish village Karlskoga taken by Alfred Nobel's rocket in 1896 or 1897. 

Sources:  PAPA International, “History of Aerial Photography”; Lenman, Robin, ed., Oxford Companion to the Photograph; Marien, Mary Warner, 100 Ideas That Changed Photography.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
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TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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