Authors: Ben Ruhe
Date Submitted: May 31, 2007
Article Type: Journal

1858. Gaspard Felix Tournachon (a.k.a. Nadar) takes the first aerial photograph ever, from a balloon 262 feet in the air, over the Bievre Valley, near Paris. The shot is of such poor quality it cannot be reproduced. “A simple positive upon glass, made with detestable materials,” is Nadar’s characterization. But aerial photography is born.

1860. The first genuinely beautiful and sharply focused aerial photograph is taken by James Black from a balloon 1,200 feet above Boston.

1888. Using an eight-foot Diamond kite, Frenchman Arthur Batut makes the first aerial photograph from a kite, at an altitude of 500 feet over his hometown of Labruguiere. Batut builds a platform on the kite and places on it a handmade box camera with single sheet of film. It is equipped with guillotine shutter and is driven by a rubber band to yield an exposure speed of 1/100 to 1/150ths of a second. The shutter is released by a burning fuse.

1890. Batut publishes a book on kite aerial photography titled La Photographie aerienne par cerf-volant. In it, he outlines the uses of KAP for exploration, archeology, military reconnaissance, and monitoring the spread of the dreaded vine disease phylloxera. He points out that with a kite-borne stereo camera, “everyone would be able to have the illusion of a perilous ascent, without running any risk.” Such photographs would make it possible to distinguish details “completely invisible in a simple photograph.”

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