Early 20th Century Aerial Photographs – Shot by Pigeons
The collaboration between photography and animals had an early precedent in a German aficionado of cameras and pigeons.
German botanist, Julius Neubronner, had two hobbies during his life: photography and raising pigeons. Having run his father’s apothecary shop, he later set up an express pigeon delivery service. One day, a pigeon got lost only to return a few weeks later.
Neubronner’s curiosity about where that pigeon had been led him to devise a miniature, lightweight camera, which could be attached with a small harness to the bird’s body and triggering a shutter mechanism.
Neubronner presented his invention at the Dresden International Exhibition of Photography in 1909, where the images taken by the pigeons were well received by the public who bought them as postcards. Neubronner repeated this success in other international exhibitions, including at the International Exhibition of Aeronautics and at the Paris – Le Bourget Exhibition Center for 2 consecutive years.
Although he was initially denied a patent because it was believed that pigeons couldn’t be shooting cameras, that at the time were much less portable than today, the images Neubronner got from the pigeons showed that idea was hardly farfetched.
Neubronner also explored the military potential of his invention. But rapid advances in combat aviation and reconnaissance during World War I made his technique largely irrelevant for military purposes.
They may not look like anything special to an observer from this century, but consider that during the 19th century aerial photography was a still very much an unexplored field. Attempts were made at taking pictures from balloons and kites and with rudimentary mechanisms that were the ancestors of today’s drones. Aerial views of cities were only really possible with maps or the imagination. But Neubronner’s eccentricity and inventiveness showed a previously unknown face of cities. These are just some of the wonderful images taken by his pigeons.
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