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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Thursday, July 21, 2011

World's Biggest Camera ~ 1900

George Raymond Lawrence (1868 – 1938) was a commercial photographer of northern Illinois. In 1900 the Chicago & Alton Railway had just built a special 8-car train to offer daytime service between Alton and St. Louis. Believing it to be the most handsome train in the world, director Mr. Charlton asked company photographer Mr. Lawrence about making an 8 foot photograph of it in its entirety. Lawrence explained that the photo would have to be made in sections and joined together during the printing process. Charlton was dissatisfied with this turn-of-the-century "stitching" technology, which would be neither seamless nor faithful to perspective. Instead, he gave the photographer carte blanche to develop the largest camera in the world to capture without flaws the faultless train. In 2 1/2 months, manufacturer J.A. Anderson of Chicago produced a mammoth camera with the following specifications:

Size of glass negative: 8' x 4 1/2' (that's feet folks!)
Length with bellows extended: 20'
Length with bellows folded: 3'
Weight: 1,400 lbs.
Number of operators: 15
Exposure time: 2 1/2 min.

Lawrence stands beside the lens with a giant lens cap under this left arm and a watch in his right hand making the exposure The roller curtain operator stands at the rear and all attention is concentrated on the train.

The gigantic camera cost about $5,000 to make (the price of a large house back then) 

On the day the train was photographed, the camera was hauled 6 miles to the middle of a field by horse-drawn van. Exposures were made using a telescopic, rectilinear lens with 10' of focus. Three prints were submitted to the Paris Exposition of 1900 and provoked such amazement that the photo was believed to be fake. (click on image to enlarge)  Once it was authenticated, they awarded George Raymond Lawrence with the ‘Grand Prize of the World for Photographic Excellence.’ 

One of Lawrence's world renowned photographs is of the ruins of San Francisco, California after the 1906 earthquake. It is a 160-degree panorama from a kite taken 2000 feet (600 m) in the air above the San Francisco Bay that showed the entire city on a single 17-by-48-inch contact print made from a single piece of film. Each print sold for $125 and Lawrence made at least $15,000 in sales from this one photograph. The camera used in this photograph weighed 49 pounds (22 kg) and used a celluloid-film plate.

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