Notes on Kite Aerial Photography: Background

A Bit of History
Arthur Batut of Labruguiere

A self-portrait of Arthur Batut. This image is from the pleasant book Labruguiere by Autha, Negre, de Beauffort, and Fosset. The book celebrates the centennial of Batut's first aerial photograph. (20K jpg)

Arthur Batut was a gentleman and inventor who lived a life centered on the French town of Labruguiere. He is nominated by many as the first person to take photographs froma kite. 

What a delightful fellow Arthur must have been. Early in my KAP explorations I was lucky enough to find a translation of his La Photographie Aérienne par Cerf-Volant. What a wonderful accounting of experiment and discovery. In his text, batut allows us to look over his shoulder as he solves various challenges associated with aerial photography. Throughout the text he provides a clear accounting of techniques, and the reasoning behind them, for kite building, camera building, photographic developing, camera suspension, and release of the shutter. The document is full of pithy observations. Take, for instance, the following passage describing the moment of exposure (determined by a burning fuse or wick):

"Here we must mention an observation whose usefulness we often verified. If, due to the violence or irregularity of the wind, the kite should experience jolts, one must, some seconds before the shutter release (this being easy to estimate if we carefully measured the wick and  took note of the exact time), walk in the direction of the wind with sufficient speed so that the kite has a tendency to come down. Under these conditions, it will recover the necessary stability to allow a successful  photograph. This is, of course, only a palliative for rather unusual circumstances. As soon as we see the paper strip leave the kite (being released by the shutter), we will endeavor to bring the kite down. The operator who, during the ascension, will have come closer to his aide, will press alternatively each hand on the line while walking toward the kite. Little by little the kite will come down , and will be within hand reach without jolts."

Reading Batut is just like talking to one of the guys at a kite festival. The techniques and reasoning seem so very familiar. 

(left) Batut's ground-level photograph of his photographic kite. (36K jpg)

(right) An illustration of the kite aloft. Note the split bridel, camera, and altimeter (61K jpg)

M. A. Batut took the first kite aerial photographs over Labruguiere, France in the late 1880s. His rig was ingenious. The camera (A) was held near the kite. An altimeter (B) encoded the exposure altitude on the film allowing scaling of the image. A slow burning fuse (C) actuated the shutter a fixed amount of time after the kite was launched (typically a few minutes.) As the shutter released a small flag was dropped to indicate that it was time to haul the kite down. See H. Gernsheim and A. Gernsheim, The History of Photography, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1969. Batut's efforts produced images like the 1889 shot of Labruguiere below.

Labruguiere from the air in 1889, an image by Arthur Batut (44K jpg)

Further information on Arthur Batut is available at the The Arthur Batut Museum  and the handsome WWW site of Andrea Casalboni. 


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