Brian's Photo Blog — Article 105
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Centenary Pigeon Photography
Monday 4 June 2012   —   Category: Other Photographers
An early-20th-century bird in a harness
with a camera strapped to its chest.
An early-21st-century Byrd in a harness
with a camera strapped to his chest.
A couple months ago, the “Today’s Featured Article” on Wikipedia was entitled Pigeon Photography. That sounded intriguing, so I took a closer look.

In the early 1900’s, the German apothecary Julius Neubronner decided to try combining his two hobbies of carrier pigeons and photography by attaching miniature cameras to pigeons. Above is a photograph of Schlosshotel Kronberg taken by one of Neubronner’s pigeons — you can even see the bird’s wings on the left and right edges of the picture.

When Neubronner applied for a patent for his “invention” of pigeon photography, it was at first rejected by the German patent office because it seemed impossible for a pigeon to carry a camera. But after showing them the photographs taken with his miniature cameras strapped to pigeons, they changed their minds and granted the patent in 1908. During the following few years, his pigeons' photos won awards at the 1909 International Photographic Exhibition in Dresden and the 1909 International Aviation Exhibition in Frankfurt, as well as at the 1910 and 1911 Paris Air Shows.

Despite this success and notoriety, after ten years of hard work, Neubronner was never able to turn his pigeon photography into a commercial success. Around this time airplane technology reach a high enough level of sophistication that it was much more useful and practical for aerial photography than the much less dependable and much less controllable pigeons.

Thus, pigeon photography faded into obscurity. As with many other human endeavors, technology surpassed and displaced the use of animals. Still, as a Byrd, I’m grateful for these early avian pioneers of photography. A hundred years later, I can have a camera strapped to my chest, just as they had. And even though I don’t have wings to propel my self into the heavens, I can take my own photos from an airplane, like this shot over San Francisco.
For more photos from a pigeon-eye-view, be sure to check out the Aerial Oregon & California 2012 photo album.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 105
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