Chicago has a deserved reputation as a street-photography city—think Vivian Meier—but one of the city’s unsung heroes of photography shot as far from the street as he could get: George R. Lawrence, an early pioneer in aerial photography, whose company motto was “the hitherto impossible in photography is our specialty.”

Lawrence was not an artist, but he was a gifted engineer and a canny businessman. In 1900, he built what was then the largest camera ever constructed: a 1,400-pound monster that required 15 operators and took photographs that were eight feet wide and 4 1/2 feet high, in order to capture the Chicago and Alton Railroad’s Alton Limited. (The photo of the balloon race in the gallery is from a seven-foot-long contact print.)

The following year Lawrence got into aerial photography, taking a balloon up above the stockyards; the basket separated from the balloon, dropping Lawrence 200 feet, when telephone and telegraph wires broke his fall. Soon afterwards he built a system of kites, the “Lawrence Captive Airship”: “a kite train of up to 17 Conyne kites on a piano wire cable suspending a camera held by the specially designed stabilizing mechanism.” He made $15,000 alone on sales of a picture of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, or about $375,000 today.


1 year ago
Posted by thegordonwright

I wish their was A 1806 painting of San Fran, Ca

1 year ago
Posted by Eric Angelo

Notice the massive amounts of smog and polluted land that seem to be in every cityscape picture. The huge amounts of chemicals burned that today are considered hazardous I am sure contributed to poor health in urban areas. Imagine that junk pouring into our atmosphere every minute of every day for over 100 years and the damage it has caused our environment. It is much better today with exception of China yet we still have a long way to go before we will produce with clean exhaust since corporations prefer to consider profit over value of life. ...(steps down from soap box)...

1 year ago
Posted by Eric Angelo

I also forgot to mention the images are amazing.

1 year ago
Posted by aboma tesfaye

i like this post

9 months ago
Posted by Carolyn Phinney

George R. Lawrence was my grandfather. Raised on a farm in Illinois where he learned to invent, his earliest career was as a portrait artist. He shared an office with a photographer, who ran out on the rent and left behind his camera equipment. My grandfather became a world famous photographer due to this bit of serendipity and a huge amount of creativity. His work is in the Smithsonian as one of the earliest aerial photographers, if not the first. He also built the largest lens ever built until the Hubble telescope to take a photo of an entire railroad train with one frame -- look for the gigantic camera on Wikipedia and much more. He was commissioned by Look or Life Magazine, I forget which, to follow the path of Teddy Roosevelt through Africa and took amazing photos of the wildlife there. Later in life, he was an airplane designer, until his partner in that venture committed fraud. He spent much of the remainder of his life in litigation over his intellectual properties.

6 months ago
Posted by nancy123

nice photos. i wish you had identified the city ABOVE the picture.

if you identified it somewhere else on the page, the ad was covering it up, so i had no idea what i was looking at.


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