Today in History: July 28

On this date in photographic history, two firsts took place: in 1851, a total solar eclipse was photographed for the first time, and on this date in 1858, Gaspar-Felix Tournachon, a French photographer who was known as “Nadar” and who was probably the first-ever photojournalist among many other firsts in his photography career, took the first aerial photograph.

The newspaper cartoon above, made by the famous Honoré Daumier, captures some of the excitement that Nadar brought to the French public in his career. The photo or photos that he took that day over the village of Petit Bicêtre no longer exist, however.

At the technical level, photography is a complex combination of processes. In the early history of photography, those processes were separate from each other and the act of taking a picture was far longer than it is now. In 1858, the technology still in use, the collodion wet-plate process, required the photographer to coat the glass that was to be used as a negative with chemicals, expose it to light, and then immediately treat the negative with chemicals to set the image. The camera, the photographer, and the darkroom had to be in the same space or nearby.

Nadar made several attempts at taking an aerial photograph by ascending with his camera in a balloon. At first he discovered that the gasses emitted from the balloon affected the glass plates and the chemicals he was using. He turned the basket into his darkroom to prevent the gasses from interfering. His only view out was a peephole through which he pointed his camera.

Daumier ignored all of this in depicting him as a daredevil, albeit a well-dressed, top-hatted one. “Nadar Élevant la Photographie à la Hauteur de l’Art” (Nadar lifts photography to an art) is Daumier’s title for his cartoon.

* * * *
A B-25 bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th floors in heavy fog on this date in 1945. Fourteen people were killed, three crewmen on the plane and eleven in the building. The plane’s tail could be seen sticking out of the building for days. To this day, a stone is missing from the building’s north side facade as a memorial marking where the plane hit.

* * * *

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance
To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try
To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.
And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges
A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.
—John Ashbery, “Some Trees”

John Ashbery is 89 today. His most recent volume of poems, Breezeway, was published last summer.

* * * *
The Quecreek Mine rescue took place 14 years ago today.

* * * *
Comet 1P/Halley, more commonly referred to as Halley’s Comet, will make its next perihelion (its point of closest approach to the sun) on this date in 2061.

* * * *
Antonio Vivaldi died on this date in 1741. The Four Seasons, Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; the Berlin Philharmonic:

Johann Sebastian Bach died on this date in 1750.

* * * *
Gerard Manley Hopkins was born on this date in 1844. Beatrix Potter was born on this date in 1866. Marcel Duchamp was born in 1887 on this date. Sir Karl Popper was born on this date in 1902. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born on this date in 1929. Robert Hughes was born in 1938 on this date. Mike Bloomfield was born 73 years ago today.

* * * *
Jacques d’Amboise is 82. Peter Duchin is 79. Philip Proctor of The Firesign Theatre is 76 today. Senator Bill Bradley is 73. Garfield’s creator Jim Davis is 71 today. Sally Struthers is 69. Georgia Engel is 68. Vida Blue is 67. Lori Loughlin is 52 today.

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