Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Earliest Known Photograph of a Halo

Following the publication of the recent Kertész post, a lively discussion ensued as to what is the earliest known photograph of a halo, either in black and white or colour? This brought to mind Marko's post on his blog submoon, about the first recorded halo from Lowitz orientation with a 315/325 raypath. In that post, he includes a photograph taken by Paul Schultz on a 1905-06 expedition to Alaska and later reproduced in the book Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled by Archdeacon Stuck (Scribner's, 1914),

Very recently, I also had the great fortune to come across a book, Cloud Studies by Arthur W. Clayden, (John Murray, London, 1905) which includes two photographs of halos. The first shows a 22° halo which exhibits a thickening around the area of the upper tangent arc and a second one which shows a section of the parhelic circle. Considering the book may have been in preparation some time prior to publication, these images might even be slightly older.

Now the question I would like to pose is can these really be the earliest photographs of halos ever taken? I have an extremely hard time believing this to be the case. My gut feeling is that earlier examples must be in existence somewhere. Photography had been around for nearly eighty years when these photographs were taken. The first black and white image was produced  in 1826-7 and the first colour image in 1861. The quality of photographic equipment and technique had been refined to such an extent by this time that high quality images were able to be produced by the average photographer. However, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, large format plates coated with slow emulsions were capable of recording some of the finest images that have ever been produced, exhibiting the most exquisite detail and tonality. In the following examples of early photographs, we see that the clouds and the sky play a principal or prominent part in their composition,

Sky Study, Paris, Charles Marville, 1856-7. © Metropolitan Museum of Art.
September Clouds, Roger Fenton, 1859.
Seascape at Night, Henry Peach Robinson, 1870.
So here is where I hand the investigation over to you to play detective. The bar has been temporarily set at 1905, but I am quietly confident that with a little effort we can push the timeline back into the nineteenth century and even further, possibly back towards the 1850's and 1860's. One last sobering thought to bear in mind. The very first photograph ever to be taken was View from the Window at Le Gras by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826-7 and was taken from a vantage point looking out on to the open sky which could potentially have contained a halo.

View from the Window at Le Gras, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1826-7.
Happy hunting!

1 comment:

  1. What an exciting challenge! I should be working, but I keep getting back to the computer searching for early halo photos.