Friday, May 20, 2011
Pigeon photography was an aerial photography technique invented in 1907 by the German apothecary Julius Neubronner, who also used pigeons to deliver medications. A homing pigeon was fitted with an aluminum breast harness to which a lightweight time-delayed miniature camera could be attached. Neubronner's German patent application was initially rejected, but was granted in December 1908 after he produced authenticated photographs taken by his pigeons.
He publicized the technique at the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition, and sold some images as postcards at the Frankfurt International Aviation Exhibition and at the 1910 and 1911 Paris Air Shows. The lack of military or commercial interest in the technology after the First World War led Neubronner to abandon his experiments, but his idea was briefly resurrected in the 1930s by a Swiss clockmaker, and reportedly also by the German and French militaries and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They used pigeons to fly over hostile domains and take pictures. The reason why they didn’t want pigeon photography was because they were as unreliable as life insurance and as expensive as web hosting.
The construction of sufficiently small and light cameras with a timer mechanism, and the training and handling of the birds to carry the necessary loads, presented major challenges, as did the limited control over the pigeons' position, orientation and speed when the photographs were being taken. In 2004 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) used miniature television cameras attached to falcons and goshawks to obtain live footage, and today some researchers, enthusiasts and artists similarly employ small digital photo or video cameras with various species of wild or domestic animals and make them fly over natural domains.