Bog Camera

Cold Bog Diorama

While I was digging out the photographs of the Big Horn Sheep diorama I came across this pair I took of the Cold Bog Diorama, also at the Yale Peabody Museum  (also by James Perry Wilson). You can see more about this diorama here and here. In the second of these links is an assembly of Wilson’s survey slides. Here (below) is the same assembly done in Bridge/Photoshop, somewhat dissolving the frames and compensating for the faceted picture plane as Wilson’s Dual Grid method would.

Cold Bog Diorama survey

See two posts below for advice on viewing stereoscopic pairs (for the top image).

Pair of Bog Cameras (Nat Chard)

Tooling for Bog Camera (Nat Chard)

Bog Diorama Prints (Nat Chard)

(Continued from previous post below)

James Perry Wilson made his survey of the Cold Bog site on June the 17th 1949. Michael Anderson and Ruth Morrill, who had been Wilson’s assistant in painting the Cold Bog diorama, took me to see the original site on June the 17th 2001. Unfortunately the weather was not perfect, but it help up long enough to take the pictures. The next day Michael arranged to have the diorama opened and I took a set of photographs of the diorama. The photographs taken by the Cold Bog camera of the site produce an image that is the ideal projection for the diorama shell shape, as an unfolded sheet. The photographs of the diorama unfold the painting as if it were a flat sheet. The lowest of the photographs above shows prints of the Cold Bog camera photographs  of diorama (left in each case) and site both in the form of the diorama shell and as flat images (unfolded).

The test photograph in the previous post was taken just before leaving for New York and the knurled knobs I had made for winding the film on were aggressive on the skin, so on my arrival in New York I bought the leather work gloves, one of which is seen in the top picture, to help with this task.

J.P.Wilson's panorama of photographs (assembled by N.C.)

Above is J.P. Wilson’s survey photographs from 1949, assembled to (by me) to make a panorama. There is no attempt to blend them, so the range of exposures is apparent.

Wilson Grid (J.P.W.)

Kodachrome slide taken by J.P.Wilson on June 17th 1949 of Cold Bog with his grid scratched onto a piece of clear plastic placed over the slide.

Normal view of site, 2001

Above is a photograph of the site taken with a normal 35mm camera on June 17th 2001.

Below is the same view taken with the Cold Bog camera

Cold Bog camera photograph of site (Nat Chard)

Normal camera photograph of Cold Bog Diorama

Above is a normal photograph of the diorama and below is a photograph of the diorama with the Cold Bog camera. As with the site, the shape of the diorama replicates the U shaped valley so the unfolded image appears to have a much flatter horizon than appears to the diorama viewer.

Cold Bog camera photograph of diorama (Nat Chard)

Stereo pair of Cold Bog camera photographs of diorama (Nat Chard)

I mentioned in the previous post that I built three cameras. I needed two to take stereoscopic photographs and a third in case one of the others broke down. Wilson worked with stereoscopic photography. I would suggest that a lot of the depth in his shadows in woodland scenes comes from his work with stereoscopic surveys. But the real benefit of making stereoscopic photographs of the diorama was to test my method. When looking at a pair of stereoscopic photographs of the diorama the form of the shell as a curved surface is very clear.

When taking the pictures with my Cold Bog Camera, viewing a stereoscopic pair should reveal a three dimensional foreground with a flat painting behind. If you go cross eyed so that the foreground bushed register in both images, you can see this take place in the stereoscopic pair above.

Some of the Cold Bog camera components (Nat Chard)

Bog Camera Top (Nat Chard)

Having realised the potential of the picture plane as an agent that could receive ideas critically, the question was how to find out more about this. Almost all the struggles with the picture plane are in the name of truthfulness to the original – quite different from my needs. There are several examples of more developed picture planes, for instance the spaces in the inventive Dutch Peep shows by Van Hoogstraten (that will feature one day soon), or the domes of planetaria with their associated (and wonderful) projectors. The world that I decided to search more deeply was that of the Habitat Diorama. Always a pleasure in the background, they came into focus through two events. One was that by coincidence two colleagues, Christine Hawley and C.J.Lim, were taking their students around the Yale

BogCamFront (Nat Chard)

Campus in New Haven on the same day that I was taking my group there. C.J. had been there before and I asked him if there was anything else I should see. Knowing me quite well he suggested I should see the embalmed dissected rats in the Yale Peabody Museum, and I immediately ventured there to examine them. In fact it seems these rats were fermented in C.J’s wonderful imagination, but in the museum I came across J.P. Wilson’s dioramas. A few years later when working on the picture plane I wrote to the Peabody with some elementary questions about the dioramas and received a speedy and short reply asking about the nature of my interest. So began an extensive correspondence with Wilson scholar Michael Anderson. Michael is the expert on Wilson and his research is generously offered on this website:

(and follow the arrows at the top to find subsequent chapters).

BogCamSide (Nat Chard)

To get the proper story you should read Michael Anderson’s history, but in short Wilson studied architecture at Columbia and then worked for the architect Bertram Goodhue for twenty years before taking up diorama painting at the American Museum of Natural History. He brought with him his own rigour but also the precision of architectural perspective projection and transferred this to the problem of the curved background painting behind the taxidermy in dioramas. In all my diorama research I am hugely indebted to Michael for sharing his extensive and exacting research (and expertise) on Wilson. These cameras are the consequence of a hugely productive and enjoyable collaboration with Michael.

BogCamRear (Nat Chard)

To understand Wilson’s projection technique as fully as I could I designed and built three identical cameras that in one photograph would make all the calculations for an ideal diorama projection that Wilson would make when employing his process. I built three so that I had a backup, but also so that I could take stereoscopic pictures (more of which later), so the cameras were built 65mm wide, the typical separation between our eyes.

BogCam Chassis Pattern (Nat Chard)

Michael Anderson suggested using Wilson’s Cold Bog diorama at the Yale Peabody Museum as the basis for this work. He could arrange access to the original site that it is based on, and as he was working on some replacement birds for the diorama, he would be able to arrange to have the front glass removed so that I could photograph the diorama without reflections.

Copenhagen Harbour with flat picture plane camera (Nat Chard)

Bog Cam first test picture (Nat Chard)

Above you can see the difference between a photograph from a camera with a flat picture plane and one from my camera dedicated to the Bog Diorama (the lower photograph). The anamorphic distortion is accurate for the geometry of the Cold Bog diorama at the Yale Peabody – this view was outside my office in Copenhagen looking across the harbour. The views are not identical – the flat picture plane camera was next to the Bog Camera with a pinhole and the same focal length and used Polaroid film to test exposures before using the 120 slide film in the Bog Diorama camera. This was the first test shot.

So as to be able to take several pictures from each camera on the site, the film winds on to allow three shots from each roll (with a healthy margin to keep the film light tight). The mechanism in the front of the camera pulls back to keep the film in its curved track while winding on.

Tomorrow I will post some more pictures of the camera and of its photographs.

See also Michael Anderson’d Blog: