Photograph: One of Neubronner’s pigeons with Camera.
It’s hard to imagine now, in the age of drone photography, how it would have felt to have the very first glimpse of the world from a bird’s-eye view.
In the 19th century, early photographers experimented with aerial images using balloons and kites, devices that were made and controlled by humans.
But a more organic perspective emerged when a German apothecary strapped a small camera to a pigeon, to photograph the world in flight.His name was Julius Neubronner, and he had a family history of using pigeons in unconventional ways.
His father, also an apothecary, received prescriptions and sent out urgent medications by pigeon. Neubronner also relied on pigeons to replenish his stocks of medications.
But when a bird went missing for a month, Neubronner was curious to know where it had been. While other bird-owners might consider this thought a mere flight of fancy, an unanswerable question, Neubronner took a different view:
He designed a camera, one that shot automatically, for his pigeons to wear.
Despite their often negative public image, pigeons have a long history of being incredibly useful to humans.
In Ancient Rome, pigeons delivered news of chariot victories. There are multiple accounts of their use in wartime throughout history, including in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, when besieged Parisians sent messages out of the city via pigeon.
They even helped build a business empire.
But using pigeons to carry cameras was new, and so Neubronner began to experiment.