Advances in photographic technology that occurred in the 1860s and 70s led to the invention of plates that had exposure times of a fraction of a second. This allowed for "instantaneous photography," as it was called at the time. Moving objects could be frozen in time by the camera.
Researchers immediately used this technology to study bodies in motion. Most famously, Eadweard Muybridge in 1878 took a series of images to study the galloping of a horse. Similarly, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot used instantaneous photography to study the muscular movements of his human patients.
A more unusual application of the technology took place on June 6, 1881, when Mr. Van Sothen, photographer in charge at the United States School of Submarine Engineers in Willett's Point, New York, took an instantaneous photograph of a mule having its head blown off by dynamite. The mule was apparently old and was going to be put down anyway, so it was decided to "sacrifice the animal upon the altar of science."
On the 6th of June, 1881, an instantaneous view was taken, by your direction, of the execution of a condemned mule belonging to the Engineer Department. A small bag containing 6 ounces of dynamite and a fuse was fastened on the mule's forehead, the wires from the fuse connecting with a magneto-electric machine. The camera was placed at a distance of about 47 feet from the mule and properly focussed; the drop shutter was held up by a string, fastened to another fuse, which was placed in the same circuit with the first, so that both were fired simultaneously and the shutter allowed to drop. The result was a negative showing the mule in an upright position, but with his head blown off. This photograph has excited much interest and comment in the scientific world. A very narrow slit was used in the shutter, and as nearly as can be estimated the time of exposure was about 1/250 of a second. A 10 by 12 gelatino-bromide instantaneous Eastman dry plate was used, with a 4 D Dallmeyer lens, using the full opening.
Auroratone was a "process for translating music into color" invented circa 1940 by Englishman Cecil Stokes. The music vibrated an emulsion of crystallizing chemicals, and this was then photographed by a color movie camera, producing a kind of psychedelic movie of shifting colors synchronized with music (but this was the 1940s, before the concept of psychedelics was known in popular culture).
The hope was that these auroratone films could be used to treat psychiatric patients, and they were experimentally shown to soldiers in an army hospital suffering from psychotic depressions. Conclusion: "Observation revealed that these patients were intensely absorbed in the films, that their span of attention to the films was appreciably lengthened after exposure to the films. Weeping and sobbing was observed in some patients. Many patients became more accessible to individual and group psychotherapy immediately folllowing exposure to these films."
Their effect was also tested on juvenile delinquents. One kid told the experimenter, "I think God must have painted those pictures."
A company was formed to commercialize Auroratones and guide their development. Investors in this company included the Crosby Brothers (Larry and his famous brother Bing). Bing sang the music for many of the auroratones.
Treating psychiatric patients wasn't very profitable, so there was hope to find more lucrative applications of the auroratone process. One idea was to transfer auroratone color patterns onto textiles and ceramics. Some silk scarfs printed with visualizations of Bing Crosby singing "Home on the Range" were apparently manufactured, but never sold.
Not many auroratones still survive, but an example of one can be viewed on YouTube:
Flashbak.com has posted an interesting collection of photos (titled "Love Boat Rejects") taken by official photographers aboard American, Norwegian, and Italian cruiseships during the 1990s. Check out the full gallery here.
Over at about.com, in honor of the Fourth of July, I just posted The 10 Weirdest Moments in the History of the Statue of Liberty, one of those moments being the time in 1989 (or maybe it was 1990 - sources differ), when two Irish tourists on vacation in NYC took a photo of Lady Liberty. It was only when they got back home and developed the photo that they noticed a "Satanic face" in the clouds leering down at her. I'll let you decide for yourself what meaning, if any, this might have. But as far as cloud photos go, it's a pretty famous one.
Brazilian artist Edu Monteiro photographs himself with things stuck on his face. Things such as an octopus, lycra and polystyrene, or a container of dirt. Explore more of his "self transformations" at his website: edumonteiro.com.
Art is where you find it. Photographer Alyssa Blumstein has found it at the bottom of a New York restaurant's slop bucket. She uploads pictures of the slop bucket's contents to a Tumblr page, where it's now attracting a following.
Created by artists Justin Crowe and Aric Snee who describe it as a "sarcastic solution to a quintessential problem — nobody wants to look alone while they mindlessly snap pictures of themselves." The stick is shaped like an arm, so in the pictures it looks like you're holding someone's hand.
In his efforts to obtain photographs of some of the shyest birds, an English author resorted to the most ingenious devices, one of which was an imitation ox made of a bullock skin stretched over a wicker frame. Concealed in this with his camera, the lens of which peeped out of a hole in the chest, the naturalist photographer took observations and obtained some excellent pictures. An artificial sheep also proved of great service when studying birds of the moors and mountains, its realistic appearance never failing to deceive, and making it a useful hiding place.
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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
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