U. S. Navy Photography
U. S. Navy Photography
U. S. Navy Photography
Unlike other service branches, naval photography has been documented in a fine book, Eyes of
the Fleet, by Art Giberson. Mr. Giberson, a retired Chief Photographerʼs Mate, had the incentive and resources to tell the Navy story. As with prior articles, this article excludes aerial cameras, while focusing on hand-held cameras, and draws
heavily, with permission, from Mr. Gibersonʼs book.
Although the first photographs of the Navy are credited to Matthew Brady, who in 1862 exposed wet plates in photographing a small group of officers and men on the Federal Ironclad Monitor, very little use of photography was made by the Navy until after the turn of the century and the advent of photographic dry plates.
Official naval photography started very unofficially in 1914, when the USS Mississippi dropped anchor at a former Navy shipyard in Pensacola, Florida. While others surveyed the shoreline, offduty cook Walter Leroy Richardson, an amateur photographer, took pictures. The Navyʼs mission was to establish their first Naval Aeronautic Station.
Because of his mechanical skills, Richardson was soon transferred to shore duty and assigned full-time (though no Navy photographer rating yet existed) as a photographer. He set up a
crude photo lab and was issued two 5x7 Speed Graphics and a 5x7 Press Graflex.
Mr. Giberson found that Richardson, in addition to his expanding photographic duties, was also tasked with testing photographic equipment submitted to the Navy by a variety of inventors and manufacturers. It is also recorded that because an aerial camera he was testing was not ready, Mr. Richardson used a 5x7 Speed Graphic (�??He locked the lensboard on infinity and placed cigarbox boards around the bellows of the camera for protection against the wind.�??) for aerial shots.
�??In 1915 W.L. Richardson made the first U.S. Naval aerial photographs at Pensacola, FL, while flying in a Curtiss single engine open seat seaplane with a 5" x 7" dry plate �??Graflexʼ type camera, with LT Johnson, Naval aviator, as pilot of the aircraft.�?? This widely circulated photo of an AH-14 appears to be of Richardson and Johnson.
According to Mr. Giberson, many amateur photographers were concurrently working as unofficial �??shipʼs photographers,�?? throughout the fleet.
�??These private picture businesses continued until early 1918 when the Navy Department started furnishing Kodak cameras ... for all ships and stations.�??
One �??camera party�?? (a group of specialized photographers), in 1920 on the USS Lebanon, �??had several Eastman 3A Kodak cameras 3¼ x 5½, postcard picture size, one photo copy camera 6½ x 8½ and two view cameras 6½ x 8½, also two R.B.
Graflex 4 x 5 cameras and one Graflex 5 x 7 camera.�??
A Navy Bureau of Ordnance program was started in 1915 to photograph splashes of fall-of-shot during fleet gunnery exercises. �??The first formal naval camera party was organized in 1916 under the Office of the Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Performances in the Navy Department, Washington, DC.
�??The Triangulation Camera units used by this camera party were a battery of two still cameras mounted on top of each other, thus producing two 9" x 3" overlapping photographs of the target area.
The Triangulation Cameras were among the first, if not the first, large camera picture size in the Navy to use roll film which was specially manufactured and spooled by the Eastman Kodak Company for the U.S. Naval Bureau of Ordnance.�?? Although not specified in the Graflex serial number book, ordnance-named cameras were being made (some for the Army, GHQ, Vol. 11, Issue 2) by Graflex. I have, however, found no evidence that this camera was made by Graflex, although reference is made to the use of 4x5 Graflex cameras for �??short range gunnery exercises.�?? Later, fall-of-shot pictures were done with aerial cameras.
World War I suspended many areas of interservice rivalry, thus in 1917, newly promoted Aviation Machinistʼs Mate First Class Richardson was sent to the newly established Army Aerial Photography School at Langley Field, Virginia. Immediately after graduation, he was sent to the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., to establish a Photographic Section. Soon afterward, and as an Ensign, he opened the Naval School of Aerial Photography in Miami, Florida.
�??The cameras used in this photographic school were 4 x 5 Graflex[es] with 12-plate magazines, 6½ x 8½ view cameras with holders carrying two plates each, and a 4 x 5 handheld F&S aerial camera with a 12-plate magazine.�??1 The first rank designation was Printer (Aviation). Mr. Giberson says that in 1918 for one to obtain a photograph, it had to be �??printed,�?? thus the few people designated as photographers were simply called aviation printers.
To the Graflex person, this type of logic is typically explained as The Graflex Way!
Mr. Giberson records that Ensign Richardson, in 1918, returned to Pensacola, which was using Army training manuals, to oversee the preparation of a Navy photo manual for their schoolhouse use, by Lyman Goodnight and J. N. Giridlian. However, the first honest-to-goodness fleet-wide Navy photo training manual (in two volumes) was not printed until 1944, and it was printed through 1953. As an example, in the 1952 edition, the �??Speed Graphic,�?? the �??R.B. Series D�?? and the �??R.B. Super D�?? are shown and described without the generic description or nomenclature typical of Signal Corps manuals. The Anniversary Speed Graphic is shown, but not the then current Pacemaker model. In addition the Navy depended heavily on private industry to teach photographers what they needed to know.