The world's largest camera. CHS

Preparing for a flight over the Chicago stockyards CHS

Atop a 15-foot tripod surrounded by standards for flashlight powder, one rigged with a canvas smoke trap. CHS
Original Lawrence panoramic camera in Thomas Yanul's collection
Dr. Simon Baker on George Lawrence

George Lawrence was one of the foremost panoramic photographers of the 20th century, as well as being the greatest KAP'er (Kite Aerial Photographer) of all time! You see Mr. Lawrence wasn't content with taking pictures on the ground, he wanted those panoramic views you can see only from the air. Whether it was via ladder, balloon, or kite, he experimented with it. Dr. Simon Baker, Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University, has very kindly provided his research published over the years in various magazines for this website. Peter Nurkse has contributed notes from an interview with Dr. Baker.

From the beginning, Lawrence seemed destined for greatness... or disaster. In his early experiments with improved flash powders he blew his young son out the window! In later adventures with photography from balloons he crashed...TWICE. Other early projects included the world's largest camera (1400 lbs.) and photographs from ladders and giant tripods.

But Lawrence's most enduring claim to fame came when he paired up his cameras with the kites of fellow Chicagoan Silas J. Conyne. It is with cameras suspended from trains of multiple Conyne kites that Lawrence took some of the most spectacular aerial photos ever taken.

All this and more is explored in this collection of articles written by Dr. Baker between 1988 and 1997:

There's a bit of overlap in subject matter; remember the articles were not intended to be presented together. In addition, here are the original U.S. Navy reports from which we know the details of kite and camera operation:

George Lawrence retired from photography in 1910, but he left a unique legacy of the most amazing aerial panoramic photographs ever taken.

(This introduction by Charles Hall.)

The "Captive Airship" suspended from kites.CHS

Thanks again to Dr. Simon Baker for providing the fruits of his research for this website.

Abbreviations, CHS: Chicago Historical Society

Related links:

Aerial Arts Richard Eller's website of aerial photography, with an exhibit on George Lawrence.
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2002 by Petterchak, Janice, nice five page article on Lawrence.
Andrea Casalboni's Kites & KAP website A couple of new Lawrence photos here, and lots of other KAP material.
Arizona State Univerisity page on Lawrence's S.F. photos.
Recreating Lawrence's pictures in 2006 A modern day team sets out to recreate Lawrence's panoramic camera and take new photos of San Francisco on the 100th anniversary of the earthquake.
Capturing San Francisco 100 Years Later Scott Haefner flies a camera/kite on the anniversary of the earthquake.
INVENTION & TECHNOLOGY magazine article, "Disaster Panorama", Spring 2006.
"San Francisco in Ruins", Peter Nurkse on an especially high-resolution scan of the famous picture.
1906 California panoramas, articles by Peter Nurkse, including details on which buildings survived the San Francisco quake.
"Looking for an Old Aerial Photograph", 1981 USGS brochure (donated by Peter Nurkse).
Make your own poster-size prints of Lawrence panoramas, by Peter Nurkse.

This page last updated April 27, 2010