Interview with Colonel J. Victor Dallin, 1969 July 17 [audio]

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  • Introduction and aerial photography
    Partial Transcript: "During the first world war, photography, that is aerial photography, was almost unknown. Most of the would be pilots in training were interested in aerobatics, pursuit pilot training, things of that kind, and it wasn't until the training was over that the pilots would know whether they were going to be assigned to pursuit or bombers or observation. Depending on where they were later assigned their interest in photography would be very limited." "The first experience I had with it was at Montrose, Scotland. After discussing this thing with the photographer, he explained to me that he would insert, install is a better word, an automatic 4 by 5 inch plate camera, behind the pilot's cockpit and if I would agree to fly a predetermined course at a certain altitude, when I reached that objective, I would just press a button and the camera would just automatically just start functioning." "The first thing a pilot learns to do is to fly straight. And when you get into photography it is soon proven that the most difficult thing to do in the air is to fly straight."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains the first time he took photographs from a plane during the war. He and Davis discuss some technical aspects such as altitude and flying techniques. Where the photographs were sent is also discussed and whether his photos may be at the Military archives.
    Keywords: Aerial photography; camera; flying; Montrose (Scotland); photography; pilots; World War I
  • Military career and flying after the war
    Partial Transcript: "And in the beginning of course there was great competition between the allies and the enemy when something like an aerial camera was invented. Usually both sides seized upon the opportunity to use it. Now, that was the limit of my experience, believe it or not, in aerial photography. Just that one ride. And it wasn't until after the war when I returned, when I was repatriated, as they called it then..." "With a couple of JN4Cs, that was the Canadian model of the so called genny aircraft. We visited small fairs mostly around Ontario, carried passengers at $10 a piece in the gennys and flew the Brocker D7s for exhibition purposes. At that time Bishop and Barker had acquired according to my recollection about 75-100 war surplus aircraft and they formed a New York branch of that company called the Interallied aircraft corporation and when the season ended, another pilot by the name of Jack Pierson and I, engaged in ferrying, Canadian aircraft from Leeside, Ontario where the only airport then existed, to Long Island, where the New York office disposed of them to interested Americans."
    Synopsis: Dallin talks about joining the Air Force in World War I. Meeting Colonel William George Barker and flying planes at fairs for him in Canada. Another pilot named Jack Pierson and Dallin did ferrying from Ontario to Long Island. He talks about people never having seen planes and signing the wings when they encountered them for the first time.
    Keywords: flying; German Barker D7; Interallied aircraft corporation; World War I
  • Issues with aviation equipment
    Partial Transcript: "I think that's a very technical thing and it's very difficult for the average person to relate one to the other, but you usually hear it referred to as 100 octane, and maybe aviation was a little bit above that. But I think the regular automobile octane rating was probably around 90. But again it's a relative comparison and you don't always see people referring to it even today..." "Today practically all planes have filters to eliminate this difficulty of water hitting the carburetor and causing a forced landing."
    Synopsis: Issues with fuel and water are discussed. Dallin also explains problems with older planes.
    Keywords: 90 horsepower engine; flight plans; fuel; genny; Lake Ontario; mechanics; OX5 engine
  • Aerial photography with Bishop and Barker
    Partial Transcript: "I ommitted to say anything about photography with Bishop and Barker. They had a photographer, who had previously been a photographer in the Royal Flying Corp by the name of Sydney Bonner. It was decided that we would photograph plants,estates and towns, golf courses, etc from the air. This was at that time at least a unique adventure, We had an arrangement like this, the photographer would be in the front cockpit, both cockpits were open. By sitting on the seat and facing backwards, he would lean out with his camera between the wing and the tail. He had an angle there of approximately 45 degrees. From which he can make fair views." "Now the technique was interesting, obviously the photographer cannot take any picture unless the pilot puts him in the proper position. And many pilots are disinterested in that type of flying."
    Synopsis: How they took photographs from the plane and equipment they used. Various film and settings he used for aerial photographs.
    Keywords: Bishop and Barker; Ilford; Kodak; Sydner Bonner
  • Winter of 1920
    Partial Transcript: "As we approached the winter season, and most of the sale and transfer of the war surplus aircraft had been made. It was decided to expand the New York operations." "He said we're going out to celebrate tonight and we took the Cuban consulate with us, a friend of his, and the three of us went out that night to a theatre. And it was the night, as I recall, of prohibition."
    Synopsis: Dallin recalls a story about retrieving payment for a plane and going out in New York City on the night Prohibition was declared. He then took an aerial photographer position at Aero Service Corporation.
    Keywords: Aero Service Corporation; Long Island; Philadelphia; prohibition
  • Taking photos around Atlanta
    Partial Transcript: "After several months around Philadelphia, and going into the winter when very few photographic days existed. We were in the red to such an extent that the next year, I proposed going to a southern city for the winter. Which caused us to barnstorm all the way to Atlanta Georgia where we spent that winter photographing estates, factories, golf courses and points of interest. One of the pictures we made there, in fact two pictures that were used by the Midweek Times pictorial section was the aerial photograph of Stone Mountain and the headquarters of the Klu Klux Klan." "The terrain around Atlanta is very rugged. It's rolling. And I don't recall ever seeing another place after we left the airport that we could safely land, until we got back again"
    Synopsis: Dallin talks about some of the work he did in Atlanta. The difficulties of flying from Philadelphia to Atlanta at that time.
    Keywords: Atlanta (Ga.); Ku Klux Klan (1915- ); Stone Mountain (Ga.)
  • The beginning of Dallin Aerial Surveys
    Partial Transcript: "Well, it was an interesting thing, in the four years I was with Aero Service at that time, there'd always been questions about whether they would continue because there was no profit in the operation. And directors were invariably called upon to put up money. With that uncertainty facing me I decided to go into business for myself." "Now, as I said, this vibration was taken up by carefully mounting the camera in sponge rubber, sponge type rubber, and the camera was facing forward in this case."
    Synopsis: Dallin describes how his business started, how he flew and took photographs at the same time and some technical issues with aerial photography and cameras.
    Keywords: cameras; flying; photography
  • Aerial mapping with Brock & amp; Weymouth
    Partial Transcript: "An interesting sidelight on this conversation, was this fellow Sydney Bonnick, would sometimes, I'd see him looking back at me and I'd see his color change. He would become an awful greenish palette. He'd never admitted to me until I'd known him for a long time that he used to get quite airsick. Cause it would be bumpy and he would be riding backwards and he was being bumped around. So one day he told me that whenever we were going out on a trip he always took Mother Sills seasick remedy." "I flew their equipment on several occasions around this area and later Sydney Bonnick went with them and they got a German plane, a cabin type plane, and their own pilot and they went into business quite seriously producing geodetic survey maps. When the crash came in 1929, the company that owned and controlled this apparently had trouble and they went out of existence."
    Synopsis: Dallin tells a story about a photographer who flew with him. He also discusses working for Brock & amp; Weymouth, an aerial mapping company.
    Keywords: aerial mapping; Aero Service Corporation; airsickness; Brock & amp; Fairchild; Philadelphia; Weymouth
  • Photographer William N. Jennings
    Partial Transcript: "I've left off something very important, when I first started this work in Philadelphia with Aero Service Corporation, there was a man by the name of William N. Jennings, who was a well known photographer that time in his 70s. He had a homemade 8x10 camera, which he had photographed the building of City Hall in 1893 from a balloon. He wanted to go up with me and make aerial photographs and his wife objected. Not telling me anything about was in his mind he brought his wife and children down to the field one day and got me to take them for a ride, his purpose of course was to convince them that aviation was safe, which was a matter of opinion at that time. After the experience, she agreed to let him fly. For several months, he was the photographer with whom I flew around Philadelphia." "As he was turning around, in the cockpit, his foot happened to catch this choke wire and the engine stopped."
    Synopsis: Dallin describes working with photographer William N. Jennings.
    Keywords: Aero Service Corporation; Jennings, William Nicholson, 1860-1946; Philadelphia (Pa.)
  • Equipment used at Dallin Aerial surveys
    Partial Transcript: "When I went into the business photographing myself I used a Swallow aircraft." "You see the trouble is when you start out with something like this, people want blow ups. And the larger your plate the more possibilites you have with making satisfactory blow ups."
    Synopsis: Dallin describes the planes he flew and equipment used while doing aerial photography.
    Keywords: Aero Service Corporation; Bellanca aircraft; film; glass plates; Swallow aircraft; World War II
  • How the business worked
    Partial Transcript: "Well the first thing you had to do was sell the service. That was the first thing. Then in selling the service, after several weeks of effort maybe you ended up with say 10,15 or 20 orders. Then you have to figure out how you're going to do those within a two hour flight that was limited, and if you had one here and one up there you don't want to be flying all around you had to put them together to save as much time as possible. Then the next thing is there aren't many photographic days in the whole year. There are very few real photographic days, and the best days usually follows a rain when the atmosphere has been cleaned and usually when you have that condition you have a high wind, with an underpowered plane which causes problems." "We used to develop everything right there. We were very curious and no matter what time of the night it was we were working. When we went down south we'd get a hotel room and we'd use the bathroom for our developing room."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains how his aerial survey business worked from selling to flying to developing the photographs.
    Keywords: Clementon, N.J.; estates.; Philadelphia Municipal airport; photolab; Pine Valley, N.J.; plants; sales
  • Bird's eyes views vs. aerial photographs
    Partial Transcript: "Up until this time there's never been anything but bird's eye views of plants. And the story goes that the man's going down the streeet with a bird's eye view of the plant in his hand and he says to a passerby 'Can you tell me where this plant is?' And he says 'right here". He looks at it and he looks at the plant, there's very little similarity in many cases." "We took off this day and we climbed and I think eventually we got to 1000 feet, which was quite an effort with this little power. We turned to go on our trip, we were going to go photograph some plant somewhere, and suddenly he turned around to me."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains the type of aerial photographs they took and tells some stories about his photographer.
    Keywords: aerial photographs; bird's eye view; estates; overexposure; plants; pyro-metal developer.
  • Difficulties of selling his services
    Partial Transcript: "In the selling, it was not an easy batle. It was an uphill job. First of all, you had more trouble getting past secretaries, then you had selling to the top man because you know how secretaries are, they're supposed to be a barrier there to a lot of nuisance salesman. And after you got in to the man why you had very little difficulty selling to them."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains the difficulties of selling aerial photographs
    Keywords: sales; speculation
  • Pricing and where the camera was positioned on the plane
    Partial Transcript: "At Aero Service we charged $100 for one view, I'm talking about local stuff, $100 for one view and $25 for each additional view of the same subject taken at the same time." "The vertical was what you made the money on. Because you got up there and you had thousands in one day. Whereas a good photograph, there aren't many in the whole year, there aren't many photographic days. I've known us to go two or three months in the wintertime before we got decent photographic days".
    Synopsis: Dallin talks about pricing and where he mounted the camera on the plane. He tells a story about an inexperienced photographer installing the plates backwards. He also discusses contract work in the form of progress work, such as federal housing photographs.
    Keywords: camera; contracts; mapping; oblique, verticals, photographic days
  • Work with municipalities and aerial mapping in World War II
    Partial Transcript: "The only reason I increased the staff was one of the first jobs we got that was a big job, we made a map of the whole city of Philadelphia. Council authorized that. We flew at 800 or 600 feet it was pretty low. We had been trying for years to sell municipalities on the idea that maps of their cities should be used for tax purposes. Some people have in the past used them for that purpose but as a rule, I guess the use of it depends on the ingenuity of the engineers and the people that are there." "Up until World War II, there were limited number of aerial photographic companies in the whole United States. They had all struggled along on a limited existence. When World War II came along, these things expanded."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains his work with municipalities and how the aerial photography business expanded during World War II.
    Keywords: farms; mapping; maps; military; municipalities; Philadelphia (PA); World War II
  • Advances in photography, lecturing and courses
    Partial Transcript: "It was a 7 by 9 picture, yeah, and it was made of a 75 foot roll and Eastman had, Fairchild had the same thing. The Germans brought out aerial cameras and I think you'll find a number people in this country they are using German made cameras, maybe some Japanese made cameras. They started to make tremendous advances in fine grain film, so they naturally went to smaller cameras, smaller negatives, with greater possibilities of enlargements without losing value, photographic value." "The great interest the military had was in photo interpretation and I think the first school they had was in Bellevue, Virginia."
    Synopsis: Dallin duscusses advances in film and cameras, lecturing, aerial photography courses and about the danger of static electricity and how it would ruin the exposure.
    Keywords: aerial reconnaissance; cameras; courses; Eastman Kodak Company; film; glass plates; negatives; promotion; roll film; static electricity; World War II
  • Cameras and definitions of oblique and vertical views
    Partial Transcript: "My first camera, was an 8x10 plate camera with a curtain shutter and a 16 and a half inch lens, 5.5 opening. Later we built a similar camera, 8x10, with a 14 inch lens, 5.5 opening, then we built a 8 and a quarter inch, no a 10 inch and also an 8 and a quarter inch." "The limitations there are very great, you have ground movement which must be overcome with shutter speed. Therefore the length of exposure is relevant to the time of day. Now usually all our work was done between 10 and 2, 10 am and 2pm. If however you wanted to get long shadows, some subjects might, some residential subjects might look better with longer shadows, you could work earlier or later."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains his cameras, defines oblique and vertical views and discusses exposure and time of day when taking his photographs.
    Keywords: camera; foilage; lens; oblique; vertical
  • Flying his own plane versus renting a plane onsite
    Partial Transcript: "The problem there is, say someone in Pittsburgh wanted you to go up there and photograph some buildings. You'd have to charge the cost of the plane going out and back and the advantage would be that you'd have your own plane that was set up for that kind of purpose. If you went out there and hired a plane, as a rule, you were at some disadvantage, because unless you were lucky enough to get something that could be adapted to oblique work, it wouldn't be very satisfactory. So in most cases, for normal distances, we used our own equipment. Very seldom did we go out rent others."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains why he usually used his own equipment. He also discusses some camera equipment used in aerial photography.
    Keywords: handheld cameras; renting; scheduling
  • Flying techniques for aerial photography
    Partial Transcript: "Well lets take a thing that we did quite often, photographing football games. Usually situated right in the heart of University of Pennsylvania for instance. Where there might be as much as 80,000 people right below you. Well technically you're not supposed to fly low over congested areas. You had to be quite conscious of the fact that you were operating dangerously and you'd have to approach the subject in such a way that you were off to one side and if your engine failed you could reach the river." "As I look back over the pictures that we have taken today I often think of what fools we were to have gone into the areas at the altitude that we went into them with the unreliable equipment that we had. But you're so busy doing your job and you're so interested in it that you don't think about your personal danger."
    Synopsis: Dallins gives examples of flying situations for different aerial photography jobs, such as football games. He gives a description of flying over Franklin field.
    Keywords: Army/Navy game; danger; football games; Franklin field; sea planes
  • Publications
    Partial Transcript: "Well, almost any magazine that could tie up a photograph with a current story, would be in the market. There used to be a magazine out in California, called the, I think it was called 'The Atascadero Review' and they would, they were very anxious to buy pictures, they would buy almost anything. When we were in Atlanta, we naturally sold pictures of the golf courses and Oglethorpe University and places like that, pictures that hadn't been seen in years or the papers, and as I said before, Stone Mountain, the KKK palace, which was used by the New York Midweek Pictorial. For instance, when President Coolidge visited Havana, we made pictures of that as he approached the harbor, and they were used by the New York papers." "Almost any newspaper was in the market for things of interest and in those days aerial photographs were considered to be a novelty."
    Synopsis: Dallin describes some of the magazines that looked for aerial photographs and subjects he shot for publications. He also tells a story about a mistake made with one of his photographs in National Geographic magazine.
    Keywords: Atascadero Review; Atlanta (Ga); Coolidge, Calvin, 1872-1933; Havana (Cuba); KKK Palace; Oglethorpe University; Pine Valley Golf Course; Stone Mountain
  • Generating business and clients
    Partial Transcript: "Well, let's take real estate as an example. You might call on ten realtors and not one of them show any interest at all in having aerial photographs made. Another fellow with more vision would say, I'd like to have my subdivision at such and such a place photographed and he'd have such immediate success from the use of the picture that he would go on and on, year after year, using aerial photographs as a medium for getting interest." "The Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad, big companies like that in those days, had publications of their own, if you got a picture of Montauk, Pennsylvania for instance or some other place and you knew your way around, you'd get rid of these photographs, there'd be enough money to make it worth while."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains the business of selling aerial photographs.
    Keywords: Chamber of Commerce.; Gerrish Gassaway; sales
  • Film types
    Partial Transcript: "I don't think that there's any question about it that the panchromatic film has always been the most used, and it wasn't until a few years ago that they had color film sensitive enough, fast enough I should say, to be used successfully in the air. I guess that's been pretty well commercialized now because people can go out and make color photographs in the air." "It wasn't until some time in the 30s when people started to think about murals. Sometimes you'd find a president or official of some company who conceived the idea when he was making his new office to have a mural of the plant or the Canadian Rockies or some place up in Maine where he fished in the summer, made up a mural to be put on the wall and quite a number a people where having murals made for wall displays."
    Synopsis: Dallin discusses film types, hand coloring film and print sizes.
    Keywords: enlargements; film; murals; panchromatic film
  • Photographers and the process of taking aerial photographs
    Partial Transcript: "James Suydam. S-U-Y-D-A-M. Yeah, I had no camera when I first started, so I used him and his camera until I could build my own." "I had a chap with me who used to operate the camera, change the plates, by the name of Arthur Erb. Now here's another thing, when you go out on a photgraphic mission like that, very rarely would you ever have time to keep a record of where you went."
    Synopsis: Dallin mentions photographers he worked with before he got his own camera and his process of taking aerial photographs.
    Keywords: Arthur Erb; developing; James Suydam
  • Working on spec and the U.S.S. Saratoga
    Partial Transcript: "Oh, I went around to cities like Pensacola, Florida, Atlanta...we saw anything, we speculated and then you had to go out and sell it of course." "When they bought a picture from us it was always bought for the right to publish it. Not beyond that"
    Synopsis: Dallin talks about working on speculation and the time he took photos of the launching of the U.S.S. Saratoga.
    Keywords: Atlanta (Ga.); Pensacola (Fla.); U.S.S. Saratoga
  • Film, pressure plates and developing photographs
    Partial Transcript: "Yeah, you have a full roll on one side of the camera and an empty roll on the other. And I explained, you take the paper leader and you pull it across the camera and put it on this roll, then by turning a handle that pulls out over nine inches. Well, there's two ways you can do it. Here it is hanging here, with some tendency to curve, like film will. The first cameras made by Eastman, had a pressure plate behind it..." "We had plenty of space, we were down at the airport there, we had our own studio, we had plenty of space."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains how the film was used in the camera, pressure plates and developing aerial photographs.
    Keywords: film; parallax; pressure plate; static electricity; tanks; Wesley Smith
  • Competition and photography during World War I
    Partial Transcript: "Oh no, we didn't make progress. We had to make progress by absolute persistent application because at the end of the year you were lucky if you made a good living out of it. It wasn't until as I said this morning, until the government got into mapping that there was any money made in it. And then it was all on competitive bidding and finally everybody started to get in it and it was dog eat dog." "There was a limit to how much photography was done in the first world war. It wasn't until they started bombing from the air that they had need to photograph operations like they did in the second world war. In the second world war, I imagine they'd bomb stuff, sometimes during a bombing and sometimes after and sometimes immediately after to see the effect."
    Synopsis: Dallin describes the competition between photographers for work and the special camera used during World War I.
    Keywords: mapping; news events; World War I
  • Night photography
    Partial Transcript: "Night photography was so expensive. It required so much illumination that it was impractical for anyone to consider that beyond..." "I don't know exactly when the first picture was taken, but it was taken by the Army Air Corps. And you had to use magnesium flares, which were very expensive, and you only had a very short time to get the picture. So the two were coordinated, the dropping of the flare and the exposure of the camera was done in a coordinated manner. And those slides I have show that."
    Synopsis: Davis and Dallin discuss night photography and the changing nature of film.
    Keywords: magnesium flares; night photography
  • Altitudes reached and weather difficulties in aerial photography
    Partial Transcript: "I never went above 16,500, that was as high as I could get." "That's the great difficulty in mapping. You start out in the morning, early in the morning, there's not a cloud in the sky. Naturally, you want to get the best light values, you want to be up as near to noon as possible. But invariably, there's very few days. I'll bet you in the course of a year, there wouldn't be, I wouldn't know whether to say 10 or 12 days in the course of a year that would be free of clouds. Might be free of clouds here and 20 miles west there'll be some. So you get up in the morning early, and it's a beautiful day and you think it's going to be alright and you climb to your altitude, which you if you took the time it should take about 45-50 minutes to get to 15,000 feet and you get up there and the first thing you ever flip on is a few clouds forming."
    Synopsis: Dallin explains the altitudes he reached when flying for aerial photographs and how the weather greatly effects how aerial photographs are taken.
    Keywords: altitude; Kaieteur Falls, British Guiana; mapping; Philadelphia City Hall; regional planning; smog
  • Color photography and current aerial photography practices
    Partial Transcript: "There was a man at Eastman company, back in the 30s, I wouldn't know which year it was, when it was first coming out. He got me to make a lot of color pictures, I made some around here. They had to be done in the summertime when the light values were good. At that time now, maybe now they can do it anytime. And they had to be done in the summertime, and you had to slow down your exposure even then. And we took several. But I understand today they're doing it commercially."
    Synopsis: Dallin discusses color film and the possibilities of aerial photography.
    Keywords: color photography; Eastman Company; kodachrome; negatives