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A photographic van or house on wheels
1875, 26 February
Published in "Camping Out" (p.97-98) in "The British Journal of Photography", Vol.XXII, No.773, February 26, 1875, p.98.
A photographic van or house upon wheels, for taking views, not portraits, should be drawn by two horses abreast, in order to be large enough for comfort. The horses should be hired for the job whenever it was necessary to move it from one place to another. The van should be upon four wheels and divided into three compartments. There should be a cabriolet in front with a projecting hood, like a " Hansom " cab, in which three persons could sit abreast that is to say, two and the driver. Next to that should be the dark room, and, astern of all, the sleeping and cooking apartment, furnished with a stove and chimney. The photographer himself would sleep here, and his assistant in the front compartment, with the windows down, under the hood.
The van would be dragged to within an easy walk of some spot from whence several negatives could be taken, and when these had been taken successfully it would be moved to some other spot not less, perhaps, than five or six miles distant. In this way the whole of some fine neighbourhood might be conveniently photographed, whilst the expense of living at inns would be saved. The cost of living would not be, in fact, greater, if so great, as that of living at home. During bad weather negatives could be varnished, retouched, &c., and the diary of the trip be carried forward. On a trip of this kind it would be necessary to encamp in some rather solitary place not too near a town or village, but close to a river or brook. A carbon filter would be an indispensable requisite, and some cases of desiccated milk, as well as potted provisions, biscuits, &c., would be taken. Cooking by charcoal, French fashion, would be the simplest and best, if charcoal could be procured.
The negatives would have to be taken in a common photographic tent, as it would not often be possible to take them in the dark room of the van itself. Mr. Sutton's moist process would be admirably suited for preparing plates on an excursion conducted in this way, whenever a slow exposure would answer. The van should be regarded as the photographer's "travelling house," in which he would travel about with all his paraphernalia close at hand, together with a comfortable dark room within a mile or two, at the furthest, of the subjects to be photographed. In this way a multitude of interesting "bits," "effects," "compositions," and "studies" could be taken of all sorts of subjects, which would have great value for artists. The attempt to drag a van to the immediate neighbourhood of every separate spot from which a negative is to be taken would involve much trouble and expense, and only end in the results with which we are already perfectly well acquainted. The "home upon wheels" is the new idea which we wish to submit to the reader as something far better.
We will conclude this article with an extract from Mr. Hamerton's book, showing what he thinks of the probability of landscape painters being able to derive aid from photography. He says at page 180:
"With regard to photography in its relation to landscape painting, nobody has ever yet answered the often-suggested question how far photography may be useful to the landscape painter; and whether, under certain limitations, he may wisely practise it himself. Nor can I answer this question yet in any decisive way. I have hitherto only practised the waxed-paper process, and cannot speak authoritatively of the limitations of the wet collodion. Besides, I perceive that photographs taken for especial purposes as memoranda may be useful to a degree which, as yet, nobody has any idea of, for such photographs are not to be had in the market, where they would be unsaleable except to artists."
A word or two more abont the van, and then we will discuss, next week, the taking of river and lake scenery. On this subject our author has some very curious and interesting remarks.
A van, or home upon wheels, or "maison roulante," as the French call it, would be a home at any season, even in the depth of winter; and an enthusiastic landscape photographer might live in it and make use of it all the year round. How very interesting winter scenery would be, taken in fine localities, amongst lakes and mountains, &c. Then, again, the van might be dragged to some sheltered spot on a grand sea beach, amongst gigantic rocka and cliffs, and instantaneous views of waves and clouds be taken from it, direct, whenever anything unusually fine of this kind happened to present itself. And what an infinity of studies might be taken for drawing-masters, to be vignetted and printed by the collotype process.
A van such as we describe might probably be built for from £60 to £80; and the photographer and his assistant, by living in it, would save at least £7 per week as respects hotel bills, and a vast deal more for carriage and breakage of apparatus. The comfort of this mode of practising landscape photography would be immense, and the results, we verily believe, such as could scarcely be obtained, except by an unlooked-for succession of happy accidents, in any other way. Be it understood we are now discussing professional and not amateur landscape photography.