Photographing in the Canadian Rockies

To document his scientific work Walcott mainly used a Cirkut camera, bringing enough photographic equipment to load a pack horse. In the early 1900s, photography in the field was no simple matter. The metal and wood camera itself weighed 4 kilograms (9 pounds). If you count the complete outfit, with tripod, top and cases, it weighed 20 kilograms (44 pounds). Walcott preferred glass-plate negatives, which meant hauling heavy, fragile glass over the mountains. Plastic film often faded before Walcott could get it developed. Early film was made of nitrocellulose plasticized with camphor which is highly flammable. It was also less stable under extreme temperature changes. Although lighter in weight, plastic film proved to be problematic for Walcott.

It was hard to tell if the camera needed adjusting in the field. At the start of each expedition, Walcott took a few test shots and shipped the negatives to Washington. The Smithsonian’s official photographer, T.W. Smillie, made prints and sent a telegram to Walcott, advising him on technical problems and exposure. Walcott then made adjustments before proceeding to more remote locations.

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