One of the benefits of digitising separate lantern slide collections and placing them all on one searchable database is that it makes it very easy to spot duplicate images. Looking through our HEIR image database (heir.arch.ox.ac.uk), we discovered two almost identical photographs of Istanbul, one from the Department for the History of Art, and one from the Institute of Archaeology. Almost identical, but not quite, because only one includes a biplane…
We zoomed in on the high resolution versions of both images, trying to work out whether these were similar views taken at different times, but it soon became clear that the details, apart from the biplane, were identical – the shadows in the streets, the trees, the shutters on the windows of the houses – these are two versions of the same photograph.
See what we mean? One lantern slide is a little sharper than the other, but it’s the same photograph. But how did the biplane get into one and not the other? It is possible, of course, that the images are two photographs taken from the same position on the same day, within a few minutes of each other, and the biplane drifted into camera view for one of the images only. Hm, not very likely. Add to that the fuzzy one is the one with the biplane in it. We’re starting to get suspicious…
It’s time to look more closely at other parts of the photograph for more evidence. There’s a strange lack of shipping activity on the Bosphorus for what was, by the time biplanes were in the air, a very busy waterway. Beyond to the Asian side of Istanbul, there is an even bigger problem – the Asian side is almost empty of habitation – nothing like the busily populated area it became in the twentieth century.
Neither lantern slide gives any information about the photographer, but a search on the web soon revealed that the image was taken by a Swedish man called Guillaume Berggren (1835-1920) in about 1875. You can see more of his work here and here.
If the photograph was taken in c.1875, how did a biplane appear in it? The first successful powered flight in a biplane wasn’t until 1903, so we can be pretty certain that the plane in this image was inserted into the photograph by cutting and pasting two images together (back in the days when ‘cutting and pasting’ involved scissors and glue, rather than a press of a computer button). There is nothing new about editing photographs, of course, and from the earliest days of photography, images have been manipulated. But why had someone gone to the trouble of creating this picture?
The answer may lie in the biplane itself. It has a very distinctive box tail section, which allowed us to identify it as a Handley Page Type 0 bomber, a huge craft developed in Britain after the outbreak of World War I.
In 1917, a Handley Page bomber flew from Britain on a mission against a Turkish battleship moored near Istanbul. The damage done was minimal – in fact people from the city came out to watch the raid, it was such a novelty – but both the admiralty and the airplane’s manufacturers treated the raid as a success. Handley Page issued an advert to celebrate the achievement:
DURING JULY A SUCCESSFUL AIR ATTACK WAS CARRIED OUT ON OBJECTIVES IN THE VICINITY OF CONSTANTINOPLE…THE TOTAL DISTANCE FLOWN WAS NEARLY 2,600 MILES, THE MACHINE BEING ACTUALLY IN THE AIR FOR JUST OVER 32 HOURS, WHICH IS BELIEVED TO BE EASILY A WORLD’S RECORD FOR A CROSS COUNTRY JOURNEY, AND ALSO FOR THE WEIGHT CARRIED FOR THE DISTANCE, THE MACHINE BEING SELF-CONTAINED AS REGARDS ENGINE AND AEROPLANE SPARES
The raid took place, unrecorded by camera, at night. We think the solution to the mystery of this mocked-up image of a Handley Page 0/100 bomber over Constantinople might be that it is a propaganda photograph from WW1, advertising the famous Istanbul mission – though we have no idea how or when it found its way into the History of Art teaching slide collection.
It is also interesting that the two slides have different captions of the same image. The caption on the slide at the Institute of Archaeology informs the user that it shows “Constantinople, 3 Panorama of Constantinople”. Berggren’s original image, photographed from the hills above Istanbul, had been turned into the third view in a lecture series on Constantinople, and was described as a ‘panorama’. By the time the doctored lantern slide image in the History of Art collection was labelled, the person who created the caption cannot have known that the image was a fake, and in fact was mislead by the presence of the biplane in the photograph into a false ‘reading’ of the whole picture. “Constantinople, aerial view” claims the label, inaccurately.
Have fun looking through the images on our database, and let us know if you come across any more surprising duplicates!
On the Handley Page 0/100 and 0/400 bombers:
Rob Langham (2016) Bloody Paralyser – The Giant Handley Page Bombers of the First World War Fonthill Media
On Guillaume Berggren:
Leif Wigh (1984) Photographic views of the Bosphorous and Constantiople Stockholm: Fotografiska Museet