Looking skywards: Kendrew’s cloud photography

In the blog of March 2017 about the problems of 35mm slides it was noted that “ Archaeologists don’t have ‘holidays’, they just have extra time to visit sites. Archaeologists also deliberately take photographs of aspects of sites that non-archaeologists don’t usually capture”  The same is also true of Geographers!

Any opportunity to extend their visual record is seized, even in unlikely circumstances.

An example of this is this image (HEIR 49214):

Because this lantern slide came to us without any associated information or writing on the slide. Before detailed research this could only be captioned “rain falling from storm cloud over open water”.

However, evidence from the box containing this image shows that it came from the collection of W.G. Kendrew, former lecturer in climatology at the School of Geography as well as being the first Radcliffe Meteorological Observer (after the astronomical function of the observatory was removed to Pretoria in 1935).

Kendrew was an ardent meteorologist (as well as a classicist), writing his doctoral dissertation on the distribution of rainfall across the globe, and publishing his first book on Climates of the Continents in 1922. This was a pioneering work written in a clear, accessible style. Described by Kendrew as the providing the first ever description of the ‘actual climates of the countries of the earth, considered regionally, available in English’, it ran to many editions and stayed in print for over 40 years.

More information about the probable date of our image was discovered by consulting the series Geographers : Biobibliographical Studies. In the article on Kendrew in volume 17 it appears that, like many Oxford academics, he offered his services to the armed forces and in 1940 Kendrew joined, and then served for 5 years, as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, being principally concerned with obtaining data on the weather and climate of Eastern and Central Africa. It appears that Kendrew was a connoisseur of skyscapes and he embellished his writing with plates of clouds, including his own photographs if appropriate, some of which were photographs snapped during his war service. By examining the various editions of one of his major publications – Climate: A treatise on the principles of weather and climate (Oxford, Clarendon Press; London, Oxford Univ. Press), it was concluded that Image 49214 can now be captioned:

‘GEOG: “515” Cumulo-nimbus cloud on the Equator [used as plate 6 (opp. p. 192) of ‘Climatology : treated mainly in relation to distribution in time and place’ by W.G. Kendrew 1949 (3rd ed. of Climate) – This photo was taken by Kendrew whilst seconded to the Navy in WWII] ‘

Although the specific cloud formation in this image can still be seen in the locations where Kendrew photographed them, this photograph and others taken by Kendrew three quarters of a century ago may help to inform current research into climate change.

Further reading:

Smith, C.G. (1997) Kendrew, Wilfred George (1884-1962) in Geographers : Biobibliographical Studies. Vol. 17, 43-51

Post written by S.C. Bird May 2017

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