Capturing San Francisco 100 Years Later

Scott Haefner
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According to the New York Times, the Magnitude 7.9 earthquake and fire that destroyed San Francisco on April 18, 1906 was the first widely photographed disaster.Of all the photos documenting the devastation, perhaps none are as striking as George Lawrence’s famous kite aerial photograph, “San Francisco in Ruins,” taken 950 feet above San Francisco Bay.

A few weeks after the disaster, Chicagobased photographer George Lawrence saw an opportunity to capture a unique image of the sprawling ruins using his “captive airship,” a hand-built, 49-pound panoramic camera suspended from a series of Conyne kites. The result was a negative measuring 22 x 55 inches, capable of being enlarged to wall-sized prints with astonishing detail. Lawrence’s foresight earned him a small fortune of $15,000 (more than $300,000 today) selling copies of his achievement.

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