This story follows the Museum’s recent acquisition of a Cirkut Panoramic Camera. It will be told in five parts with the collaboration of Karen Ball-Pyatt, Grace Schmidt Room of Local History, Kitchener Public Library. Together we will trace some of the camera’s history, the photographer who first used it, the Great War, and Canadian contributions to the development of panoramic photography.
The format will be a five part series of short blogs. I will begin Part 1, while Karen will pick up Part 2 next week on her Historically Speaking blog. We will alternate weekly thereafter, and share what we know about the camera and the photographer.
We may raise more questions than answers, so we encourage readers to contribute. Who knows, perhaps we will make some discoveries along the way?
This Cirkut Panoramic Camera Outfit was manufactured by the Century Camera Division of Eastman Kodak Co. of Rochester between 1908 and 1915. The camera outfit was used by Ernest Denton (1883-1957), a well-known photographer in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and owner of the Denton Photo Studio (1913-1955) in what was then Berlin, Ontario. The camera remained in use throughout Denton’s career until mid-1950’s, when it was sold to Al Pirak, and then to Dolf Bogad in the 1970’s. The ownership history of the camera outfit is therefore (to the best of our knowledge) unbroken; from Denton, to Pirak, to Bogad, and now in the Museum’s collection. Al Pirak actually last used the camera in 1961 to take a panoramic photograph of the Kitchener-Waterloo Real Estate Board Summer Picnic (Grace Schmidt Room of Local History collection, Kitchener Public Library).
What is panoramic photography? It is a technique used for capturing wide and uninterrupted views of a landscape or a scene on one single exposure. Improvements in film technology from the first Daguerrotype panoramas in the early 1840’s to flexible rolled film in the late 1880’s made it possible for inventors to capture 360o degree images from one exposure. Panoramic photography became popular in the late nineteenth century when manufacturers combined rolled film with a mechanism that rotated a camera about the optical axis of a lens. A few Canadian innovations brought the system to perfection. The result of these innovations was the ability to capture wide and elongated scenes on film and photos up to eight feet long that exceed the human eye’s field of view. Contributions to the development of panoramic photography by J.R. Connon, W.J. Johnston will be covered in Part 5.
The connection that brought this Cirkut camera to the Museum was through Mr. Wilhem Nassau, an expert on the history of photography who has had a long-standing relationship with this Museum. He established the Wilfrid Laurier University teaching collection in the 1970’s which was eventually donated to the Museum in 1981, increasing our camera collection significantly. Fast forward to June 2013 and a visit from Willie to Ottawa to show Mr. Bogad’s Cirkut Camera Outfit, and share with us some of its rich history. The camera belonged to Bogad, who lives not far from Willie in Kitchener-Waterloo, and so began our research on its provenance, authenticity, and eventual acquisition.
The complete panoramic camera outfit is genuine in every part. The camera, a Century Cirkut No. 8 is worn in the usual spots where one would expect, even the carrying case looks well-travelled, revealing many stories hidden in the 100 year history of this artifact. The date of manufacture, the time when Denton began his studio, even the relative proximity of Berlin, Ontario to Rochester, N.Y. and ownership speaks to the cameras’ authenticity. It changed hands a few times, from Denton’s studio, to (unknown), to Pirak Studio, and then Mr. Bogad of Forde Studio who recognized its value, and would eventually donate the camera to the Museum.
I first saw the camera in 1960, and later bought it from Al Pirak in the early 1970’s because of its uniqueness, Denton’s work, and the historical importance of his panoramic photographs.
~ Dolph Bogad
When the Museum acquired the camera, the missing link to the whole story were the photos. Making the connection between Denton’s Cirkut Panoramic Camera Outfit and the photos he took would make for an interesting story to tell. Is the story authentic? Did any photos survive? If so, where were they? The search eventually led me to the Grace Schmidt Room of Local History at the Kitchener Public Library.
After several emails and discussions with Karen in the Spring of 2014, it turned out the Grace Schmidt Room had in fact some of Denton’s work in their collections. But were they panoramas? A few days later I received from Karen a very nice thumbnail of a military panorama, signed Denton. Wow! In their archives were found over 24 Denton panoramic photos.
This physical evidence certainly added a new dimension to the camera. The when and the how this Cirkut Panoramic Camera was used began to emerge. It was 1916 when a 31 year old Ernest Denton would have photographed regiments of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. With the discovery last Summer, on the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of World War-1, the camera began to reveal its history. Regimental photographs of young soldiers prior to their departure for overseas fighting, company and church picnics, family reunions, city views, and police and fire departments. A great reason to reach out, connect and collaborate on a blog.
A note on authenticity: As with many historical objects, we cannot say with absolute certainty this was the camera that took the Denton panoramic photographs. The evidence found to date (Winter 2015) however does strongly support the case. The camera, photographer, photos, and their geographic setting are all linked in time. They combine with an almost unbroken chain of ownership that point to the cameras’ link to the photos. New evidence uncovered in the Fall 2015 now suggests a much stronger link to Denton and proves this camera outfit took the panoramic photographs in the Kitchener Public Library collections – the last remaining panoramic found this past Summer was taken by Al Pirak using this camera.
View additional photos of the Cirkut camera HERE.
To see some of Denton’s panoramas, come back next Wednesday for Part 2 on Historically Speaking.