Preserving Gallipoli aerial photographs
The Research Centre holds a fascinating and unusual collection of aerial photographs of Gallipoli in 1915. The majority of the collection consists of 48 numbered aerial photographs taken over Anzac and South Suvla by the British Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in October and November 1915 at a time when aerial photography was very much in its infancy and highly experimental.
Much of the early aerial photography at Gallipoli was conducted by Flight Lieutenant C. H. Butler of No. 3, RNAS. From April to June in 1915, when he was badly wounded, Butler would personally take over 700 photographs of fortifications and gun positions before the landing at Gallipoli.
At the war's end It was soon discovered by the Memorial that these aerial photos were not suitable 'for permanent record purposes'. In the field, early issue of the photographs was more important than permanency and many of the prints were insufficiently washed and liable to fade, so it was arranged for permanent prints to be prepared (AWM16 5). Despite being 'Treated for Permanency' by the Memorial in the 1930s, as suggested by the Royal Photographic Society, these Gallipoli aerial photographs have since faded and yellowed to the point where the images were virtually unusable.
With the help of our multimedia section, a project was undertaken to photographically restore these images to their former glory.
Often when old prints have faded they will become a yellow or brown colour. By using a blue filter and an increased exposure to make a new negative for each image we were able to restore contrast and density levels.
Even when very little detail is seen by the naked eye in the original print, a blue filter (Kodak Wratten filter number 47B) can pick up much of the unseen information. The blue filter works by reducing the yellow content, and teamed with increased exposure the original detail (before fading) is able to be restored and seen in the new negative and print. It can then be further enhanced using Photoshop if required.
This process reminds us of the importance of proven traditional photographic techniques, especially because a lot of what we are working with is quite old and sometimes unstable.
For more information about this collection, please refer to our Guide to the Gallipoli Aerial Photographs Collection and the exhibition Mapping Gallipoli.
A number of additional Gallipoli aerial photographs taken by Lieutenant C. H. Butler were lent to the Memorial in December 1923 for copying (Gallipoli Aerial Photographs Collection, Series 3: items No.1-10) and two were later reproduced in Volume 2 of Bean's Official History of Australia in the War on Pg.273 and Pg.563.
One final interesting Australian note to this story... the only Australian Officer to fly during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 was Captain A. H. K. Jopp who served in No. 3 Squadron of the RNAS from 16.7.1915 to 19.12.1915 (AWM25 367/146).