Film equipment


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taner tanriover

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Second-class passenger and survivor Lawrence Beesley relates in his book "The Loss of SS Titanic" seeing a man on the deck filming the sailing and the near-collision with the liner New York at Southampton. Presumably the same person filmed additional footage during the voyage. According to Beesley that the man and his wife were lost. Had his camera and film-rolls been located inside a leather bag or something protective when the ship sank is there any chance that they (even it be partially) survived?
Would it be worthwhile tracking or narrowing down the identity of this unknown cameraman by studying the second class passenger list and Beesley's description and hence the whereabouts of his cabin?
On an encouraging note, despite all predictions that no paper could have survived all these years, amongst other paper things the purser's half of Beesley's baggage receipt (no.218) was recovered in 1987. (source Titanic: legend of the world's greatest ocean liner, Susan Wels)
I think if recovered and restored that onboard footage would make a more significant artifact than any piece of the hull. What is everyone's opinion on this?
 
Jan 31, 2001
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Hello Taner,

First, let me welcome you to the message board.

The man described by Beesley who filmed the near-miss was second class passenger William Harbeck who, in 1906, filmed some of the destruction caused by the San Fransisco Earthquake. He was lost in the sinking, but the woman who died with him was not his wife, but a model he was travelling with.

The camera and filmrolls would probably be preserved if they were in a leather bag like the one you mentioned. However, I doubt you will be able to get any images from the film. There has been several discussions on this message board about this very topic, and I think it was concluded that no new images could be developed from film found at the site.

Trying to locate the man's cabin might be a dangerous move. The hull is very unstable, and it is likely that little survives of his room anyway.

You're right. If we could somehow restore Harbeck's film, I would call it the best artifact retrieved so far.
 
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Taner Tanriover

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Hello Brandon and thank you for the information.

I heard somewhere that some reels of (previously developed) film was recovered from the wreck of Lusitania. This was too badly damaged to be shown but individual frames could be printed. I suppose any footage Harbeck filmed on the ship would have remained undeveloped at the time of the sinking. I don't know a great deal about photography but I suppose it is unlikely that he could have developed them himself on board.
It is mentioned in the encyclopedia's notes that he could have been contracted to film the voyage by W.S.L. and that his wife filed an insurance claim for 100.000 feet of film reels. I take it that most of these reels were non-Titanic related. Nevertheless there may be some developed shots of Titanic never seen before among these. Can anybody who can claim some expertise on early photography comment on what the chances of developed and undeveloped film reels underwater are?
 
Jan 31, 2001
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You're very welcome, Taner.

There was talk on another thread about the possibility of there being a darkroom on board. Apparently one is shown in some of the earlier plans, but whether or not it actually existed is somewhat of a mystery. I have provided a link to that thread below. It also talks a little about the probability of film surviving the test of time.

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5932/27973.html?1032487774

I'm not sure, however, that Harbeck was carrying any film that would actually have to be developed. I take it that his equipment was motion picture equipment, and would not be used to take still photographs. I could, of course, be way off on this; I'm also in the dark when it comes to early twentieth century photography.
 
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Taner Tanriover

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In the thread Brandon has given, the dark room is said to be "on the A deck just aft of the first class promenade." However, there are some discrepancies regarding its location and existence as it seems to have appeared on ship's initial plans but not on others therefore may have been moved later on or omitted altogether.
It is also suggested that "the cloak room" may have replaced it or doubled up as "dark room." Can anybody shed more light on the subject?
 
Dec 7, 2000
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So far as I have been able to gather, the dark room vanished altogether. I have never seen any references or mentions of it on either Olympic or Titanic. It was on the original plans, but this room was later used as a cloak room.
 
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Taner Tanriover

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I just read a book containing the account of Father Browne who sailed on the ship up to Queenstown. He was a keen photographer and his having mentioned nothing about the dark room is a good indication that there wasn't one.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Not necesserily Taner. The Titanic was a very large ship, and there's no way a passenger could get to know the whole thing on an overnight trip.

Granted, Fr. Browne might have asked, but then again, darkrooms on ships might have been scarce enough that asking the question may never have occured to him. Just as likely that any such facility may not have been available to the public.

It may all be academic anyway as the plans I have show no indication of a darkroom. <shrug>
 
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Taner Tanriover

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That's a good point, Michael. It was a massive ship indeed. And that's another reason I am curious to find out what became of this dark room. Did WSL run out of space to include it on their floating city?
I have earlier plans that indicate a dark room on A-deck promenade adjacent to the lounge bar and where other plans (including the one Father Browne was a given) indicate a cloak room in its place. Incidentally this room was on the same deck and not far from Browne's cabin at all so I take it that he would have known about it had it really been a darkroom.
I don't think a darkroom would have been a restricted area at all. On the contrary its existence would have been enthusiastically promoted as "yet another unique feature." I have seen it listed several times amongst things like squash court and turkish bath. But I really doubt it was actually on the ship. I wonder if any conclusive evidence exists - there must have been some notes or reports about revisions on the ship detailing the reason why WSL chose to omit (or change the location of) the dark room. I hope its existence can be proven or refuted for sure.
 
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I doubt it's existence, too. If it was ever actually planned at all, then my guess is it was decided that a darkroom was unecessary, and the cloakroom was put in its place. Does anyone know if any other White Star vessels carried this feature? If it proved to be unpopular on them, then it was likely dropped from the Olympic-class.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I doubt they so much ran out of space as they found better things to do with it. As to "restricted area" I think if run as a commercial venture, there would have been a public facade...a storefront if you will...where business would be conducted. The darkroom itself would have been off-limits for some very obvious reasons. (Somebody barging in would have ruined any film being developed.)
 
May 2, 2000
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Beesley was passenger of 2nd class, where saw a man on the deck filming on 1rst or 2nd class?. I don't understand why there are una phothographia
of Beesley in the gimasium when him was passanger of 2nd class.
 
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Sandro,

Beesley was a second class passenger, but these passengers were allowed to explore first class public facilities prior to departure. Or, they were at least able to try out the gymnasium. Harbeck was also in second class.
 
May 2, 2000
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thanks Brandon. But that mean that the film of beesley (was developed on the Titanc or he took the film with him into the boat) that means other people could do the same.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Sandro, this is not 100% impossible, but I consider it extremely unlikely. Given the publicity surrounding the Titanic after the sinking, any surviving film and the prints therefrom, would have been worth a small fortune. (And today would be worth a large fortune!) Yet none has ever surfaced.
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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Sandro, the photo of Beesley and his friend in the gymnasium was taken by Francis Browne, who left the ship at Queenstown.
 

Senan Molony

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Bill Sauder

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This discussion of the dark room and the possibility of recovering film from the wreck is rather an old thread, but it had some interesting points in.

A dark room for the use of first class passengers was installed on Olympic for her first few voyages but was removed shortly afterwards. Most likely no dark room was ever installed on Titanic (or, if installed, never made available to passengers and the room pressed into other uses).

The Olympic dark room was originally on the starboard side on the Lounge, as indicated on her first generation deck plans. It consisted of a long bench along the outboard bulkhead with a large sink at the forward end of the workbench. As late as the 1920's this sink continues to be drawn into working plans, but the bench has disappeared.

I'm not aware of any surviving documentation as to why this facility was withdrawn on White Star, but 1905 notes from the Cunard Board of Directors discussing what amenities should be provided for the new Lusitania / Mauritania are very revealing.

The Cunard Board was ambivalent about dark rooms because they caused more problems than they were worth. First, a small knot of enthusiasts would monopolize dark rooms, meaning that the ship's company was in the difficult position of having to police the dark room's use and discipline passengers. Second, there was the question of who was going to pay for the expensive development chemicals and print papers (reading between the lines, steamship lines had been providing these gratis). Finally, the dark room was offered as a gesture for passengers who wanted to take photographs during the voyage. There was concern that passengers would return from Europe and develop their entire vacation's worth of negatives at the company's expense.

White Star eventually withdrew the existing dark room on Olympic, and converted the space into a Cloak Room for the Promenade Deck.

In the matter of recoverable film, I accompanied RMST to the wreck on their 2000 expedition, and interestingly several slips of what appeared to be still film were recovered. While going through a basket of unsorted artifact immediately after recovery, I noticed about 5 or 7 pieces of clear flexible plastic in the bottom of the bin. I looked at them and they appeared to be blank (clear), and about the size of notepad paper. After a moment, it occurred to me that these might be undeveloped film and that an image might be recoverable *if* they were protected from the light. I placed the slips into a pan of sea water and put the pan into the only light-tight cabinet I could find in a few second: an autoclave was on hand since our conservation room was one of the science labs on the Akademik Keldish. I informed the, uh, professional in charge of the collection of what I thought had been recovered and was thanked politely. I have no idea what has become of the clear plastic slips, how they were handled, or what examination was done to them.

I should also mention that RMST has recovered some camera-related items. What looks like a leg from a wood camera tripod, and the remains of two separate development dishes, each of porcelain, with pour spout in the corner, and sized to take 8.5 inch by 11 inch paper.

Bill Sauder
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Bill,

Many thanks for sharing this fascinating information with us. I realise that there have not been many responses, yet I am sure that is not due to lack of interest. I suspect many people (or 'lurkers') have found it very interesting -- I know I have.

I found it interesting that there appears to be dark room shown on the 1914 Aquitania deckplans. It's located on A-deck near the fourth funnel casing, at the end of a first class corridor. I don't have any post-war plans immediately to hand, yet do you know if this arrangement was changed in light of Cunard's earlier debate?

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
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