Two of the finest and most extensive oblique photograph collections of California are housed in the The Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives at the UCLA Department of Geography. Many researchers find our collections an invaluable historical record for sites of interest. But, beyond purely academic interests, these aerial photos provide a connection to the past that cannot be matched by vertical images. Because the photographs are oblique (photos taken at an angle instead of straight down) they provide a descriptive view allowing the viewer to get a feel for life during the early days of photography.
We have digitized tens of thousands of images of Los Angeles and nearby counties that are not available here. Please Contact Us if you’re interested in finding specific locations from our collection. Our collection includes major cities as well as industrial areas such as: manufacturing facilities, oil drilling/storage/refining, chemical plants, ports/harbors/docks, rail facilities, coastlines, waterways, wetlands, airports, racetracks, universities, mining, construction and more.
For a fee, we can work with you to find and digitize a photo of your city or town or another area. We also do remote research for environmental companies, geotechnical organizations, lawyers, architectural historians, Realtors, etc.
Proceeds from the purchase of photographs from the Spence and Fairchild Collections are used to continue to preserve and digitize these unique and vibrant connections to the past.
ROBERT E. SPENCE
Robert E Spence took his first aerial photo when he was assigned to the Army Signal Corps in 1918. In 1922, upon being discharged from the army, he parlayed this experience into his own air photo service. In 1926, Spence Air Photos purchased the air photo company of William Cross. Cross must have known Spence during his life because he took a photograph of one of Spence’s (nonfatal) crashes on March 19, 1923 just three months before his own fatal crash on July 23, 1923.
The images in the collection are obliques – or side-viewing – and were taken by swinging his 43-pound aerial camera – which UCLA still owns – out of the window of Luscombe Aircraft piloted by George Wade from Santa Monica’s Clover Field. He specialized his business on the booming oil and real estate markets in Southern California and over the course of his career took over 100,000 photos of the region. When World War II started, Spence took his experience and worked during the war as a Captain and aerial photo officer for the 12th Bomb Group of the 10th Air Force in India. Robert Spence donated his collection of oblique photos to UCLA in 1971, where the Department of Geography has protected and maintained them ever since.
In addition to showing the layout of the ground, allow the viewer to read signs, identify people and cars, and even tell what people on the ground were wearing. They serve as a great medium with which to connect with the past. They truly bring history to life.
Proceeds from the sale of photographs from the Spence Air Photos, Inc. Collection will be used to continue to preserve and digitize this vast collection of over 77,000 images.
During World War I, unable to serve in the military, Sherman Fairchild worked with his father to develop an improved aerial camera that reduced the distortion caused by movement of the plane. Although the camera did not see use during World War I, Fairchild cameras were soon after chosen as the standard aerial camera for the US Army. During World War II, the great majority of cameras used by Allied Forces were Fairchild’s.
The formation of Fairchild Aerial Surveys (FAS) in 1921 allowed Sherman Fairchild to undertake aerial mapping on his own. FAS pioneered aerial mapping of major cities, including Manhattan Island. During this early period, apparently FAS employed the originator of UCLA’s other oblique air photo collection, Robert Spence. On the technological as well as business cutting edge of the aeronautical field (his companies built the first American plane with an enclosed cockpit and pioneered air transport throughout North and Central America), he was also hired the first known female aerial photographer, Edith Keating.
The sale of FAS to Aero Services, Inc. in 1965 occasioned the dispersal of the older Fairchild aerial photos to several academic institutions, including UCLA’s Department of Geography, which received the bulk of the oblique—or side-viewing—photographs from southern California and beyond. Oblique photos were taken by pointing a Fairchild aerial camera out of the window of an airplane and, in addition to showing the layout of the ground, allow the viewer to read signs, identify people and cars, and even tell what people on the ground were wearing. They serve as a great medium with which to connect with the past. They truly bring history to life.
Proceeds from the sale of photographs from the Fairchild Aerial Surveys Collection will be used to continue to preserve and digitize this vast collection of over 43,000 images.