Fasser Collection: Devastated Belgium

In addition to loads of largely un-sorted, randomly-ordered slides in Alexander Otto Fasser’s collection, there are about 8 or 9 original plate boxes – some labeled, some not. Last night, I grabbed one of these at random and began scanning; simply labeled “Belgium” in old pencil cursive, it contained 16 slides, all of them in rather poor condition. Most had chips or cracks; many had suffered water damage, edge oxidation, etc. As usual, only minimal effort has been made to digitally restore the originals – oxidation has been desaturated and the luminance adjusted to make it match as close as possible, and egregious spotting in regions that are relatively uniform have been clone-stamped out. Contrast has been adjusted as well. Otherwise, the slides are presented more or less in the condition they were received in, after a good cleaning with a microfibre. The condition is still underwhelming:

A typical slide from the “Belgium” box. This slide suffered from heavy oxidation, water damage, scratched emulsion, etc… but note the crazy dancing man in front of the ruined cathedral which is the central subject of the slide:
Just bust a move.

As seems universal in the Fasser Collection, there are no captions or annotations to help identify the subjects, so PLEASE – if you are from Belgium or have visited, and can say anything about where these were taken (which city, what building, what waterway – anything, really) please do speak up!

And one further note – I cannot state with any certainty that these stereoviews were taken by Dr. Fasser himself. We know little of the man at present, mainly through clips such as this one:

The Weekly Pioneer Times, Deadwood, South Dakota, 1st June 1916.

And through the fact that most of his photography seems to be centered around the American Ambulance Hospital, in which he would not have been anywhere near the Front. However, he clearly did travel around at least a bit – he took photos in field hospitals and so on – so it’s not inconceivable that he took these photographs in Belgium whilst visiting there. It’s also not inconceivable that he bought a box of diapositives and simply made duplicates of another photographer’s work. He certainly had at least a handful of commercially-sold slides in his collection. Whatever the case, they are part of his collection, and will be referred to as such. Now let’s take a look at seven more that were semi-salvageable from this lot:

View of some wreckage, apparently from within a ruined building.
An American Ambulance Corps man stands speaking to a soldier inside a seemingly-intact cathedral. This is the only image from the box which does not depict war devastation – and also the only one that contains an overt link to Fasser, who was a surgeon for the American Ambulance Hospital.
Ruined, and semi-ruined, buildings in the background; a bunch of men leaning against a barrier blocking a roadway in the fore.
A scorched and ruined town or village in the distance, with smoke rising from either still-smoldering buildings or recent bombardments. This probably has the best stereo-effect of the lot, due to the telephone and telegraph wires above.
A closer view of a ruined building, using a tree at right to provide stereo context to the viewer.
An odd scene, with snow on the ground – placing this in early 1916 if indeed taken by Fasser. In the distance, another wrecked building – this one either surrounded by scaffolding, or by an external metal skeleton which survived the fire which consumed the wooden elements. In the fore, a plank bridge over a tiny creed, with some light snow around.
A train car bed on tracks in front of a seemingly-intact railside building, next to which bundled supplies are piled. Behind, a somewhat destroyed town, with a cathedral riding up in the back.

Could this cathedral be one of the buildings pictured in this post, either the intact one with the American medic & soldier, or the ruined one with the crazy dancing man in front? Let’s take a closer look, enhanced for detail as much as is possible for damaged, thick-grained emulsions:

Detail of right-hand image from previous stereo slide.

Sadly, I can’t tell – but maybe if one of you recognize the city, you could connect the dots for me! Please use the contact form and let me know what you do!

In closing, I’d like to suggest that while I have no evidence for this, but I have a strong and justified belief that these are indeed further photographs taken by A. O. Fasser himself. Here’s my evidence:

  • Just like most stereoviews that Fasser composed of landscapes or architecture around the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly, the horizon line cuts straight through the center of the images, often leaving too much sky, and sometimes sacrificing perfect verticals to that end.
  • The images are on a uniform emulsion, which is consistent with the packaging, and if the cathedral interior was indeed taken by the same photographer, then there is a correlation with Fasser’s peers.
  • The images are universally minimally-stereo. Fasser’s camera, as demonstrated in previous examples, is wonderful at close-range, as it is able to capture very-near subjects without going too hyper. But it’s not impressive use of stereography at longer distances. This is again consistent with Fasser’s oeuvre; consider one of Fasser’s images from the Remembrance Day post yesterday:
Minimal use of stereo here as well.

But we shall see, as we examine more of Fasser’s work this month and beyond, whether we can identify (or narrow down) his camera, its capabilities, and general trends in his work. Until then, we can just make best guesses, and hopefully some of you can help identify these locations in Belgium meanwhile.

All images in this post (with the exception of the newspaper clipping) are on 6×13 glass positives, courtesy of the Jordan/Ference collection, scanned and processed myself.



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