Fasser Collection: More Belgian Ruination

I have previously written a post about a box of A. O. Fasser’s slides marked “Belgium”. This is a larger box – but much more severely compromised, in terms of condition – with the same label, in the same handwriting. Like the first box, I’m quite convinced that Fasser took these photographs, though of course I still cannot tender any evidence to support this hypothesis – until I’ve gotten the negatives scanned, and properly matched to images, I can’t say for sure that any image posted was taken by Fasser.

But they have all of the characteristics of Fasser’s work, and for the moment, I’m going to presume that these are Fasser’s photographs, referring to them as such until some evidence points me elsewhere. Unlike Fasser’s Reims bundle, this are all of the same emulsion quality, on the same sorts of plates, using the same type of camera, and the composition is more or less the same as that used by Fasser throughout his oeuvre. Unfortunately, in this box, few of the 22 slides are in decent shape – the majority look more or less like this one:

View of a ship at port. This would probably be the best stereoview of the lot had not it been significantly waterlogged at some point int time.

That’s not an argument against their preservation, of course, and the left-hand image of the stereo pair is (with a lot of work) a salvageable standard photograph. But it will never work as a stereoview. On the other hand, some of the slides in this box – even ones that appear horribly damaged on the surface show some interesting scenes, and oftentimes the merged image looks better than either frame alone. Here’s an example:

A bombed-out area with the entrance to a bunker, a river in the far distance down the side of the mountain that it rests on.

At first, this looks like a rather poor stereographic image – this was enhanced from a nearly-clear piece of glass, and in straining to restore detail, I’ve muddied the skies – as it were. But this is an interesting scene, and even moreso when viewed properly. To that end, free-view this one at your leisure, or, even better, us a pair of anaglyphic glasses and closely examine the anaglyph below (almost twice as large as a normal anaglyph on this page):

Click on the image to open a large version of it, and then scroll around and examine the 3D in detail here.

So what makes this slide worth saving, in the form of a 2.59 GB digital negative scan? Several things. When viewed properly, through a scope, with half the usual illumination, the image still pops well enough – as I’m sure this anaglyph shows when zoomed in on. Despite the poorly maintained, scuffed-up emulsion, there’s still tons of detail on the 6x13cm piece of glass.

Additionally, having no information on this bunker whatsoever, I have no idea whether there is a single other (better) record of it elsewhere. It is in any case a unique historic document. Of course it’s worth a half-hour of my time and a little bit of disk / cloud space to preserve it in the finest quality my equipment makes possible! There’s no real question there.

And once again, 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!

So let’s take a look at some further images from this box:

A bombed out crater in a shadowy wood, with a building in the distance.
What appears to possibly be a barracks or other dormitory-like building amidst a cluster of similar buildings in the snow.
A half-frozen river under a bridge, with snow-lined banks, the steeple of a church visible in the distance in a quaint-looking town (with a building called “American Bar”).
Men with a canon back in the woods.
A wrecked piece of artillery in the middle of a field, behind which lies a severely damaged building.
A huge gun in a well-fortified casemate, as viewed through a window.
A group of men (and a horse) have congregated near a torn-up piece of track from the railroad.

These slide all share similar characteristics, and it seems highly likely that they came from the same camera. Where the opportunity exists, that is to say when a landscape is the subject or surrounds the subject, the horizon line is always at the midpoint. The images tend to be lighter near the margin, and darker at the outer edges. The exposures are all a little off, although I’ve done my best to compensate for it – so you probably wouldn’t notice that. But most of all, they were taken spontaneously, as if a man with a camera suddenly had the idea that “this would look great in 3D”, and snapped off a shot of a cannon, or a bridge, or a bunker near a shell crater.

In any case, they seem like the cohesive works of one photographer, and I still believe this to be A. O. Fasser, being that his works in and around the American Ambulance Hospital are similar. So even the worst of them – like the image of the ship that was opened with – is an important artifact in that collection. Some of these might not be as exciting as certain other Great War shots, but that does not make them important. Not everything that happened in 1914-1918 was a major event. The mundane details count as well.

All images on 6×13 glass positives from the A. O. Fasser Collection, courtesy of the Jordan/Ference Collection.


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