Week 39 - 2015


Albert Posso for Enjalbert, Le Photo-Revolver de Poche, Paris 1882 (photo: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum). Preus museum's collection.


You needn't be particularly nervous to feel a certain fear if this is aimed at you. The Photo-Revolver de Poche ("poche" meaning ""pocket") is as terrifying as a real revolver, but fortunately the worst conceivable result of a "shot"—or "shoot"—would have been an unflattering portrait, not a bloodbath.


This rare photo-revolver is in the Preus Museum collection.  It was manufactured by Albert Posso for Enjalbert in Paris and patented in 1882. The lens sits in the barrel, and the image is exposed by pulling the trigger. It has a revolver barrel with room for ten 1.8 x 1.8 cm glass negatives. After each exposure the glass plate was laid into the camera while the next plate came into position to be exposed.


 The camera is of historical interest as one of the first handheld type. After advancing technology led to shorter exposure times, older cameras on stands could be set aside for new and faster hand-held models. The possibilities were wide open, and a technology was already known that fit the photographer's need to view, pull the trigger, and shoot: the technology of weapons.


Enjalbert was a French inventor with a good idea but without much understanding of weapon technology. He received help from the skilled gunsmith Albert Posso, who designed and manufactured cameras by using discarded six-shooters that would look as realistic as possible.


But precisely realism was part of the problem with Le Photo-Revolver de Poche. The unfriendly appearance could lead to the mistaken belief that you'd literally been shot, not photographed. The photographer could get into real trouble, so the camera did not receive especially good media reviews. Very few were manufactured and sold. Only six such cameras are known worldwide. One is found in the exhibition A History of Photography at the Preus museum.