Ichor Falls

The Hirsch Camera (1870)

by on Oct.29, 2008, under By Kris Straub

A real object that has made its way into Ichor Falls folklore is the Hirsch Camera, on seasonal display at the tiny Rand Historical Society Museum near the town center. Its inventor, chemist Robert Hirsch, can claim ancestry back to the original eighty-two settlers of Ichor Falls. He remarked in letters to colleagues that the town “resided in a wonder-land of alchemical potential… I believe there is no more [diverse] geology West of the Alleghanies.”

The Hirsch Camera is possibly the earliest functioning camera that was capable of color photography, predating du Hauron’s color photographs by two years. However in photographic circles this point is in contention; most scholars argue that Hirsch’s work does not represent the first concerted effort at color photography, and many of his trial attempts from 1870 show either a lack of interest, or perhaps understanding, in accurately reproducing color images. These early developed plates show washed out or partially inverted colors, as though from a semi-exposed negative.

Hirsch’s process, however, is notable for its methodology. Rather than silver iodide, Hirsch used silver chalcides to create one of the first panchromatic solutions. This also reduced the plates’ dependence on mercury bath to develop the negative. Some chemical studies have been performed on the plates, but Hirsch’s original ratios have been lost to time.

Thus, the plates themselves are somewhat of a mystery. Hirsch himself took 103 photographs, but only personally developed twelve. (The other 91 were developed in 1997, not using Hirsch’s technique, but modern image processing. These are not usually on display to the public.)

The twelve images appear to be candid photographs of people in and around Ichor Falls. Three of them show the apparent christening of a building. Several more show the town square or natural environments with people present, usually moving into or out of frame. The last image is that of a young fair-haired girl, who is not looking at the camera.

When cross-referenced with dated newspaper articles from the Ichor Falls Gazette, public record, paintings, and even other existing photography, the Hirsch plates were found to be inexplicably wrong.

  • The building in the christening photograph does not exist, and several shops were on the wrong sides of the street or the wrong street entirely.
  • One photograph shows townspeople at a nearby quarry, apparently walking blindly into a ravine. This was believed to be an overexposure of two or more plates, but a man towards the bottom of the frame appears to have fallen.
  • Closer inspection of a forest scene shows all visible tree branches as terminating in human hands.
  • Another plate inexplicably shows the bustling town center, but all the people are either crawling or blurred, in mid-gallop, on all fours.
  • In another, a man walks to the right on what looks like Fourth Avenue, his head completely obscured by a irregular hanging sign or object blurred in the foreground. When viewed at an acute angle, it appears that this oblong object actually is a white, grossly-distorted head, with the blur not caused by focus issues, but a violent shivering movement as the shutter closed.

Hirsch’s chalcide technique also captured a quality that is not reproduceable by modern film photography. There is a translucency, a confusion of line and image in the Hirsch plates that implies depth or in some cases, motion, even though these flat plates possess no lenticular properties.

One photograph on display in the Rand, the one of the young girl, is mounted off the wall so visitors may view it from different angles. As the viewer walks slowly from side to side, the young girl appears entirely motionless except for her lips. This illusion is not a true capturing of actual movement, but a likely result of poor mixing of multiple exposures. Still, most agree that it appears she is mouthing the word “out.”

In 1872, Robert Hirsch left Ichor Falls and moved west.

The camera and Hirsch’s twelve plates are on display seasonally at the Rand Historical Society Museum at Main and Second.

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28 comments for this entry:
  1. CreepyColin

    This is exactly what I look for in horror. Something so bizarre and mysterious described as fact. You’ve given enough to chill me as I sit here reading it, but obscured so much that makes me crave to read more. What did the other 91 pictures hold? Did he know what he was doing and seeing?

    There’s also something so mystical about old photography processing and picturing these old sepia photos, even without actual visuals, is just creepy.

  2. kaiki

    Very nice. Like the wine story it has enough technical detail that I am completely drawn into the story. Great job.

  3. Chris Hickey

    AUGH

    AUUUUGH

  4. ZenMonkey

    I love “ghost in the machine” stories, and I especially love description that is vivid enough to be spooky and under-described enough to be even spookier.

  5. Gaelyn

    Love it very good writing, it is creeepy.

  6. darkmayo

    wow Chris, this is excellent, the description of the townsfolk crawling on all fours was quite creepy. Not enough horror is based on simple things like that. No snarling fangs or blood and guts just seeing something that your mind comprehends as “wrong”

    The crabwalking scene in the excorcist is a prime example of that.

  7. ilitchev

    Oh good god that gave me the creeps. I adore stories that focus on old technology; that mix of experimental mechanization and mysticism.

  8. Rilling

    M. R. James would be proud. This is deliciously understated and eerie. More, please!

  9. Dublin Jack

    I am not “creeped out” by a great many things, but this is certainly one of them. There’s just some primordial instinct telling us that such things, plant-man chimeras and quadrupedal humans, are intrinsically wrong. It attacks the sense of self, the ego of man’s supremacy. Your use of the word “gallop” is particularly effective.
    You’ve described a reality I deeply hope to avoid.
    Bravo, sir.

  10. Karl

    Awesome. I would love to see some visualizations of these pictures.

  11. BeccaTheCyborg

    It’s two in the morning, and I am terrified to look behind me, but I can’t stop reading. Amazing site, and this story in particular really affected me.

  12. A.D.

    I love horror that is subtle and shows things that as someone else put it ‘that your mind views as somehow “wrong”‘. The pictures sound horrifying.

  13. Dylan

    This site is addictive! I wish that even more photographs were described, but I guess that would ruin the “micro” part of “microfiction”. Still; it’s an amazing story. I found the ravine photograph to be disturbing, but when you used the word “galloping” to described the movement of the people it scared the sh!t out of me.

  14. Ralphomon

    “AUGH AUUUUGH” is right. WOw.

  15. mkahmvet

    The girl with the moving lips was the most chilling for me. The photograph suggests a present threat while the other photos suggest past wrongness.

  16. Bre

    That was fantastic. I’m reading it in a bright room, surrounded by people, and it still managed to give me chills.

    I nearly had to stop reading at the final picture description.

  17. Aazhie

    Ok, so now I’m freaking out, WHAT MAKES THE OTHER 91 PICS EVEN CREEPIER THAN THESE ONES!? Oh man, I’m so imagining Pickman’s Model type photographs and other horrors that are so incredibly wrong the modern developers had to hide them away.

  18. amyss

    FANTASTIC STORY (want to know more about the other 91 pics! a sequel perhaps?) and Aazhie, excellent that you referenced Pickman’s Model to describe this, a perfect comparison. That is one of Lovecraft’s best short stories, I believe.

  19. Torpedo Vegas

    Amazing. The way the photos are described, they eminated a sense of “wrongness” that gave me a greater sense of dread than many other stories written here. The scene with the people crab-walking and the trees with human hands…I actually got a shiver up my back.

  20. zbeeblebrox

    Excellent.
    There’s something about those periods of time where a new technology of some kind is fresh and still in the process of being fully discovered that just makes it the perfect breeding ground for brilliant horror stories. This is no exception.

  21. B. I. Flight

    Of all the terrific offerings on this site, I think this is probably my favorite. There’s just something about the delivery of it: this sterile, perfectly level scientific description of everything that refuses to even consider that something is going on here beyond multiple exposures and unrefined developement processes, much less admit it. It’s so determined to remain detached and “factual” that it’s giving us exacting details about some very disturbing things that the report itself seems incapable of acknowledging directly at all.

    Plus, there’s the additional subtle chill of not knowing what’s causing this. Was it just the place itself that responded to Hirch’s technique? Or if you recreated the process, might you find images like this all around you…anywhere?

    Bravo!

  22. Lurker

    Excellent writing, although I’m curious whether the author took some inspiration in the Camera Obscura from the Fatal Frame/Project Zero series.

  23. Kalica

    Now I want to see someone try and photoshop these images, maybe a gallery of them on this website! That’d be awesome.

  24. Julie D

    Thanks to this, I will not be sleeping tonight.

  25. Ninepoint_R

    Okay… The chills came early, intensified at “tree branches as terminating in human hands” and now I’m fully terrified after “white, grossly-distorted head.”

    So far in reading the archives this is my favorite story.

    You’re a creepy motherfucker, Kris.

  26. Lizzie

    This is excellent! It makes me wonder if the camera takes pictures of things you fear? I loved how it is told from an intelligence point of view, like it messes with your mind instead of just explaining gore and nastiness.

    Now I really want that camera! Hah!

  27. RangerDanger

    This may have made my top 10 favorite horror stories ever. I mean that outright. You make me want to be a better writer.

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