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Historic Swiss Photography Auguste Vautier-Dufour: the long distance photographer

In the late 1800s Swiss photography pioneer Auguste Vautier-Dufour was facing a problem. How to take long distance photographs without a very bulky camera? A series of experiments led to the invention of the Telephot.

Vautier-Dufour, born in Grandson, canton Vaud in 1864, was not a professional photographer. Although he worked as the director of a tobacco factory, his passion was astrophotography - photographing objects from a great distance and mountainous landscapes.

He also snapped away at family and strangers in their natural environment who, oblivious to the camera, carried on with their daily business or hobbies.

Vautier-Dufour wanted to photograph objects from far away using a compact apparatus equipped with a very long focal depth. On the face of it, this seemed like a contradiction.

In the 1890s, he started to lead various experiments on a self-taught basis, thanks to the advice of Emile Schaer, deputy astronomer at the Geneva Observatory. Schaer advised Vautier-Dufour on the production of his specialised equipment, giving him hints as to which long-firing lenses were particularly suitable for his purposes.

From these trials the Telephot was developed. It was an original contraption: two internally mounted mirrors extended the distance which light has to travel by making it run the length of the camera three times, allowing the use of a longer focal perspective.

The Telephot was patented on March 14, 1901. As Vautier-Dufour lacked the sufficient capital to market his invention, he and photographer Frederic Boissonnas set up Véga (the Anonymous Photography and Optics Company) in 1904. Its head office was located in Geneva, where various versions of the Telephot were produced and sold.