THE EARTHQUAKE IN LJUBLJANA
On Easter Sunday, 14 April 1895, Ljubljana was hit by an earthquake measuring 8 or 9 on the Mercalli scale. One tenth of all the buildings in the city were damaged.
On 8 July of that year, the Ljubljana municipal council approved the proposal of counsellor Ivan Hribar that all of the buildings that had been slated for demolition be photographed. In August and September, the buildings were photographed by Wilhelm (Viljem) Helfer and Julij Müller, both photographers from Ljubljana.1
Wilhelm Helfer had arrived from Volosca (in what is now Croatia) at the beginning of 1895;2 he used medium- and large-format plates to take the photographs. He received 601 florins for his work. In 1896, when he left Ljubljana for Graz, he offered to sell 100 glass plates to the town hall.3 Julij Müller also used large-format plates. He prepared an album of photographs which the town hall then sent to the National Assembly and Ministry in Vienna.4
At the beginning of May, the bookseller Maks Fischer published a small book by Ivan Robida entitled Grozni dnevi potresa v Ljubljani (The Terrible Days of the Earthquake in Ljubljana); it contained five illustrations based on the photographs of Wilhelm Helfer.
The pencil drawings, which »show more clearly than photographs a wholly naturalistic depiction of the most interesting moments of the seismic catastrophe,« were done by Anton Gvajc. The journal Slovenski narod suggested that Gvajc's drawings be sent to the Viennese Press Syndicate. The foreign press would thus obtain suitable illustrations and support the work of a local artist.5
The aid committee for Ljubljana and its environs had pictures of the damaged buildings made on the basis of the photographs; it then sent out the images together with requests for help.6
Some also sought personal gain in the catastrophe that had befallen the residents of Ljubljana. Photographers were no exception. Many photographed the aftermath of the earthquake with the intent of later selling the photographs.
Anton Jerkich, a photographer from Gorica, sold seven large-format photographs of the aftermath of the earthquake for one and a half florins apiece. The total price for all seven photographs was nine florins. He donated a third of the money made from the sale to relief efforts in Ljubljana. He intended to publish the buyers' names in newspapers.7
Wilhelm Helfer gave the photographs he took to the aid committee to use freely in correspondence and posters. Josip Paulin published Helfer's photographs in a bi-lingual (Slovene and German) printed report on the earthquake and in a special album or book entitled Velikonedeljski potres v Ljubljani dne 14. aprila 1895. l. in cesarjev obisk (The Easter Earthquake in Ljubljana, 14 April 1895, and a Visit from the Emperor) (56 pages, 13 photographs). Helfer threateningly told Paulin that he would have to answer to the authorities for his dishonest act; Paulin then reported Helfer to the committee on the grounds that he was trying to prevent the committee from reproducing his photographs.8
Kaiser-Panorama of Berlin9 sent a photographer to Ljubljana. In May, it began displaying 34 stereogram photographs of the aftermath of the Ljubljana earthquake.10 Prosvjeta, a journal covering entertainment, science and art published in Zagreb, published 11 images of the aftermath of the earthquake based on the photographs.11
Josip Armich also photographed the aftermath of the earthquake. Newspapers reported that he provided free accommodation in his studio to around 20 people who had been put out of their homes by the quake.12
The journal Dom in svet published a series of photographs from different authors: Franchishek Lampe, editor-in-chief of the journal who also wrote about the aftermath, Alois Beer, Hinko Dolenc and Anton Jerkich.
The photographers carefully documented heavily damaged houses propped up with beams, churches and other buildings, makeshift accommodation in tents, wooden shanties and sauerkraut tubs, food being served in makeshift soup kitchens, open-air masses and the demolition of buildings. The documentary photographs they took could be used to prepare a photo report.
Shpitalska ulica, now Stritarjeva ulica, bore the brunt of the damage: all the houses on the street save one were demolished. In a photograph of Shpitalska ulica (26.8 x 39 cm), Wilhelm Helfer also captured several curious passersby who turned to face the photographer. Not all of them were still while the photograph was being taken, which is why they appear blurry in the photo. The man in the black suit even changed positions; due to the long exposure time, he appears twice in the photograph.
2 Wilhelm Helfer, rojen 1864 v Olmützu, je bil dunajski fotograf. Delal je tudi Karlsbadu, Pragi in Opatiji. Leta 1897 je odprl fotoatelje v Gradcu, v dvajsetih letih 20. stoletja je imel atelje tudi na Dunaju.
9 »Kaiser-Panorama« iz Berlina: prva med panoramami za prikazovanje stereoposnetkov. Vech ljudi je sedelo okrog velikega valja in skozi kukala opazovalo fotografije, ki so se na bobnu pomikale od enega k drugemu kukalu.
Wilhem Helfer, Shpitalska ulica
Gosposka ulica (objavljeno v: Dom in svet, 1895, sht. 14)
Translated from Slovenian by