Lawrence was a Chicago photographer who pioneered the use of balloons, kites, and ladders to suspend his custom-made panoramic camera high above America’s cities, sports fields, and convention centers. At a time when the vast majority of people had never been in a particularly tall building, let alone airborne, his photographs offered a breathtaking new perspective. Accordingly, they got people’s attention. His photos were a marvel of their time, earning him fortune, accolades, and notoriety.
An eternal tinkerer, Lawrence made several mechanical innovations, eventually building his own camera and aerial rigs and ultimately ending up in pure aviation design. In the mid–1890s, he pioneered so-called flashlight photography, a predecessor to flashbulbs, and built a 1400-pound camera, the world’s largest at the time, to photograph the Alton Limited locomotive.