In His Kingdom

Meet the King of Swans, on guard in all his militant beauty… gracefully alert to any approaching danger; for his Queen is nesting on the pond’s far edge, and he must protect her.
At such a time the King looks his best, unaware that his very bearing and manner has made him the perfect subject for the camera pictorialist.
I was not along when I happened on the King of Swans. But because I knew from previous experience the requirements of cautious posing necessary to achieve a successful swan picture, I solicited the cooperation of my companions. I explained that I would take the King’s picture a hundred feet or so further on, where the sunlight silvered the leaves on the branch of a tree that dipped gracefully to the water’s edge.
All withdrew at my suggestion from the pond’s edge, with the exception of myself and one other, who was to follow certain prearranged signals unknown to the others. For I knew that as my fellow conspirator approached the water’s edge, the King would glide closer to shore ready to combat any encroachment on his domain. Likewise I knew that he would withdraw as the person withdrew, and follow suspiciously every move made.
From Pictorial Artistry: The Dramatization of the Beautiful in Photography
"By such maneuvering I made twelve exposures of the King in the setting I wished, maintaining all the time the illusion that the swan actually understood and followed my directions, as I would say—“Come along, Swan. Now turn around… No! No!... turn back again. Now come nearer to me. Turn to the side. Hold it! Thank you”.
It was all such fun. Later, when the picture-taking was over and I revealed the how and why of my “stage directions” hoax, everyone was greatly amused.
Circular. The shore, the overhanging branch, the reflections, and the eddies are arranged so as to form a continuous movement rotating around the Swan.
Technical Approach:
The picture was taken against a low sun. The light was weak and contrasty [sic] because of the high trees. The depth of focus of the large camera was shallow, and an exposure of 1/25 was required. Accordingly, I had to anticipate any movement the swan might make. Contrast in the negative had to be corrected by local reduction. Excessive reflections were removed by etching.
Camera: Zeiss Maximar 9x12cm
Lens: Tessar 13.5cm
Stop: f.8
Exposure: 1/25 in hand
Film: Agfa Super Plenach"
by Adolf Fassbender, 1937
Currently not on view
date made
before 1937
Fassbender, Adolf
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
image: 8 1/8 in x 10 1/2 in; 20.6375 cm x 26.67 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Adolf Fassbender, Pictorial Artistry
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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