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Archive for the ‘Magic lanterns’ Category

The survey has uncovered small collections that often dip below the radar because they are held by organisations other than museums and archives and Anti-Slavery International is a good example of one of these. Founded in 1839, it is one of the world’s oldest international human rights organisations and has a significant collection of magic lantern slides dating from the early twentieth century. These were used by the Congo Reform Association in their campaign to raise awareness about the abuses taking place in the Belgian Congo, revealing valuable context as to how this aspect of our screen heritage was utilised to inform and persuade as well as entertain.

Anti-Slavery International Magic Lantern Slide Collection

“Two youths from the Equator District. the hands of Mola, seated, have been destroyed by gangrene after being tied too tightly by soldiers. The right hand of Yoka standing was cut off by soldiers wanting to claim him as killed.” Circa 1904 Alice Harris / Anti-Slavery International.

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Buinial lantern, National Media Museum

Hoare biunial (two-lens) magic lantern, National Media Museum collection

There’s a thoughtful article (‘Shapes of things to come’) by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post, reviewing a recreation of a nineteenth-century magic lantern show, which is relevant to the broad concept of screen heritage.

Kennicott went to see a lantern show present by the Belgian Herman Bollaert and musicians, at the French Embassy in Washington. He starts by taking note of the efforts required to operate this ancient technology:

Watching Herman Bollaert and his crew of projectionists manipulate his 19th-century magic lantern is a bit like watching a very old and finicky sailboat being steered into the wind. There is a lot of fussing and fiddling, turning and cranking, all in the service of a charmingly antiquated technology.

However, he detects in the magic lantern a thread of moving image and visual technologies which share a common heritage and cater for a common need. He sees in the magic lantern an inheritance now to be found in anything from PowerPoint presentations to the Xbox. Specifically, he sees how the cinema came out of the magic lantern’s way of getting over a narrative:

And yet, even in the rudimentary gestures of the magic lantern, you see the beginnings of montage, the language of editing images that is now so familiar we can hardly see its operation. In a series of slides depicting the Greek cynic Diogenes being tormented by two malicious little boys, we see the philosopher being rolled in his barrel in multiple slides from various angles, the kind of visual prolongation and elaboration that would become essential to cinematic storytelling.

He then notes how the magic lantern served as a powerful metaphor for writers such as Marcel Proust and Arthur Schopenhauer. His final paragraph brings the magic lantern into that overall vision of a multi-faceted screen heritage:

It’s difficult to coax the contemporary mind into the position of someone of two or three centuries ago, who found the basic images projected by lanterns to be amazingly lifelike (aesthetically), emotionally powerful (artistically) and profoundly troubling (philosophically). But like the water wheel set turning by Bollaert’s expert hand, things will come full circle. With the rise of ever more complex virtual realities, once again the philosophical mind is set puzzling over the nature of the real. But now, in our world of Xboxes and Wii consoles, one is hardly aware of the machine that creates the representation, there is no tactile connection between the image and its master, and the boat of illusions sails forth with no hands on deck.

Read the full article on the Washington Post site, or learn more about the magic lantern on these sites:

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John Wesley Slide

John Wesley courtesy of Elsbury Images

Elsbury Images Magic Lantern Powerpoint

Many substantial collections of moving image artefacts in the United Kingdom have been built over many years, fuelled by the enthusiasm of an individual. Elsbury Images is the commerical aspects of such a personal collection which includes magic lanterns and magic lantern slides from 1880-1910, some of which can be seen in the powerpoint presentation above; 35mm, 28mm and 16mm projectors, including Kodacolor dating back to 1906 as well as cine cameras from 1910 to 1960. All this equipment is supplemented by the original promotional material including various large posters and life-size cut-outs, mainly for Kodak products, together with an extensive collection of catalogues for Cine-Kodak (1923-1980), Pathescope 9.5 (1923-1950) as well as film hire library catalogues (1935-1960). This type of documentation is often disregarded but provides invaluable context for this equipment. Is there a comprehensive collection of catalogues and manuals out there?

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Hand-coloured photographic song slide

Hand-coloured photographic song slide, c.1905, Stephen Herbert Collection

Screen heritage, for us, means more than just the cinema or television. As the definition of screen heritage on this site puts it:

Screen heritage begins with the magic lantern in the 17th century and continues through to this day with our online culture.

So we are interested in collecting information on all kinds of the popular and projected image, and in doing so hope to demonstrate how cinema and television are part of a larger historical continuum.

Particularly important in this quest is the magic lantern. Image projection by means of the magic lantern or optical lantern (known in the USA as the stereopticon) has its roots in the seventeenth century, and in the Victorian era the art rose to great heights, with its practitioners using single, double (biunial) or even triple-lens (triunial) lanterns to achieve extraordinarily elaborate effects, while the slide themselves were often beautifully coloured. Magic lantern shows covered travel, drama, comedy, popular song, Bible stories, scientific displays and many other themes, and the slides as well as the lanterns themselves can be found in many museums in the UK. No one knows the extent of such collections, and we hope as part of our survey to begin to map this rich part of our screen heritage, whose modes of presentation had such a great influence upon the early cinema.

Lantern shows continued into the twentieth-century, and have been succeeded by other modes of slide presentation, from the slide viewers which used to show family snaps to (arguably) PowerPoint and the modern data projector.

If your institution has magic lantern slides or equipment, or even later kinds of slide presentation, we’d love you to fill out the survey. If you want to find out more about the magic lantern, the Magic Lantern Society has an informative web site, including a blog with news of upcoming lantern shows and other events in the UK.

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Screen Archive South East is a member of the Film Archive Forum, one of the organisations behind the UK Screen Heritage Network. It is the public sector moving image archive for the South East. Established in 1992 at the University of Brighton as the South East Film & Video Archive, the function of this regional screen archive is to locate, collect, preserve, provide access to and promote screen material related to the South East and of general relevance to screen history. It collects magic lantern slides, film, videotape and digital formats and associated screen hardware and documentation. For the Screen Heritage survey, it has conducted a metadata comparsion exercise, to ensure that the records of collections being investigated will harmonise with MLA standards and the BUFVC’s Researcher’s Guide Online database, which will be the ultimate home of the survey data.

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