Toward a History of Screen Practice
1Kircher and the Demystification of the Projected Image
Toward a History of Screen Practice
The Magic Lantern
Robertson and the Fantasmagorie
The Stereopticon: Projecting Photographic Images
Illustrated Lectures and Their Authors
Moving Images for the Screen
Eadweard Muybridge and Photographic Projections of Animals in Motion
Starting points always present problems for the historian, perhaps because they imply a "before" as well as an "after." For the film historian, "the invention of cinema" is customarily viewed as the creation of a new form of expression, a new art form. Such a perspective presupposes not only cinema proper but "pre-cinema," an area of historical inquiry that raises significant methodological and ideological issues. This chapter (and the entire volume) questions the value of that starting point and the historical models it supports. Nonetheless, it does not seek to forsake starting points entirely nor, as Jean-Louis Comolli has done, to offer the possibility of so many starting points that the notion of a beginning is not only diffused but ultimately avoided.1 Rather, it suggests an alternative perspective, one that places cinema within a larger context of what we shall call the history of screen practice.
In such a history, cinema appears as a continuation and transformation of magic-lantern traditions in which showmen displayed images on a screen, accompanying them with voice, music, and sound effects. In fact, this historical conception of cinema was frequently articulated between 1895 and 1908. The Optical Magic Lantern Journal of November 1896, for example, observed that "The greatest boom the lantern world has ever seen is that which is still reverberating throughout the land—the boom of the living photographs." In Animated Pictures (1898), C. Francis Jenkins wrote:
It has frequently been suggested that the introduction of chronophotographic apparatus sounded the death knell of the stereopticon, but with this opinion I do not agree. The fact is, the moving picture machine is simply a modified stereopticon or lantern, i.e. a lantern equipped with a mechanical slide changer. All stereopticons will, sooner or later, as are several machines now, be arranged to project stationary pictures or pictures giving the appearance of objects in motion.
These observations were echoed by Henry V. Hopwood in Living Pictures (1899): "A film for projecting a living picture is nothing more, after all, than a multiple lantern slide."2 In essence, these writers were emphasizing continuities where recent film histories have tended to see difference. It is this sense of continuity that must be reasserted if we are to understand transformation as a dialectical process.
The origins of screen practice—as distinct from either earlier uses of projected images or the later introduction of cameras—can be traced back to the mid 1600s and the demystification of those magical arts in which observers confused the "lifelike" image with life itself. The much later invention of motion-picture projection was only one of several major technological innovations that transformed screen practice in the course of its history—the development of the magic lantern during the 1650s, the adaptation of photography to projection around 1850, and the synchronization of film with recorded sound, which achieved permanent commercial standing in the late 1920s.
In contrast to this historical model, most histories of cinema and pre-cinema apply three different levels of inquiry to what are seen as discrete and successive historical phases (often but not always by making use of a biological metaphor). First, there is the history of invention, which is associated with pre-cinema. As presented by Jacques Deslandes and Kenneth Macgowan, the historical paradigm is formulated in terms of, and based on, court cases disputing patent rights, where lawyers argued the fine points of technological priority for their industrialist clients.3 This phase culminates with the invention of the "basic apparatus, " the camera/projector that made cinema possible. With the advent of cinema, the focus then shifts to a history of technique, the development of basic procedures such as the interpolated close-up and parallel editing (many of which were part of the screen repertoire before cinema came into existence). Only in the third stage do these historians focus their attention on film as art, as culturally significant work.
The three-stage historical treatment implies a kind of technological determinism in which film language is a product of technology and film art exists within the framework of that language. The model presented here, in contrast, argues that screen practice has always had a technological component, a repertoire of representational strategies, and a social-cultural function, all of which undergo constant, interrelated change. This model refines a second historical approach that explores film's debt to other forms of cultural expression and sees the motion picture as a new medium/technology in need of a content and an aesthetic. In early, methodologically crude studies such as Robert Grau's The Theatre of Science and Nicholas Vardac's Stage to Screen, cinema is treated as a void that adopted the essentials of a theatrical tradition and then pushed them to new extremes in the "photoplay." John Fell and Erwin Panofsky have argued that film borrowed freely from many different forms of popular culture, including comic strips, dime novels, popular songs, the magic lantern, and theater. More recently, Robert Allen's work has foregrounded the connections between film and vaudeville. Thus, in the nature (technology) vs. nurture (cultural context) debate, these authors have emphasized the cultural determinants.4
The continuities of screen practice offer an alternative to tabula rasa assumptions of a new "medium." At the same time, moments of profound transformation (such as the adaptation of photographic slides or Edison's moving pictures to the screen) allow for new possibilities, for an influx of new personnel, and for disruption and considerable discontinuity. When the screen enters a period of flux, it is particularly receptive to new influences from other cultural forms; it is at such moments that its cultural interconnectedness becomes most apparent and perhaps important. During periods of comparative stability, the screen continues to function in relation to other cultural forms, but because the nature of these connections does not change so drastically, they appear less obvious or are taken as givens. A history of the screen can offer a more fruitful model for analyzing those cultural borrowings that Fell and others rightly see as crucial. Such influences, however, existed before there was cinema. Cinema did not emerge out of the chaos of various borrowings to find its true or logical self: it is part of a much longer, dynamic tradition, one that has undergone repeated transformations in its practice while becoming increasingly central within a changing cultural system.
A history of the screen also helps to define the subject of "pre-cinema." In the past, the boundaries of pre-cinema were limited by preoccupations with technology and invention, and an obvious teleology. Once this framework is demolished pre-cinema loses its specificity; anything that the historian might subsequently consider relevant to our understanding of cinema as a cultural, economic, or social practice becomes a fitting subject of inquiry. Thus, a work such as Michael Chanan's The Dream That Kicks explores the pre-cinema development of photography, music halls, consumption, patent law, and cultural institutionalization.5 While shedding light on the world in which motion pictures "appeared," the book often functions simply as a cultural history of nineteenth-century England. Certainly such history is fascinating and important. Certainly context is crucial. But what is being contextualized? Something that does not yet exist. Simply put, it is a history of screen practice that provides the context with an appropriate object and so gives the field a necessary focus and framework for historical inquiry.
A history of the screen is not new in itself. Historians such as Olive Cook have argued the case of Hopwood and the Optical Magic Lantern Journal—that cinema is an extension of the magic lantern.6 Unfortunately, they do so by arguing that the invention of the magic lantern is the crucial technological innovation and so the appropriate starting point. Such a starting point is no different from the invention of cinema chosen by most film historians: both begin with a technology, not with a cultural practice; both see the technology as determining practice, not as a component part of this practice. Here the work of Athanasius Kircher (1601–1680), a German-born Jesuit priest and scientist, proves to be crucial. A proper reading of his texts makes it clear that the practical use of screen technology was more important than the technology itself. Furthermore, it was this practice that provided a framework in which technological innovation became possible.
While recent research has clearly shown that Kircher did not invent the magic lantern, his Ars magna lucis et umbrae still occupies a privileged place at the start of the screen's history.7 In the first edition of Ars magna (1646), Kircher described a "catoptric lamp" he used to "project" ("reflect" might be the more accurate word) images onto a wall in a darkened room. While this lamp was an improvement over earlier devices of a similar nature, Kircher's improvements were less important than his militant stance toward the demystification of the projected image. He laid out the apparatus for all to see (at least all who had access to his book), not only through description but by illustration. He also urged practitioners (exhibitors) to explain the actual process to audiences so that these spectators would clearly understand that the show was a catoptric art (involving reflection and optics), not a magical one. Kircher's
argument suggests a decisive starting point for screen practice: when the observer of projected/reflected images became the historically constituted subject we now call the spectator. The history of the pre-screen is therefore concerned with the period before this demystification took place, the period when projecting apparatus were used to manipulate the unsuspecting spectator with mysterious, magical images.
Kircher actually offers a historical section in Ars magna that is a history of the pre-screen thus defined. When such an instrument was used in the time of King Solomon, he points out, the rabbis thought it was magic. And, he adds, "We've read of this art in many histories in which the common multitudes look on this catoptric art to be the workings of the devil." Again and again he warns his readers that in the past these techniques produced "such wonderful spectacle that even those considered philosophers were not infrequently brought under suspicion of being magicians" (pp. 792–794). Since someone practicing the devil's art might suffer torture and a slow death, such accusations were not to be taken lightly.
Kircher's text indicates that the revelation of the technical base of projection to the audience was a necessary condition of screen entertainment. The instrument of projection had to be made manifest within the mode of production itself, so that projected images did not appear as magic but as "art." Images were subsequently described as "lifelike," not as life itself. This demystification, however, cannot be assumed. Into the nineteenth century, mediums used projected images, concealed their source, and claimed these images were apparitions. Indeed, the potential for deception remained an underlying concern of early cinema, which enjoyed an even greater level of technical illusionism. R. W. Paul's The Countryman's First Sight of the Animated Pictures (1901) and Edwin Porter's Uncle Josh at the Moving-Picture Show (1902) spoof the country rube who lacks the cultural framework needed to distinguish an image from real life.
The genesis of the screen coincided with a profound transformation in Western culture, particularly in Holland (where magic-lantern inventor Christiaen Huygens was working), and in England. As Christopher Hill argues, the English Revolution of the 1640s marked the end of the Middle Ages in key areas of English social, economic, and cultural life. The resulting political and social structure was much more open to—and even encouraged—capitalist production. Accompanying this development was an intellectual revolution that moved from proof by authority toward rationalism.8 While the emergence of the screen as a form of entertainment resulted from social and cultural changes often referred to as the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution, it was not merely rapid progress in science and technology that made this emergence possible. As belief in ghosts declined, as witch burnings ceased, the apparent logic and effectiveness of projecting apparatus as instruments of mystical terror also diminished.
The demystification of the screen established a relationship between producer, image, and audience that has remained fundamentally unaltered ever since. Kircher's own description of his primitive (yet amazingly elaborate!) catoptric lamp suggests ways in which continuities of screen practice can be traced to the present day, even though the means and methods of production have been radically altered. The illustration accompanying Kircher's text shows how images were "projected" into a darkened room. Words or other images were etched or painted upside-down and backward onto a mirror. A lenticular glass or lens was placed between the mirror and the wall on which the image was to be thrown. The sun usually provided the necessary illumination, although Kircher claimed that artificial light could be used if necessary. It was possible to use several catoptric lamps at the same time, so that both writing and images appeared on the wall independently yet simultaneously. The images were colored with transparent paints (to "increase the audience's astonishment"). Theaterlike scenes incorporating movement also could be made. Kircher suggested:
Out of natural paper make effigies or images of things that you want to exhibit according to their shape, commonly their profile, so that by the use of hidden threads you can make their arms and legs go up and down and apart in whatever way you wish. With these shapes fastened on the surface of the mirror it will work as before, projecting the reflected light along with the shadow of the image in a dark place (Ars magna, p. 794).
Kircher offered other ways to present moving images: "If you wish to show live flies, smear honey on the mirror and behold how the flies will be projected on the wall through the surface of the mirror with extraordinary size." Finally, objects could be moved using a magnet behind the mirror. Already Kircher emphasized the combination of words and images, the use of color and movement, the possibility of narrative, and the special relationship between theater and the screen that has continued to this day. While the manner in which these fundamental elements were used, as well as the technology that produced them, has changed radically over the intervening three hundred years, their existence within the repertoire of screen entertainment has not.
The inaccuracies generally found in film histories that discuss the magic lantern's origins should come to an end as information presented in H. Mark Gosser's thoroughly researched article on the subject is taken into account.9 By 1659 the Dutch scientist Christiaen Huygens had developed a simple lanterne magique. His key innovation substituted images painted on glass for those etched on mirrors. Instead of reflecting sunlight off the image surface, he used an artificial light source to shine directly through the glass. Although Huygens sketched some skeletons as possible images for projection, he did not exploit the magic lantern for its commercial possibilities. This was first done by Thomas Walgensten, a Danish teacher and lens grinder who lived in Paris during the 1660s. There, he developed his own magic lantern and, by 1664, gave exhibitions. Walgensten subsequently traveled through Europe presenting lantern shows to royalty in Lyons (1665), Rome (mid to late 1660s), and Copenhagen (1670).
In the second edition of Ars tnagna (1671), Kircher described Walgensten's "magic or thaumaturgie lantern" and attempted to illustrate it. He maintained that his own catoptric lamp was the equal of Walgensten's magic lantern: it could "display in lifelike colors all that they are accustomed to show with [Walgensten's] mobile lamp " and "show the same images even when there is no sunlight through a concave mirror" (pp. 768–770). He further insisted that his own shows were actually preferred by audiences. The main difference between the two was "only" the technology.
In discussing this new magic-lantern technology in the second edition of Ars magna, Kircher was much less concerned with the demystification of projected images than with issues of narrative. Referring to his own use of the catoptric lamp, he wrote, "At our college we are accustomed to exhibiting new pictures to the greatest wonder of the audience. Indeed, it is most worthwhile seeing, for with its aid whole satiric scenes, theatrical tragedies, and the like can be shown in a lifelike way." The magic lantern, however, performed these same tasks more efficiently: it became much easier for the exhibitor to present a succession of images that could be used for storytelling purposes. With the magic lantern, a long glass slide containing eight discrete scenes could be passed between the light source and the lens, one image at a time, as in the Ars magna illustration. The enlarged images appeared on the screen: "Whence it is obvious," according to Kircher, "that if you have four or five such parallelograms, each of which repeats different images, you can display whatever you wish in a dark room" (pp. 768–770).
Telling a story with a series of images had many precedents, including illustrated books and wall paintings, and these provided suitable models for early screen practitioners. Even in these early stages, the screen was used to present two quite different
types of material. If Kircher enjoyed presenting satirical scenes and theatrical tragedies, his fellow Jesuit Andreas Tacquet used a catoptric lamp to give an illustrated lecture about a missionary's trip to China.10 Fictional narratives and documentary programs were part of the screen's repertoire from the outset.
Although Kircher has been faulted for not emphasizing the differences between the magic lantern and his own catoptric lamp, he may not have fully realized the implications of this new technology. He probably lacked the firsthand experience with the magic lantern which might have convinced him that the Huygens and Walgensten apparatus were much more flexible, efficient, and inexpensive than his own.11 The magic lantern liberated screen practitioners from the elaborate setups and specialized rooms of Kircher's college or other select sites. At the same time, certain effects that Kircher achieved with his catoptric lamp were no longer possible with Walgensten's magic lantern (the magnet technique, the use of live flies). Like later technological improvements, this one created new possibilities but also eliminated old ones.
The second edition of Kircher's Ars magna offered not only an explanation of the magic lantern but new descriptions of other optical devices, notably a peephole viewer he called the "Magia Catoptrica," with which a spectator could see "the same things projected by the lantern." Eight scenes were painted on a circle of glass that the spectator revolved so as to bring a succession of images to the eyepiece, which
made the images seem larger. "I usually show the Lord's passion in this way, as figure KL shows," remarked Kircher. "This method can also be used to show any story painted in the sections of the glass" (p. 771). The two instruments shared many elements—including subject matter—but had distinctive qualities as well. One encouraged collective viewing, the other private spectatorship and voyeuristic satisfaction. These two ways of seeing images were to produce closely related, overlapping practices that paralleled each other throughout the period covered by this volume.
The magic lantern provided a technological leap that made possible the new era of traveling exhibitions heralded by Walgensten. According to Kircher, Walgensten not only traveled with his lantern but sold a number of similar devices to Italian princes. After the initial period of novelty, however, the magic lantern passed from the hands of royalty into those of common showmen. These exhibitors were soon touring Europe, presenting their entertainments at fairs—a pattern of exhibition that continued into the twentieth century.12
An emerging capitalism had little apparent use for the magic lantern during the first hundred years after its invention. Olive Cook's research suggests that many eighteenth-century lantern shows presented versions of miracle plays that were many centuries old. This budding form kept alive a folk culture that was marginalized by those very changes within society that, paradoxically, had made possible screen entertainments. X. Theodore Barber has shown that "Magick Lanthorn" exhibitions were given periodically in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston from the 1740s onward, usually in homes, coffeehouses, or commerical establishments.13 When John Brickell gave his show at Mr. Pacheco's Ware-House in Martfield Street, it included
upwards of 30 humorous and entertaining Figures, larger than Men or Women; at the Rising Sun, the Friendly Travelers, the Pot Companions, the blind Beggar of Gednal Green and his Boy, the merry Piper dancing a Jigg to his own dumb Musick, the courageous Fencing Master, the Italian
New York Evening Post, 8 September 1746">
Mountebank or famous infallible Quack, the Man riding on a Pig with his Face toward the Tail, the Dutchman scating on the Ice in the midst of Summer; with a great variety of other Figures equally diverting and curious, too tedious to mention. (New York Evening Post, 8 September 1746)
It was only in revolutionary France that the screen's possibilities were first effectively exploited—both ideologically and commercially—by the newly victorious bourgeoisie. In particular, Étienne Gaspar Robert (Robertson) was giving fantasmagorie (magic-lantern) performances at the Pavilon d'Échiquier in Paris by 1799, at the high point of the Revolution. Three years later he began to present his shows at a former Capuchin convent.
Robertson's exhibitions reflected the anticlerical outlook of the Revolution while exploiting the Capuchin convent's residual associations of sacredness to create a mood of uneasy fear in the spectators, who filed through a series of narrow passageways into the main chapel, where the performances took place. By showtime, Robertson wrote in his memoirs, "everybody had a serious, almost mournful expression on their faces and spoke only in whispers."14 He then appeared and directed some preliminary remarks to his audience:
That which is about to happen before your eyes, messieurs, is not frivolous spectacle; it is made for the man who thinks, for the philosopher who likes to lose his way for an instant with Sterne among the tombs.
This is a spectacle which man can use to instruct himself in the bizarre effects of the imagination, when it combines vigor and derangement: I speak of the terror inspired by the shadows, spirits, spells and occult work of the magician: terror that practically every man experienced in the young age of prejudice and which even a few still retain in the mature age of reason (Robertson, Mémoires, vol. 1 [Paris, chez l'auteur et Librarie de Wurtz, 1831], pp. 278–279).
Robertson's remarks played on the simultaneous realization that the projected image was only an image and yet one that the spectator believed was real.15
After Robertson completed his extended speech, the lights were extinguished and the mood heightened still further by sound effects (rain, thunder, and chimes sounding the death toll). An apparition approached the spectators until they were ready to scream—at which point it disappeared. This was followed by a series of sad, serious, comic, gracious, and fantastic scenes (the adjectives are Robertson's). Some pandered to the audience's political sentiments. In one, Robespierre left his tomb, wanting to return to life (as the sans-culottes had wished soon after his execution). Lightning struck and reduced the "monster" and his tomb to powder. After the elimination of this "spectre of the Left," images of the cherished dead were shown: Voltaire, Lavoisier, Rousseau, and other heroes of the bourgeoisie (pp. 283–284). In this "Age of Reason," magic was secularized and turned into a source of entertainment, with a church functioning as an exhibition site.
Fantasmagorie/phantasmagoria exhibitors developed elaborate methods for creating effects and motion. Slides were projected from behind the screen, with several different lanterns used simultaneously to produce a composite image. A large stationary lantern often displayed a background on which figures projected from smaller lanterns could move. Operators of these small lanterns roamed about behind the screen to change the relative size and position of their images. The operator even controlled the intensity of light: when he approached the screen, the amount of projected light was reduced so the image would not brighten. Obviously, elaborate coordination and skilled technicians were needed to give a successful exhibition. By contrast, glass images for such exhibitions could be produced by a solitary painter. These production methods are almost the reverse of modern screen entertainments, where exhibition requires one (largely unskilled) projectionist, but production requires the coordination of many skilled artists and technicians. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, each show was unique, having much in common with a stage performance, but by the beginning of the sound era, screen exhibitions were completely standardized. Exploring the transformation of these production practices during the period between 1800 and 1930 is a crucial task for screen historiography and the "film" historian.
Robertson's exhibitions established a sophisticated, adult, urban audience for theatrical lantern entertainments. The Industrial Revolution begun in England and the political revolution in France ensured the rapid spread of similar productions. Robertson later complained that his many imitators presented their shows across Europe without offering him financial compensation. Paul de Philipsthal gave phantasmagoria performances in London from October 1801 through April 1803, then in Edinburgh. Barber reports that a "tremendous spectacle of Phantasmagory" was given at a covered rotunda at Mount Vernon Garden in New York City. Screenings occurred three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings) at eight o'clock from late May through early June 1803. The New York Chronicle Express reported that these shows featured phantoms that "appear at a great distance, and become gradually larger, and at last disappear from the spectator" (30 June 1803). Showmen Bologna and Tomlinson, claiming to have previously entertained enthusiastic crowds in London, gave what they called the first phantasmagoria exhibition in the United States at the City Hotel in New York City on 7 November 1803. The partners advertised their phantasmagoria thus:
Wonderful display of Optical Illusions. Which introduces the Phantoms, or Apparitions of the Dead and Absent, in a way more completely illusive, than has ever yet been witnessed, as the objects freely originate in the air, and unfold themselves under various forms, and sizes such as imagination alone has hitherto painted them, occasionally assuming a figure and most perfect resemblance of the heroes and other distinguished characters of past and present times. This Spectrology professes to expose the practices of artful imposters and exorcists, and to open the eyes of those who still foster an absurd belief in Ghosts or Disembodied Spirits (New York Evening Post, 4 November 1803, p. 3).16
The phantasmagoria was included in a three-part lantern show along with the "Skia-graphic" and "Brilliancies of Perrico." These latter two were apparently more traditional lantern shows with the equipment located in front of the stage. The skiagraphic included scenes of an African forest and an "extensive view of the Western Ocean, storms arise, calms succeed, cloudy and serene skies alternately, ships in different
situations of sailing; after which an Atlantic Hurricane and shipwreck." The Magician; or, the Metamorphie Grotto of Merlin was a trick subject that showed "the wonderful changes of the place, and transmigration of its numerous objects." The French Cook; or, Confusion in an English Hotel was a short comedy.
Bologna and Tomlinson, charging one dollar for admission, promised an evening that "will prove highly interesting to the spectator, and give more general satisfaction than any species of Entertainment hitherto offered in this, or any other country." Unfortunately, as the New York Evening Post reported on 8 November, their debut was marred by difficulties, "part of the Machinery having been badly constructed through the hurry of the first representations" (p. 3). By the second showing, two days later, these problems were solved, and with adults soon charged fifty cents and children admitted at half price, their performances continued, shifting to the Union Hotel in December.
Bologna and Tomlinson may have soon returned to England, for the phantasmagoria did not debut in other American cities until somewhat later. Bostonians could not see the phantasmagoria until 18 June 1804, when a Mr. Bates performed at the Columbian Museum. His program, as reported in the Boston Gazette of 28 June 1804, included the following projections: "The Æriel Progression of Old Father Time—A Female Spirit, rising from the Tomb—The King of Terror—The Ghost and Hamlet—Washington—The President of the United States—A Bust of Dr. Franklin—An Egyptian Pigmy Idol, which instantaneously changes to a Human Skull." It was preceded by The World as It Goes; or, A Touch at the Times, a medley written and performed by Bates, consisting of character sketches, whimsical anecdotes, and comic songs. The evening concluded with Chinese fireworks. Admission was fifty cents. In the view of one enthusiastic critic:
The novel performance created a very surprising and pleasing effect; as the objects diminished on the eye of the spectator in an inconceivable and wonderful manner. Some of the Figures, indeed did not seem so perfect as others; the most particularly effective and striking were those of Time, a Female Spirit, Hamlet, Washington, and the Bust of Franklin; all of which formed striking resemblances of the objects they were intended to represent, and received general plaudits of approbation, and as we are given to understand, Mr. Bates had no direct model to frame the exhibition from—but formed it entirely from conjecture and surmise, we highly commend his ingenuity and trust (on repetition of the performance) he will, for public liberality, receive its recompense (Independent Chronicle [Boston], 21 June 1804, p. 2).
Bates was apparently an American moving into a European-dominated practice. As Charles Pecor has demonstrated, the phantasmagoria quickly became a popular form of amusement, presented in such cities as Philadelphia (by April 1808), Baltimore, Providence, Cincinnati, Savannah, and Lexington.17
One of the most successful early exhibitors operating in the United States was a Mr. Martin, who gave his first American show at Boston's newly rebuilt Columbian Museum in early December 1806. His programs included the "Merry Dance and Balancing, on the Slack Rope, by an Automaton, representing a natural Boy of 5 years of age" and "curious experiments on the various gases—viz—Vital, Combustible and Mephitical.18 The phantasmagoria performance then began, including a scene from Romeo and Juliet in which the two lovers "appear dying as in reality." It ended with:
FROLIC DANCING and Multiplication of WITCHES. By this extraordinary and magical illusion, one Phantom will multiply to an innumerable number of them, in such a manner that the whole room will appear full of these extraordinary dancers (Boston Gazette, 29 December 1806, p. 3).
Like Bates, Martin made the lantern only one part of a multifaceted program and likewise embraced a wide variety of subject for his phantasmagoria performances. Their use of the museum as a venue would be continued by many exhibitors (ultimately including those showing film) in the years ahead.
Martin's performance was applauded for its novelty, and his transparencies were considered "superior to any thing of the kind, ever exhibited in this country."19 Within six weeks, this "celebrated artist of the théâtre de la Nouveauté in Paris" experienced what may have been the first projector-related fire in American screen history, destroying both his apparatus and the museum. Six people were killed and the damage was estimated at twenty thousand dollars.20 Destitute, Martin advertised in the paper for a loan that would enable him to acquire a new outfit. The plea may
have been successful, for he was exhibiting again by April 1808 and subsequently performed in New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Baltimore. While at this last city in 1811, Martin offered his equipment for sale and probably retired from the peripatetic life of a showman.
Europe continued to be the center of magic-lantern activity. In England, Henry Langdon Childe devoted his entire life to giving magic-lantern shows after having started his career as a painter for Paul de Philipsthal in 1802. By the 1830s he had developed and perfected the technique of "dissolving views," in which one picture faded out as the next one faded in. The images were aligned on the screen and the light remained at a constant intensity, creating a smooth, gradual transition. This permitted a wide variety of effects that had not previously been possible.21 The magic lantern was also enhanced after Sir Goldsworthy Gurney developed a new illuminant—limelight—in 1822. A flame created by applying a mixture of oxyhydrogen gas to a small cylinder of lime was first used in 1826 for lighthouses but was quickly adopted by showmen. Most equipment and hand-painted slides continued to be imported into the United States from England and France.
By the 1820s, magic-lantern exhibitions were frequently a part of programs offered at museums like Peale's Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts at 252 Broadway in New York City.22 In 1825–1826, Eugène Robertson, the son of Étienne Gaspar Robertson, visited the United States and attracted wide attention with his balloon ascents. During his stay, he also gave phantasmagoria exhibitions accompanied by scientific demonstrations and hydraulic experiments. He offered similar exhibitions on a return trip in 1834.23 Such presentations were common through the 1840s and later.
The development of photography did not give lanternists immediate access to projected photographic images: this had to wait for the development of the albumen and collodion processes in the late 1840s. These new techniques enabled a photographic image to adhere to a glass surface, whereas previous methods (daguerreotypes and talbotypes) had used either a silver-plated copper surface or paper as a base. When John A. Whipple and William B. Jones of Boston patented an albumen process (using egg whites as an adhering agent) in June 1850, they had been using it for several years. The Langenheim brothers, William and Frederick, who had also been working with the albumen process, played an important role in the introduction of photographic lantern slides.24
During the 1840s, the Langenheims facilitated the introduction of several new photographic processes into the United States. Interested in the paper photography developed by William Henry Fox Talbot, they became its exclusive agents in the United States. While licensing the talbotype process was not commercially rewarding, the venture encouraged them to adopt and to improve the albumen process. Employing glass as a support for the emulsion, the Langenheims began making photographic lantern slides, for which they claimed:
The new magic-lantern pictures on glass, being produced by the action of light alone on a prepared glass plate, by means of the camera obscura, must throw the old style of magic-lantern slides into the shade, and supersede them at once, on account of the greater accuracy of the smallest details which are drawn and fixed on glass from nature, by the camera obscura, with a fidelity truly astonishing. By magnifying these new slides through the magic lantern, the representation is nature itself again, omitting all defects and incorrectness in the drawing which can never be avoided in painting a picture on the small scale required for the old slides (Art-Journal [London], April 1851, p. 106).
By 1851 they were exhibiting slides at London's Crystal Palace Exhibition, where these "hyalotypes" received extensive praise. Subjects included buildings and landmarks in Philadelphia (United States Custom House, Pennsylvania State Penitentiary), Washington (Smithsonian, the Capitol), and New York (Croton aqueduct) as well as portraits of well-known Americans. These were mounted in rectangular wooden frames that measured 3⅝ × 6⅞ inches with a 2¾- or 3-inch circular opening for the image. From the outset, many of these stereopticon slides, which cost four to five dollars apiece, were hand-colored. For a tour of South America in 1852, Frederick Langenheim used such slides in a four-part program that included "1. Views of Niagara Falls; 2. Interesting Views of the United States and other countries of the world; 3. Microscopic Views magnified two thousand times; 4. Magical and Comical Pictures."25
In 1850 the Langenheims also introduced the stereoscope into the United States. This peephole-viewing instrument owed its immense popularity to the illusion of depth that was created when the spectator looked at two pictures of an object, each taken from a slightly different perspective. These stereo views were often transfer printed onto ground glass so the spectator could hold them up to the light. Since the Langenheims and other dealers sold both stereoscopic views and lantern slides, they often cut the double images in half and projected individual slides with a magic lantern. Because these slides were so frequently used in the lantern, Americans often called the projector of photographic slides a "stereopticon."26
P. E. Abel and T. Leyland exhibited the Langenheims' slides at the Concert Hall in Philadelphia on 22 December 1860, calling their magic lantern a "stereopticon." Images from Europe and North America were shown—initially without a lecturer, though one was soon added. The rapidly approaching Civil War distracted potential patrons, and the stereopticon closed after twelve weeks, only to reopen in Boston on 8 July 1861. Chemist John Fallon of Lawrence, Massachusetts, developed an improved stereopticon and exhibited it with considerable success in the 1860s. Leyland supervised the Brooklyn, New York, debut of this "scientific wonder of the age" at the Atheneum on 14 April 1863. Although audiences were embarrassingly small at first, the city's leading citizens (including Mayor Martin B. Kalbfleisch and Charles J. Sprague) urged Fallon and Leyland to remain "so that all may enjoy its beauties and profit by its instructions." It ultimately ran almost continuously for six weeks, with a twenty-five-cent admission fee. The evening debut consisted of "a choice selection of landscapes, architectural views and sculptures gathered from travels in the most illustrious parts of Europe, Asia and our own country," and one reviewer suggested that "you can imagine yourself borne away on the enchanted carpet of the Arabian tale, and brought where you can look down upon the veritable Paris, and Rome, and Egypt." Leyland soon made almost daily program changes, devoting each illustrated lecture to a specific country or region: "Great Britain," "France," "Switzerland and the Rhine," and "Italy." For another popular program, the "wall photographer" exhibited photographs of statuary. These evening shows—with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at reduced fee—reportedly were "attended by the learned and scientific portion of society as well as others." For the last ten days of its run, Fallon's stereopticon was presented under the auspices of the Central Congregational Sunday School.27
While strong ties between the stereopticon and the cultural elite were being forged in Brooklyn, P. T. Barnum hastened to appropriate the invention for his own amusement purposes in Manhattan. On 4 May 1863, the "Great English Stereopticon" opened as the principal attraction at his American Museum with "photographic views of scenery, celestial and animated objects, buildings, portraits, &c, &c." For this "new pleasure," which Barnum claimed to have cost thousands of dollars, "the picture stands out upon a curtain with the same perspective that is seen in nature, and thousands of people can see it at the same time."28 After two weeks, the stereopticon was being shown between acts of Dion Boucicault's drama Fauvrette.
Fallon's "great work of art, the stereopticon" opened in Manhattan on 15 June at Irving Hall, where it ran for five weeks. Returning the following May, the showman gave exhibitions every evening (with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays) for seven weeks. His collection included one thousand slides, and programs changed each week. The return engagement commenced with "Celebrated Places and Statuary," which included portraits of various Union Army generals. A subsequent screening offered local views—images of New York harbor, a recent fair, and the new Worth Monument.29 The final week was devoted to a program on the war, "The Army of the Potomac," which used photographs taken by Alexander Gardner, the official photographer for the army of the Potomac, and a corps of his associates. Advertisements announced:
The views illustrate the army from the first battle of Bull Run up to its present position under the commands of Gen. McDowell, Gen. McCellan, Gen. Burnside, Gen. Hooker, Gen. Meade and Lieut. Gen. Grant are vouched for by all our generals, and bring the battle fields, their incidents and localities, before us in the most faithful and vivid manner, each view being reproduced on a canvas covering a surface of over 600 square feet (New York Daily Tribune, 27 June 1864, p. 3).
The journalistic praise accorded the stereopticon evokes the amazement that greeted the first screen images and anticipates the later enthusiasm for the novelty of projected motion pictures. "The dead appear almost to speak; the distant to overcome space and time and be close and palpable," noted the New York Tribune. When Professor Cromwell acquired Fallon's stereopticon and returned to New York City in the late 1860s, a publicist wrote:
It will be seen that the [stereopticon] exhibition differs from the exhibition of painting [on glass], in that it presents us with a literal transcription of the actual, heightened into all the beauty and effect of the chiaro obscuro, by the combination of optical laws so feebly hinted at in the Magic Lantern. Stereoscopic Pictures are placed before us which are the exquisite shadows of the photograph, freighted with all the minute details of the subject as it really exists, not a flat monochromatic shadow, but a rounded, glowing picture, thrown up into splendid relief with all its marvelous accuracy magnified, all its tints preserved, and the whole character, subtle and sublime of the existing thing itself, reproduced in a splendid shaft of artificial life, so that for the moment, we seem to be looking at bold picturesque facts and not ingenious and shadowy fancies (A Guide to Cromwell's Stereopticon, introduction by A. C. Wheeler [New York, ca. 1869], p. 8).
Audiences, accustomed to projected images painted on glass, were overwhelmed by the realism of life-size photographs on the screen.
The shift from painted images to photography was one aspect of the complex transformation of screen practice occurring shortly after midcentury. Before the stereopticon, the screen had been strongly associated with the phantasmagoria's mystery and magic. In the minds of a growing group of enthusiasts, the application of photography to projection provided the lantern with a new scientific basis. Photographic slides not only enhanced the lifelike quality of the screen image but offered a much more accurate record of reality. For popular scientific demonstrations, reality itself was often projected on the screen via specially constructed slides in which small living insects were able to move about. Professor Henry Morton designed "Refraction; or, Prisms and Lenses," his February 1866 illustrated lecture at Philadelphia's Academy of Music, as much for its aesthetic effect as for the information it conveyed:
A little aquarium containing living fish and plants was placed in the lantern, and an immense image thrown upon the screen. Salt water was then poured into the aquarium, as it gradually mixed with the fresh, it refracted the light at all surfaces of contact, thus producing beautiful, changing, cloud-like shadows on the screen, and also causing a great commotion among the frightened fish, lizards, &c., which greatly amused the audience to see their singular acrobatic and gymnastic evolutions and contortions (Philadelphia Photographer 3 , p. 119).
The technique Kircher had used to show "live flies ' was thus resurrected in a new form. Crystals, leaves, and microscopic materials were also commonly shown, usually sandwiched between two pieces of glass.30
Photography provided the first key element of standardization in screen practice. With the ability to make multiple copies of a single image, slide producers now had a process of manufacture that was much more efficient than hand painting, and this development was accompanied by corresponding advances in lithography, which was also used to make lantern-slide images. Multiple photographic images could be smaller than painted slides yet provided greater detail and were much cheaper to produce. Lanterns could be scaled down, made more portable, and sold for less. Screen practitioners had begun to adopt methods of industrial manufacture.
Slide production and exhibition increasingly became specialized, independent branches of an industry whose relations were characterized by the maturing system of capitalism. Until after the Civil War, magic lanterns and slides were only one line of goods sold by the optical trade. John McAllister opened a Philadelphia shop dealing in optical goods in 1796. Renamed McAllister & Brother when it was taken over by his grandsons (W. Y. and T. H.) in 1855, the enterprise became the country's first major dealer in lanterns. In 1865, T. H. McAllister moved to New York City and set up his own business, which came to specialize in lanterns, slides, and related supplies. By the 1880s, McAllister was best known for its calcium-light lanterns, which cost between $100 and $450.31 T. H. McAllister would subsequently deal in motion-picture projectors and films as well.
In 1850 Daniel H. Briggs of Abington, Massachusetts, found himself painting slides for his own lectures, then a common practice. Fellow exhibitors were soon buying his highly regarded slides, and the demand for these hand-painted glass images became greater than he could supply. In 1853 he learned of the collodion process developed by Frederick Archer and adopted it as a way to increase the efficiency of his production. He prospered and moved to Norton, Massachusetts, where his son, Casper W. Briggs, assumed active management of the slide business in 1868. Exhibition was forgotten and the focus placed on manufacture and sales.
C. W. Briggs moved his business to Philadelphia in 1872 and two years later purchased the Langenheims' business when William died and Frederick retired. The Briggs firm, which remained the dominant American slide producer through World War I, specialized in drawings that were then photographed and usually hand-tinted. Among the many artists employed by the firm, the best known was Joseph Boggs Beale, who had established a reputation as a magazine illustrator. From about 1890 to 1917 he made roughly 1,800 drawings, or an average of less than two a week. Beale's biographer, Terry Borton, indicates that approximately six hundred images were of historical events (recent or past), focusing on subjects like the American Revolution or the Boer War. Another six hundred slides were religious. Others were made for secret societies or emphasized temperance themes or comic incidents. Many of these images reworked and evoked well-known paintings, such as Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851), but most were original, based on art direction provided by Briggs. The addition of color was often critical to these slides' visual effect, although the manner of execution varied widely according to the range of tints employed, as well as the talents and care of the colorists. Briggs had a
dozen women working on the slides, which were often passed down the line, with each woman specializing in a different color.32
Beale's slides embody a strong presentational approach. In illustrating a narrative, Beale selected melodramatic high points and drew them with heightened emotional effect and gestures. This is evident in a twelve-slide rendering of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven," which he made around 1890. The series is theatrical in style: the character's posture and gestures recall a histrionic acting tradition, while the entire tale unfolds within the confines of one setlike room. The "fourth wall," where the spectator is supposedly sitting, is never shown; the foreground remains empty; and a proscenium arch is likewise suggested. Nevertheless, the viewpoint offered the spectator is a mobile one. The perspective shifts, "moving in" and "panning" from right to left for the first three slides and "pulling back" for the fourth. This spatial instability creates a mood of unease and disorientation well suited to the poem. It also sets up the next slides, in which specters appear. Specifically the progressions from slides four to five and then from seven through ten retain single perspectives and display excellent continuity. By dissolving from one view to the next, the exhibitor could thus create a particularly haunting succession of images.
A reading of Poe's poem was meant to accompany these images, and lines suggesting the cues on which to "cut" were placed along the edge of each slide. The reader who compares the images to the text will note that the slides of specters are projected in quite rapid succession in comparison with the others. The passage of time is suggested by the interaction of verse and image, with the text perhaps dominant. Individual exhibitors would have varied these impressions through the pace of verbal delivery and successive slides, or might have more fundamentally determined them by dropping lines and rearranging or even repeating slides. Temporality, however, is underdeveloped—suggested or indicated by this string of frozen moments rather than rendered continuously in some analogous or verisimilar form.
Philadelphia functioned as the center of the American photographic and lantern-slide industries for several decades. Optician Lorenzo J. Marcy, for example, patented a series of improvements on the magic lantern in the late 1860s, then moved from Newport, Rhode Island, to Philadelphia. There he marketed his sciopticon, a double-wick lantern that burned kerosene oil and generated a stronger light (as much as ten times the brilliance) than previous oil-burning projectors. Small and inexpensive (forty-five dollars), it enjoyed considerable popularity. Other Philadelphia lantern and slide dealers included M. F. Benerman and Edward L. Wilson, T. J. Harbach, and the optician Sigmund Lubin. Lubin established his business in 1882. Within five years he had fourteen employees and a reputation as a "sharp, shrewd businessman." On more than one occasion he was in court contesting a claim. Although he went bankrupt in the late 1880s, he managed to recover and eventually assumed a prominent role in the motion-picture industry.33
French and English lantern suppliers had a large share of the American market. In 1874, Benerman & Wilson acquired the American agency for Levy & Company, a French firm whose photographic slides were considered among the best in the world. These images were almost exclusively actuality scenes of various sights throughout the world. To promote them, Wilson wrote and published a series of "lantern journeys"—lectures that could either accompany the slides or be read while privately examining the corresponding stereoscopic views. Levy slides cost a dollar each, while others sold for as little as seventy-five cents (before discounts). A one-hundred-dollar outfit with sciopticon and one hundred slides was meant to "enable everybody to go into the exhibition business." Benerman & Wilson also published the Magic Lantern, one of the country's earliest trade journals for lantern enthusiasts. It was started in September 1874 by partner and chief editor Edward L. Wilson, who was already editor of the Philadelphia Photographer.34
Although New York City was of only secondary importance in the lantern world, it claimed several noteworthy enterprises. Besides T. H. McAllister, E. and H. T. Anthony prospered as producers and dealers in stereoscopic views and lantern slides. Charles B. Kleine opened a small optical firm in 1865 and soon was selling stereopticons. Two sons followed him into the business, including future movie producer George Kleine, who moved to Chicago and opened the Kleine Optical Company in 1893.35 By then, Chicago had become another important commercial center in the "optical trade," serving as a distribution point for the sale of lanterns and slides throughout the Midwest.
Although early screen practices varied, all methods shared certain underlying characteristics in terms of both production and exhibition. As one approach, manufacturers produced negatives or lithographic masters from which they could make large quantities of slides. Reliance on photography became more pronounced after the late 1870s with the introduction of factory-coated gelatin plates, which further reduced the cost of manufacturing slides and increased the sensitivity of emulsions. Exhibitors bought these slides either individually or in sets. Having selected the images, they sequenced the slides and then projected them with an accompanying lecture, music, and perhaps even sound effects. Using another approach, lantern exhibitors frequently made their own slides, either by photography or by painting on glass. Photographers such as J. W. Bryant supplemented their regular income with evening lantern shows. In an article titled "How I Push the 'Show' Business," Bryant reported:
At the beginning of winter I commenced preparing for the lantern entertainments, and although I employ three assistants, and work constantly in the [photography] gallery myself, I am making more clear money from the evening entertainments than from my regular business.
In addition to the slides obtained from [Benerman & Wilson], I make slides of my best negatives, being careful to take those best known and most respected. My experience is, there is nothing that pleases better than portraits of persons well known by the audience. I also display outdoor pictures, taken of scenery, public buildings, and private residences, which I have taken in and around this city; in short, anything I can get of a local character (Magic Lantern, April 1875, p. 9).
Like many showmen, Bryant hired an advance man who booked engagements for him at Sunday schools, churches, lodges, societies, and public schools.
In the selection and juxtaposition of images, which is a key aspect of the process we now call editing, exhibitors could impose different degrees of continuity and discontinuity. As photographic slides became more widely used, their organization relied less on principles of diversity and variety and more on what one commentator called "the continuous plan":
The continuous plan is liked best. By that we mean the arranging of your exhibition into one or more parts, and so connecting the pictures that they are made to illustrate some one subject continuously. The old-fashioned, spasmodic, hitchy way, of showing first a view of Paris, say, then a comic slide, and then a scripture scene, and then another Paris view, and so on, is without interest. You should interest your audience at once, and then keep up the interest. You would grow very tired if you were travelling, and had to jump out and change cars every mile or two. You want to keep on—the scene to change, yet all the time working towards the completion of some interesting story or journey (Magic Lantern Journal, February 1875, p. 7).
Spatial continuities became important in the later part of the nineteenth century. Surviving documentation, some as early as 1860, indicates that in sequencing photographic views, practitioners were often preoccupied with the creation of a spatial world.36 As travel lectures became more elaborate, they often placed the traveler/photographer within the space constructed by a narrative. Thus, spatial relations between the slides—such as cut-ins, exterior/interior, point-of-view, and shot/counter-shot—became codified within the framework of the travel genre. Edward Wilson's lectures from the mid 1870s to the mid 1880s indicate frequent dissolves from exterior to interior and continued spatial references on a reduced scale: "We are looking in the opposite direction from our last picture" is a typical remark. The later travel lectures of John Stoddard, who was active in the 1880s and 1890s, included shots of the traveler/lecturer in his railway car that were intercut with scenes of the countryside through which he was traveling. In some instances, the spectator saw Stoddard in his car, then saw what he had seen out the window. Such connections between images were usually made explicit through the lecture.37
The lanternists' preoccupation with the faithful duplication of reality and the creation of a seamless spatial world remained limited, however, and disparate mimetic techniques were routinely juxtaposed in the course of a program. Lithographic and photographic slides, for example, were frequently integrated into one program. In travel lectures like Stoddard's program on Japan, actuality material and studio photographs were combined in the same sequence.38 This syncretism might even occur within the same slide. Slide producers often placed actors against sets that combined real objects and objects painted on the backdrop; sometimes the actors were shot against a white background and the milieu subsequently drawn in. When the opportunity later arose, these showmen did not hesitate to juxtapose moving and static images.
In the eyes of spectators and critics, the exhibitor, not the slide producer, was the author. It was the presenter's role that shaped the material, and as with John Stoddard, it was his art that the newspapers reviewed. Stoddard delivered his first lecture, without illustrations, at a Boston church in the spring of 1877, but two years later, he started his professional career with illustrated talks on St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Spain. His second "season," 1880-1881, with its elaborately illustrated account of the recent passion-play performance in Oberammergau, Germany, established him as a prominent lecturer. By the following season he was playing all major
cities from Chicago to Boston and receiving $250 a lecture. For many years he was content to purchase his slides from Levy & Company and other dealers, but eventually he began surveying the firm's collection in advance and then hired local photographers to take special views that he needed and he alone could use. While his programs during the 1880s were limited to Europe and the Mediterranean, in 1890 he traveled through Mexico and in 1891 went around the world. By 1893–1894 he was giving a five-part course of lectures that included two sessions on Japan, one on China, and two on India.39
The large fraternity of illustrated travel lecturers also included E. Burton Holmes, who would subsequently incorporate motion pictures into his programs. Born into a cosmopolitan Chicago family in 1870, Holmes left school at age sixteen and traveled to Europe with his grandmother. A camera fanatic, he gave his first travel lecture, "Through Europe with a Kodak," before the Chicago Camera Club in 1890. It was a success and was repeated the next year. After traveling to Japan (and meeting Stoddard on the trip), the young man embarked on a professional career, beginning with a lecture at the 350-seat Recital Hall in Chicago on 15 November 1893. As he toured other Midwestern cities, Holmes was applauded for his delivery, the quality of his photographic work, and the beautiful hand-tinting of his slides. The Milwaukee Sentinel judged his presentations "among the treats of the season." "In the first lecture," explained Holmes in the program of his first professional lecture, "the audience is taken to the heart of the Real Japan, far beyond the reach of foreign innovations. The experiences of three Americans on a tramp of over three hundred miles through the interior provinces, are vividly described and illustrated." Oscar Depue, then working for a Chicago supplier of optical goods, was hired to project the slides at Recital Hall; he subsequently remained as the lecturer's full-time operator and longtime associate. By the 1895—1896 season Holmes had a full course of five programs just like Stoddard.40
As the documentary tradition matured in the era between Reconstruction and the Spanish-American War, the travel lecture provided the dominant paradigm. From within the travel genre, however, there emerged examples of what we would now call ethnographic programs, such as "Land of the Eskimos," delivered by Lieutenant Robert Edwin Peary in 1894. These explorations of distant places and seemingly primitive, impoverished peoples were mirrored by an investigation of another group of "others" who lived much closer to home. In 1888 former police reporter Jacob Riis almost single-handedly launched the social-issue screen documentary, which prospers, now primarily on television, to this day. His ground-breaking exhibition, "The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York," made use of new photographic techniques utilizing a flash. It enabled Riis to go into New York City's slums and to capture photographically those people who lived in dark alleyways and basements amid destitution and disease. His illustrated lectures shocked the well-to-do and did much to stimulate the burgeoning movement for social reform. In exploring differences of class, ethnicity, race, and even gender, in focusing on the dislocations between the private and public spheres that were symptomatic of the daily life of the poor, and by conveying a powerful sense of claustrophobia through the succession of enclosing images, Riis challenged the implicit assumption of a metropolitan experience shared by all city dwellers, articulated in previous illustrated lectures on urban life delivered by the Langenheims and their successors.41
Alexander Black of neighboring Brooklyn explored the growing urban landscape of his city in a less disturbing manner. Enjoying an excellent local reputation in the early 1890s, Black became well known for his illustrated lecture sometimes called "Life Through a Detective Camera" and other times "Ourselves as Others See Us." Relying on "instantaneous photography" and hidden camera work, Black constantly reworked the presentation so that audiences would see a different program on return dates. He not only took his own slides but authored Photography Indoors and Out: A Book for Amateurs, which was published by Houghton, Mifflin in 1893. He ultimately distinguished himself from his colleagues by writing, photographing, and presenting a full-length fiction "picture play," Miss Jerry, which premiered in New York City on 9 October 1894.
Unlike Stoddard, Black was committed to an aesthetic of seamless realism. As he subsequently described his achievement in the preface to Miss Jerry (published by Scribners in 1897):
In this triangular partnership between the art of fiction, the art of the tableau vivant and the science of photography, I have sought to test certain possibilities of illusion with the aim always before me, that the illusion should not, because it need not and could not safely be that of photographs from an acted play, nor that of an artist's illustrations, but the illusion of reality. If it is the function of art to translate nature, it is the privilege of photography to transmit nature. Thus, I sought to illustrate art with life (p. ix).
Although Black thought of his exhibition as a kind of play, the camera enabled him to use a wide range of exterior locations. Interiors were generally sets, though real locations were used in at least one instance (the office of Chauncey Depew, president of the New York Central & Harlem River Railroad). For each scene, many stills were usually taken from a single camera position. These were shown on the screen at the rate of three or four a minute with one dissolving into the next, thus providing not
an illusion of motion but an indication of the characters' actions and movements. For his monologue, Black played all the different parts and changed his voice to mimic each character. The enthusiasm that greeted this undertaking encouraged him to produce additional picture plays, including A Capital Courtship, set in Washington, D.C., and Miss America. As Terry Ramsaye has remarked, they anticipated many aspects of the feature film by almost twenty years.42
Although stereopticon lecturers (as well as photographers) were overwhelmingly men and represented the world as they saw and understood it, they directed their exhibitions to mixed-sex audiences. Travel scenes, by focusing on landscapes and local customs, were generally non-erotic and appealed to spectators in non-gender-specific ways. However, the exhibitor often became a strong figure of identification for his audiences. Men commonly saw these authoritative world travelers as individuals to respect and even emulate. Women's admiration not uncommonly turned into infatuation with their matinee idols.
The propriety of illustrated lectures appealed to two important cultural groups in American life. The first was the refined culture associated with Harper's Weekly and polite literature. In the form and ideological attitudes of Stoddard's lectures, one finds the social, cultural, and aesthetic concerns underlying Frederick Olmsted's vision of Central Park in New York: harmony, cultivated sensibility, propriety, genteel elitism.43 It was places like the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's foremost cultural institutions, that most warmly received Stoddard and Black. Black, who had the same agent as Mark Twain—Major James Burton Pond— also exhibited on the Lyceum circuit, which sponsored popular middle-brow cultural events.
The second group that embraced the illustrated lecture consisted of church-based institutions. Churches regularly sponsored cultural events, usually as an alternative to corrupting amusements (melodramas, musicals, and so forth) at the local theater or small-town opera house. They were engaged in a more or less explicit crusade for the souls of the community. Ministers considered the illustrated lecture to be just one of many weapons in their arsenal and frequently presented them. In Orange, New Jersey, the Reverend J. Lester Wells gave a Riis-inspired "flash-light lecture" on "Lower Jersey City and the People's Palace" at the Orange Valley Congregational Church. According to the Orange Chronicle, "He projected upon canvas a series of stereopticon views which graphically portrayed the changes which have been going on in lower Jersey City, showing how the population has almost entirely changed in the past few years, the wealthy moving away and the industrial classes taking their places." Two weeks later, the First German Presbyterian Church in the same town offered a stereopticon lecture on the Worlds Fair and Alaska.44
These two groups did not constitute a monolithic bulkwark of middle-class culture; at various points, genteel culture with its underlying humanistic philosophy was in conflict with the evangelical nature of many Protestant denominations. Yet a deep compatibility was often evident. Alexander Black, for example, periodically delivered his picture plays at church-sponsored events. In the mid 1890s, on the eve of projected motion pictures, it was these two groups that provided the most receptive audiences for screen images. By contrast, producers of popular, urban commercial entertainment rarely employed the stereopticon.
Vaudeville houses seldom hired showmen to project lantern-slide images in their theaters in the mid 1890s. In St. Louis, for example, over a hundred programs for a leading variety theater during the 1870s refer to the magic lantern only twice, for a two-week engagement in November-December 1874, when Professor Schaffher of the Royal Polytechnic in London showed "dissolving views and comic illustrations." Similarly, in Boston during the fall of 1894, stereopticon slides appeared in vaudeville houses only once. At the New Lyceum, reported the Boston Herald, Professor George H. Gies "gave his first presentation in this city of his beautiful art pictures, and to say that they were admired and appreciated but mildly expresses the effect they had upon the audiences. The pictures they presented are exact copies of the originals, and are the most fascinating of paintings." The following fall, projected views in Boston vaudeville houses were advertised only twice. In October, Howard and Emerson "sang a number of descriptive songs illustrated with beautiful dissolving views" at Benjamin F. Keith's theater; two months later, Professor Gies presented "Beautiful Dissolving Views" there. Although New York managers showed greater interest, the increasing use of the stereopticon (particularly for illustrated songs) by vaudeville and popular theater would more or less coincide with their adoption of moving pictures in 1896-1897. In some localities, such as San Francisco, the two forms of screen entertainment made virtually simultaneous appearances.45
The cinema (projected motion pictures) was the culmination of long-standing efforts to present ever more lifelike moving images on the screen. As we have seen, lantern exhibitors had always had an array of procedures for creating movement—whether by projecting shadows of living things or by moving multiple lanterns around behind the screen—but the repertoire of such techniques increased during the nineteenth century. The diverse ways of making images move at midcentury were suggested by Benjamin Pike, Jr.'s, 1848 Catalogue of Optical Goods:
The person who manages the lantern must fasten it to his middle with a leather strap passed through the loop soldered to the back of the lantern, and holding the lantern with one hand adjust the top with the other. He should now go up pretty close to the screen and draw out the tube until the image is perfect, which, of course, will be very small; then walk slowly backward and slide the tube in at the same time to keep the image distinct.
To give motion effect to the images, a variety of movable sliders are made for this purpose, many of which produce very curious appearances; but with the usual sliders the images may be made to travel in a circular, elliptical or other direction by moving the lantern in the corresponding way.… A shivering motion may be given to the images by giving the lantern a sudden shake.… By standing at the bottom of stairs a figure may be made to appear to be going up by giving the lantern a slight angular motion.… In the same way this figure may be made to lie on the floor and rise to a sitting or standing posture (quoted in George Kleine, "Progress in Optical Projection in the Last Fifty Years," Film Index, 28 May 1910, p. 10).
Some slides had levers to make portions of the image move. Rack-and-pinion and pulley systems produced slides that could be rotated without restriction. In one particularly popular comic slide, a rat crawls across a sleeping man and into his open mouth. Chromatropes had design patterns that were rotated using the pulley system.
Panoramic slides were twelve to fourteen inches long and consisted of a single image. They were moved slowly through the slide holder. Dioramic paintings with moving figures had two pieces of glass, "on one of which the scene is painted and the other the figures. The glass containing the figures is moved in a groove, and the figures, vessels, etc., pan across the scene."46 Slip slides allowed an image to be quickly altered. On one such slide of a man's full figure, the head of a pig replaced the human head. As this example suggests, slip slides were generally used to create mystical or comic effects. In 1866 L. S. Beale developed the choreutoscope, a ratchet device with a front shutter that allowed six images of a skeleton to be projected in rapid succession. (See illustration on page 45.) The results suggested a moving image.47 This repertoire of techniques enabled exhibitors with multiple lanterns at their disposal to present elaborate screen narratives.
Photography, with its realistic aesthetic and its scientific basis, seemed incompatible with such methods of image movement. Instead, the search for movement using photographic techniques was directed toward solutions based on the illusion of movement and the persistence of vision. Once again, two Philadelphians from the world of photography came to the fore, both of whom experimented with the presentation of a series of photographs in such a way as to create "moving pictures."48 The first was Coleman Sellers, chief engineer for William Sellers & Company, a manufacturer of machinery and machinists' tools. In 1861 Sellers patented the kinematoscope, an improvement on the stereoscope that showed movement through a succession of images. As he explained in his patent application:
What I aim to accomplish is … to so exhibit stereoscopic pictures as to make them represent objects in motion such as the revolving wheels of machinery, and various motions of the human body, adding to the wonders of that marvelous invention "the stereoscope" a semblance of life that can only come from motion. It is to breathe into the statuelike forms of the stereograph, as it were, the breath of life. It may have occurred to many the possibility of effecting this desirable result, and the "phantasmascope" gives a clue to the manner of accomplishment of it. That is, that it must be done by viewing in succession a series of pictures (taken in different positions of the moving object) with sufficient rapidity to insure the image of one being retained on the retina until the next one is brought into view (Patent No. 31,357, exhibiting stereoscopic pictures of moving objects, issued 5 February 1861).
Although acknowledging his debt to the children's toy that was best known as the zoetrope (i.e., the "phantasmascope"), Sellers concluded that "the pictures should be entirely at rest during the moment of vision or that motion should be in a direction of the line of vision." He designed several instruments that could be used to show such pictures. If simple, repetitive actions such as sawing or rocking were being shown only three different photographs were needed: the two extreme positions and one in between. These could then be shown as a recurring series in a simple drum-like instrument. For complicated actions, he designed a more complex instrument with "the series of pictures [attached] flatwise to an endless band of cloth." The technical state of photography, however, imposed certain limitations on what Sellers could achieve. Lengthy time exposures meant that each shot had to be taken individually and with the subject in static positions.49 Developed at the early stages of the Civil War, the kinematoscope was never marketed commercially.
Some of Coleman Sellers' principles were applied to projection by Henry Renno Heyl in 1870. Once again the intimate relationship between peephole, privatized viewing and group reception within a theatrical context was continued. Improving upon a mechanism that was invented by O. B. Brown of Malden, Massachusetts, Heyl called his modified magic lantern a "phasmatrope." This wheel-like attachment held sixteen photographic slides mounted radially along its outer edge. The pictures
were successively passed along in front of the light source (using an intermittent mechanism and a shutter) with the views repeated as many times as the exhibitor desired. Heyl made at least three series of photographs for his projection device and showed them at the Philadelphia Academy of Music on 5 February 1870, as part of a benefit for the Young Men's Society of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church. According to the program, these included "a representation of little All Right [a popular Japanese acrobat] in a number of his daring feats " and "a characteristic address from Brother Jonathan [the 1870 name for Uncle Sam] to the audience." For this second piece, a series of photographs were taken of an "actor" with his lips in different positions. When these were projected, he appeared to be speaking to the audience. This was accompanied by synchronous dialogue delivered from behind the screen:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are tonight to see for the first time, photographs of persons shown upon a screen by the aid of a magic lantern, the figures appearing to move in most lifelike ways. How this effect is produced we cannot briefly explain, but you will have the evidence of your own eyes to convince you that this new art will rapidly develop into one of the greatest merit for instruction and enjoyment.
This beginning of greater things is not an imported product but it was perfected right here in Philadelphia, where it adds one more to the list of first inventions of real merit that stand to the credit of the City of Brotherly Love.
The photographs were made at 1208 Chestnut Street in the studio of Mr. O. H. Willard, which place may now be well named "The Cradle of the Motion Picture."
Another series of a waltzing couple is the only one to survive. For this, the costumed dancers (Heyl was the man) were photographed in four positions and the photographs were repeated four times to fill out the sixteen slots.50
The phasmatrope provided only one portion of the Academy of Music entertainment, which opened with various stereopticon views of Niagara Falls in winter, Yosemite Valley, and Alpine glaciers, as well as illustrations of the legend of Rip Van Winkle. Magical and comic illusions were created by the phantasmagoria, but tableaux vivants and shadow pantomimes were also among the offerings given for that evening's cultivated program. Although Heyl subsequently claimed that 1,500 paying customers enabled the organizers to clear $350 for the church coffers, he does not appear to have exploited the phasmatrope's commercial potential. A somewhat similar device was developed by the Englishman John Arthur Roebuck Rudge in 1875.51 In all these instances, a series of photographs were shown in rapid succession to create some degree of illusory movement even though the photographs were not taken as part of a continuous series—because they could not be. This important advance in photographic methods was achieved by Eadweard Muybridge.
Eadweard Muybridge was an English-born photographer who settled in the American West during the 1860s.52 He undertook many commissioned works both in his hometown, San Francisco, and on extensive trips to such wide-ranging sites as the Yosemite Valley, Alaska, and Central America. The final product of this work took different forms, including the illustrated lecture. In this respect, the photographer was not unusual—until he was approached by California industrialist Leland Stanford in 1872. Stanford was interested in proving that at one point in a horse's stride all four feet were off the ground, contrary to conventional renderings by painters and the consensus of experts. Photography was to provide the evidence. Muybridge made a series of individual photographs, a few of which were promising, but his work in this area was seriously interrupted by a murder trial (he killed his wife's lover) and self-imposed exile in Central America during most of 1875.
Muybridge's work on photographing horses in motion was resumed in 1877, again under Stanford's sponsorship. A battery of cameras was constructed, but activating the shutter mechanisms proved to be a serious problem. Results were inconsistent. John D. Isaacs, a technical expert for Stanford's Central Pacific Railway, was brought in and designed elaborate electromagnetic shutters for each camera. These were triggered when the horse broke a thread that was stretched across the track in its path and the magnets were connected.53 The photographs were taken against a white background with black vertical lines to delineate the space. Each shot was exposed for approximately 1/500 of a second, and the exposures were separated by approximately 1/25 of a second. Since the exposures were activated by animals snapping the strings, the time between shots was not a standard unit. By June 1878 the system was working smoothly as horses Sallie Gardner and Abe Edgington raced and trotted down the track.
To reap the rewards of this invention, Muybridge delivered the first of many illustrated lectures on the subject at the San Francisco Art Association on 8 July.54 According to the San Francisco Chronicle:
The attendance was not so large as might have been expected, considering the unique manner in which the subject was treated and the ability with which the illustrations were described. The stride of Abe Edgington, and of the still more celebrated trotter Occident, was depicted in a clear manner in ten photographs as each passed a space of ground measuring some 21 feet, at a 2:20 to 2:24 gait, and the strange attitudes assumed by each animal excited much comment and surprise, so different were they from those pictures representing our famous trotters at their full stride. But that which still more aroused astonishment and mirth, was the action of the racer at full gallop, some of the delineations being seemingly utterly devoid of all naturalness, so complex and ungraceful were many of the positions, where on the race track beauty, elegance, and symmetry are all so combined. After showing some of Governor Stanford's celebrated trotting stock, Mr. Muybridge supplemented the equine series by a very pretty set of pictures delineating life and scenes in Central America, concluding with a perfect panorama of San Francisco and the surrounding country. Altogether it was a very pleasant entertainment, and Mr. Muybridge showed himself to be a clever and lucid lecturer on a very difficult subject, while his remarks on the Central American series were humorous and excelled in descriptive powers (9 July 1878, p. 3).
The exhibition focused on various aspects of Muybridge's work. Already the serial images of horses in motion were dissolved on and off the screen with sufficient rapidity to suggest their sequential nature. To emphasize the importance of this work, Muybridge contrasted his photographs with artists' renderings of horses in motion.55 This approach formed the core of a presentation that he would develop over the following years.
During 1878 and 1879, Muybridge's work in serial photography moved forward on several fronts. While continuing to lecture occasionally, he returned to his cameras (increasing their number to twenty-four) and photographed sequences of dogs, deer, oxen, and other animals as they walked or ran along the track. Series were also taken of athletes as they leaped, wrestled, performed somersaults, and ran. Again with Leland Stanford's financial backing and encouragement, Muybridge constructed an elaborate mechanism that was attached to the magic lantern. The machine, initially called the zoogyroscope but eventually renamed the zoopraxiscope, exhibited series of images so as to reconstitute the motion his camera had analyzed. The device projected images on a constantly turning glass wheel, while a disk with series of slits turning in the opposite direction acted as a primitive shutter. Lacking an intermittent mechanism, it was, in this respect at least, less developed than Heyl's phasmatrope. As a result, these circular slides contained not actual photographs but colored, elongated drawings that compensated for the moving shutter. Although the innovations and significance lay in the images rather than in how they were projected, few people were familiar with earlier devices such as Heyl's; it could be argued that in a sense Muybridge actually set back the technology of rapidly projecting successive images.
The zoopraxiscope had its commercial debut at the San Francisco Art Association on 4 May 1880. Admission cost fifty cents, and the exhibition was extended, eventually running over nine days. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "the effect was precisely that of animals running across the screen." Another reviewer declared, "Mr. Muybridge has laid the foundation of a new method of entertaining the people, and we predict that his instantaneous photographic, magic lantern zoetrope will make the round of the civilized world." Other lectures on the West Coast followed, and in the summer of 1881 Muybridge left for Europe, where he gave many wellattended exhibitions of his work.56
Returning to the United States in June 1882, Muybridge gave his well-honed presentation before prestigious American audiences: the Turf Club and the Union League in New York City, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Still the nation's center for photography, Philadelphia extended a particularly warm reception, which led to a resumption of Muybridge's photographic work at the University of Pennsylvania from May 1884 through December 1885. During this period he took approximately two hundred thousand images. Dry plates
replaced the wet-plate collodion system, and a black background with a grid system replaced the earlier white wall. Serial images of an action were commonly taken from several different angles simultaneously. Many focused on human actions and activities that were performed by subjects wearing minimal clothing or none, and while taken for "scientific purposes," these images had a strong erotic component. The results of this work—more than 20,000 figures of moving men, women, children, animals, and birds—were published in 1887 as Animal Locomotion, but they also enabled Muybridge to return to the lecture circuit with new images at his disposal.
One of Muybridge's expanded lectures was given in Orange, New Jersey, on 25 February 1888. Although, as will be seen in chapter 2, it helped to stimulate Thomas Edison into thinking about a new motion-picture system, the evening program addressed much more than technology. According to the Orange Chronicle of 3 March 1888, Muybridge began by analyzing the movements of the horse and comparing them with various paintings, after which "pictures of lions, elephants, camels, rhinocerousses,
buffaloes, tigers, deer, elks, kangeroos, dogs, hogs, and a vast variety of other animals were shown, the law of locomotion being uniform without exception." He then made a strategic move that reflected Darwin's theory of evolution: he presented photographs of scantily clad people, treating them much as he had the animals. The final blow of a fight was shown, as was "a series of pictures of female dancers pirouetting, which called down repeated applause."57
Responses varied among the six hundred spectators, but some were deeply disturbed by the choice of subjects. One patron protested to the Orange Journal:
Yet it may well be asked whether the realm of animated nature does not furnish illustrations of locomotion besides those found in the "sporting world." All that were used on that occasion were taken from the horse as seen on the turf, or man in the ring. At least these were the prominent motions—running, boxing, athletic games—all of which were interesting to those who have a taste for such sports, but not so to many others.
But a more important question is as to the propriety of exhibiting semi-nude human figures to a promiscuous assembly.
Whether the object in view may not be entirely defeated by the shock to the delicate sensibilities.
To be sure, it is said by persons of cultivated taste that a prudish, squeamish shrinking from nudity argues a low grade of intelligence—that nature is always more to be admired than art. But suppose certain persons should undertake to appear in our streets and assemblies in puri naturalibus, could they appeal to artistic taste in arrest of judgment as criminals or lunatics? Yet what better than this is a life size and life like representation of the nude human form, on canvass before a mixed assemblage?
Among savages such exhibitions are entirely natural and expected, but in civilized society they are shocking to the moral sentiment, indecent and demoralizing (3 March 1888, p. 2).
There is little doubt that Muybridge intended to provoke such a reaction from his audiences. Within the framework of refined Victorian culture, he challenged the beliefs of conservative religious groups and established new parameters for discourse: his presentations were subversive not only of traditional assumptions about animal locomotion but of conventional religious and moral wisdom. As one of the screen's many practitioners, Muybridge integrated these moving images into a larger program that had cultural significance far beyond its contribution to the development of motion-picture technology.
Nineteenth-century screen practice evidenced extraordinary vitality in the growing fraternity of producers and exhibitors, the changing methods of production, and the diverse means of representation. There were an increasing number of ways to present movement on the screen, but all were extremely limited in what they could show. As the last decade of the century began, an overall solution to the problem had yet to be found, even though many were working on the challenge: Louis Le Prince, William Friese-Greene, Ottomar Anschütz, Étienne-Jules Marey, and finally, Thomas Edison. Although this goal—what we now call "the cinema" or projected motion pictures—was readily achievable once more sensitive photographic emulsions and flexible celluloid film became available, it did not happen all at once. As had been the case with previous innovations in image making, modern motion pictures were shown first in a peephole device rather than on the screen. Both the motion-picture camera that exposed these films and the peephole device that first showed them were developed at the Edison laboratory.