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Lumière, Auguste (1862-1954) Lumière, Louis (1864-1948)

LUMIÈRE, AUGUSTE (1862-1954) LUMIÈRE, LOUIS (1864-1948)

The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, were French inventors and artists who were involved in the early development of the film industry. They are usually mentioned together rather than individually because they always worked together. However, some people suggest that it was Louis who possessed the real talent that led to their tremendous successes.

Antoine Lumière, the father of Auguste and Louis, was a successful photographer. He and Louis invented a photographic plate that became a commercial success. The family employed more than three hundred workers in their factory to create these photographic products. With the invention of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope (which used George Eastman's new flexible film), however, Antoine was concerned that the family's invention was going to become obsolete.

After viewing a Kinetoscope, which displayed the image inside the machine and allowed for only one viewer at a time, Antoine returned home to instruct his sons that they should develop a device that would get the picture outside of the machine. While Edison had worked on such an invention at one point, he had shelved the project to work on other things.

The brothers worked on the invention for several months, but Auguste said that Louis invented the final device during a single night when he was suffering from feverish dreams and a migraine. The Cinématographe, as they called it, served as both camera and projector, and the brothers patented it in February 1895. The machine also featured a significant improvement in the claw device that regulated the movement of the film.

The Lumières began demonstrating their device to private groups, such as the societies for national industry and for photography, as early as March 1895. However, it was on December 28, 1895, that they first presented (in Paris) a motion picture for the general public. One possible reason for the long delay in making their first public presentation could be that they were preparing for the onslaught that would follow. It is certainly true that they had several Cinématographe machines created and photographers and projectionists trained and ready to go by early 1896. This proved essential since their invention quickly attracted worldwide attention. Film parlors opened in London, Geneva, Vienna, Brussels, Berlin, Bordeaux, Madrid, Belgrade, and New York within six months. Demand was so great in New York that twenty-one operators were not enough to keep pace. The Lumières' army of photographers had soon shot 1,200 short films on a wide range of subjects.

The effect that the Lumières' invention had on history is not insignificant. Barriers related to language and national custom were overcome by this means of communication. The world began to seem smaller as viewers saw films of people from many other nations. It was an intentional decision on the part of the Lumières to let people see sights from around the world as their crews filmed almost every continent and major culture. Fashions and fads began to spread with the films, contributing to a reduction in the cultural uniqueness of different nations. In addition to the Cinématographe, the Lumières worked to develop wide-gauged film, 360-degree projection that encircled the audience, and three-dimensional effects. They also made contributions to the development of color-plate photography.

Beyond their mechanical inventions, the Lumières contributed in new ways to the art of the motion picture. Their first film, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895), featured just what the title suggests, along with a dog, a bicycle, and a horse exiting the building. Capturing real-life events was central to most of the films that were made by the Lumières and their hired crews. These films have since become increasingly valued for their documentation of life at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Cinématographe was much more portable than the Kinetoscope, which allowed the Lumières to make most of their films outside while Edison had to bring acts into his studio to film. This gave much more variety to the Lumière films, which included subjects such as children at different stages of development, family members engaged in various activities (the first "home movies"), working-class people, military regiments from many nations, and fire and police personnel.

Some of the Lumière films are important for reasons other than the reality that they showed. For example, The Arrival of a Train at the Station (1895) impressed audiences because the locomotive was filmed as it moved toward the camera—giving audience members (who were obviously new to the cinema experience) the impression that the train was going to crash through the screen and into the audience. This film, one of the most remembered of the brothers' films, also shows wonderful photographic skill in the lighting and composition of the piece. The Lumières developed ways to display more depth of field and sharpness in their photography than any other early filmmaker. Another film, Tables Turned on the Gardner (1895), was the first farcical film, as well as the first film to tell a story. In it, a gardener is watering a flowerbed with a very large hose when a boy comes up behind and steps on the hose, stopping the flow of water. As the gardener looks into the dried-up hose, the boy steps off of the hose, causing water to spray into the gardener's face. While this narrative type of film was more the exception than the rule, it was followed by at least a few other attempts at telling short stories.

The Lumière brothers and their photographers were involved in many important innovations during the early years, including product placement, tracking shots, and trick photography. The most basic form of product placement was when some of their films showed the cinemas where the public could see the films. Other films featured specific products, such as beer produced by a brewer who was a family friend. Tracking shots are those films that are created while the camera is moving. The first use of a moving camera for a Lumière film occurred when one of their photographers in Venice shot footage while riding through the waterways by boat. Upon seeing the film, the brothers asked that more such tracking films be made. Trick photography, close-up shots, and editing were novel devices that the Lumières employed on occasion in their early films, but the techniques never became regular features. As a result, other people (such as Georges Méliès, who is known for his early use of trick photography) are usually credited with their development.

Overall, the mechanical devices that were created by the Lumière brothers turned motion pictures into an entertainment medium for the masses. The brothers also helped to define cinematography by introducing the elements of artistic photography to the composition of their films. Through these technical and artistic accomplishments, the Lumières were able to bring together both people and images from around the world.

See also:Edison, Thomas Alva; Film Industry, History of; Film Industry, Technology of; MÉliÈs, Georges.


Ceram, C. W. (1965). Archaeology of the Cinema. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Ellis, Jack C. (1979). A History of Film. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Rhode, Eric. (1976). A History of the Cinema from Its Origins to 1970. New York: Hill and Wang.

Stephen D. Perry

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