The transit of Venus

An animation of Jules Janssen’s photographic sequence showing the transit of Venus, 8 December 1874

5-6 June 2012, will see the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. It’s worth looking out for, not least because the next time it occurs won’t be until 10 December 2117.

It was certainly something to look out for on 8 December 1874, when French scientist Pierre-Jules-César Janssen (1824-1907), a keen observer of eclipses (and now most famous as the discoverer of Helium), decided to try and capture the motion of Venus crossing the sun through sequence photography, something now recognised as one of the key milestones on the route to cinematography itself.

Janssen’s purpose was not to capture motion for its own sake, however. What was of particular interest to astronomers was capturing the very point of contact between planet and sun, which was needed to help determine solar distance more precisely. Since the exact moment could not be predicted, making a single-shot photograph strategy a hazardous one, Janssen planned to take a rapid sequence of photographs – or at least as rapid as the technology of 1874 would allow. This he achieved by constructing a ‘revolver photographique’ – a camera, somewhat similar in concept to a Colt revolver, driven by a clockwork-driven Maltese Cross-like mechanism capable of taking forty-eight exposures on a Daguerrotype plate over a period of seventy-two seconds. Daguerrotypes were becoming an antiquated technology, but, as Stephen Herbert explains on Who’s Who in Victorian Cinema:

… the metal plate ensur[ed] an absence of halation (flare) that could have been a problem if a glass plate had been used – and a wet plate would in any case have been inconvenient to use in such a camera. With the sun as the source there was no shortage of light, so the ‘slow’ daguerreotype process was ideal.

Janssen’s revolver photographique, pointed at a heliostat (a clockwork-operated mirror following the movement of the sun), as published in La Nature in 1875. The operator was the Brazilian astronomer d’Almeida

Janssen journeyed to Japan to take his photographic sequence (the actual operator of the revolver was a Brazilian, Francisco Antônio d’Almeida), while inspiring several British expeditions with the same purpose to use similar photographic apparatus constructed by J.H. Dallmeyer and using a form of dry plate photography (the expeditions were based in Egypt, India, Australia, Rodrigues, Honolulu, New Zealand and the Kerguelen Islands). Janssen presented the results to the Société Française de Photographie in 1875 – as still images, that is, not of course as a projected sequence, the technology for which was several years away from being invented. We can animate the sequence now, and all six seconds of it can be seen in the video above. The conditions under which Janssen ‘filmed’ were not ideal, it being a cloudy day, and the images were touched up slightly, making Janssen perhaps as much a proto-animator as he was a proto-cinematographer. (Although Janssen definitely produced a successful series of photographs, some suggest that the images we have today are from an earlier simulation made by Janssen to test his equipment).

Janssen’s work inspired others to capture scientific subjects through sequence photography, notably the physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey, and he lived long enough not only to see cinematography becaome a reality, but to appear in two early Lumière films: Débarquement du Congres de Photographie a Lyon and M. Janssen causant avec M. Lagrange, filmed on 11 June 1895.

The transit of Venus as photographed by Professor David Peck Todd on 6 December 1882

Jules Janssen’s capturing of the transit of Vanus as a sequence of images invariably features in pre-histories of cinema (or histories of pre-cinema). The British astronomers using similar technology are seldom mentioned, and in none of the histories will you find mention of the next transit of Venus, which took place on 6 December 1882, and which was also captured in sequence on photographic plates by astronomers ahead of eventual motion picture technology.

How many did so in 1882 I do not know, but one who definitely did was the American astronomer Professor David Peck Todd (1855-1939). Positioned on Mount Hamilton in California, his ‘solar photographic telescope’ was constructed by the optical firm Alvan Clark & Sons and enabled Todd to capture 147 wet-plate glass negatives. These images were rediscovered 120 years later, digitally copied and animated, and premiered before the International Astronomical Union in Sydney in July 2003. The conditions under which Todd operated were better, and the photographic plates superior, to Janssen’s expdition in 1874, and the resultant video is marvellously sharp. Once again, it needs to be pointed out that the images preceded motion picture projection by some years and were never seen in this way in 1882.

There is an excellent article on Janssen and his British imitators by Francoise Launay and Peter D. Hingley, ‘Jules Janssen’s “Revolver Photographique” and its British derivative, “The Janssen Slide”‘, originally published in Journal for the History of Astronomy vol. 36 pt. 1 no. 122 (2005).

From the same journal comes William Sheehan and Anthony Misch, ‘Ménage à trois: David Peck Todd, Mabel Loomis Todd, Austin Dickinson and the 1882 Transit of Venus‘ vol. 35 pt 2 no. 119 (2004), which includes the reanimation of Todd’s photographic plates and plenty on his interesting private life (his wife Mabel was responsible for the rediscovery of the poetry of Emily Dickinson).

After 1882, the next transit of Venus was in 2004. Tomorrow’s transit will be best viewed under cloudless skies around the Pacific Ocean, while in Europe we’ll see the transit already underway during sunrise on June 6th. There’s a guide on how and where to see it (don’t look at the sun with the naked eye, please) provided by The Guardian here. You can be certain of following it by watching one of the main live video streams on offer, a guide to which is provided here.

Everything you could possibly want to know about the transit of Venus is at www.transitofvenus.org, which rather wonderfully has a counter counting down the days until the 2117 transit. Just 38,538 days to go …

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

http://www.girona.cat/sgdap/cat/patrimoni_audiovisual

October 27th is designated World Day for Audiovisual Heritage by UNESCO. Had we enterprise enough and time, the Bioscope would have produced its own celebration of this event, but instead (and what is much better) let us point you to an exceptional resource produced for this day by the Museu del Cinema in Girona and Girona City Council through the Centre for Image Research and Diffusion (CRDI), with the collaboration of the International Council on Archives.

It is an online, interactive ‘poster’, entitled Audiovisual Heritage that provides a chronology of the historical development of the audio-visual media of cinema, photography, television, video and sound recording. Arranged by horizontally by decades and vertically by theme, it is a well-researched, well-illustrated, and compulsively browsable resource. Click on any box and a potted history pops up, with further illustrations, including some video demonstrations (also available through the Museu del Cinema’s YouTube channel). You can then explore that theme further by clicking through page arrows, or else return to the main arrow. The poster is available in Spanish, Catalan, English and French.

For a list of World Day for Audiovisual Heritage events taking place worldwide, visit www.pia.gov.ph/wdavh2011. For the Bioscope’s own account of the Museu del Cinema from earlier this year, click here.

Publisher’s blurb

http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~s-herbert/ProjectionBox.htm

Small publishers producing works on film and film-related subjects are a rare breed, and it is good to be able to report the return of The Projection Box, the enterprising Hastings business run by Stephen Herbert and Mo Heard. After “a period of slumber”, as their site puts it, they have returned with a new title, The Dickens Daguerreotype Portraits, by Herbert himself, and a new publishing strategy. They are using Blurb, the online print-on-demand service which is attracting a lot of interest from self-publishers and those just looking for alternative publishing options.

The first three titles to be available in this way are The Dickens Daguerreotype Portraits, a history of the very few daguerreotype portraits of Charles Dickens, and the single known daguerreotype portrait of his wife Catherine, well-timed for the bicentenary celebrations next year; the previously published The Kinora: motion pictures for the home, 1896-1914, by Barry Anthony, in a new extended version which includes a reprint of the Bond’s Ltd. 1911 Catalogue of Living Pictures that your may show in your own home; and also previously published, a facsimile of 1890 account of a famous Victorian optical illusion, The True History of the Ghost by ‘Professor’ John Henry Pepper, with an introduction by Mervyn Heard.

Other titles from The Projection Box back catalogue will be made available in this way in due course. These can still be ordered direct from The Projection Box in the traditional away, along with their CD publications and The Magic Lantern Society (UK) titles. The full list is (with prices):

  • Eadweard Muybridge: the Kingston Museum Bequest, eds. Ann McCormack and Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 30.00 p&p 4.50
    US dollars: 48.00, shipping US dollars 19.00
  • The Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, eds: Richard Crangle, Stephen Herbert, David Robinson
    GB Pounds: 45.00 p&p 9.50
    US dollars: 70.00, shipping US dollars 40.00
  • For Ladies Only? Eve’s Film Review: Pathe Cinemagazine 1921-33, by Jenny Hammerton
    GB Pounds: 9.00 p&p 2.50
    US dollars: 14.00, shipping US dollars 10.00
  • From Frontiersman to Film-maker. The Biography of Film Pioneer Birt Acres, by Alan Birt Acres
    [details of CD-ROM to follow]
  • The Illustrated Bamforth Slide Catalogue – DVD-ROM
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • The Incomparable Testot! Selections from a 19th Century Magician’s Paragraph Boo – Introduced by Edwin A. Dawes
    GB Pounds: 9.00 p&p 2.00
    US dollars: 14.00, shipping US dollars 6.00
  • Industry, Liberty and a Vision: Wordsworth Donisthorpe’s Kinesigraph, by Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • The Lantern Image: Supplement No. 1, compiled by David Robinson
    GB Pounds: 4.00 p&p 2.50
    US dollars: 7.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • New Magic Lantern Journal – Volume 6
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • New Magic Lantern Journal – Volume 7
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • Phantasmagoria: the secret life of the magic lantern, by Mervyn Heard
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 4.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • Realms of Light: Uses and Perceptions of the Magic Lantern from the 17th to the 21st Century, edited by Richard Crangle, Mervyn Heard and Ine van Dooren
    GB Pounds: 35.00 p&p 9.50
    US dollars: 62.00, shipping US dollars 28.00
  • Servants of Light, ed. Richard Franklin and Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 20.00 p&p 3.50
    US dollars: 30.00, shipping US dollars 16.00
  • Theodore Brown’s Magic Pictures: the art and inventions of a multi-media pioneer, by Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • The Titanic and Silent Cinema, by Stephen Bottomore
    GB Pounds: 11.00 p&p 3.00
    US dollars: 18.00, shipping US dollars 10.00
  • Victorian Film Catalogues, ed. Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 5.00 p&p 2.00
    US dollars: 8.00, shipping US dollars 6.00
  • When the Movies Began: a chronology of the world’s first film shows, by Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 3.00 p&p 1.00
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • A Yank in Britain: The Lost Memoirs of Charles Urban, Film Pioneer, ed. by Luke McKernan
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00

Further details of all titles are available on The Projection Box website. And welcome back.

Poverty on screen 1880-1914

Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris / How the Poor Dine in Paris (Pathé 1910), from the Screening the Poor DVD

Recently we reviewed the the double-DVD release from Edition Filmmuseum, Screening the Poor 1888-1914, which innovatively brings together early films and magic lantern sets on the theme of poverty. Now the DVD release and the Screen1900 Project at the University of Trier which encouraged it have led to a conference taking place 1-3 December at the German Historical Institute in London. The title of the conference is ‘Screen Culture and the Social Question: Poverty on Screen 1880-1914′, and the convenors are Professor Dr. Andreas Gestrich (GHIL) and Dr Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (University of Trier). Here are the descriptive blurb and preliminary programme:

This conference will bring together different international research approaches looking at how the optical lantern (‘art of projection’) and cinematography were used in the context of the Social Question around 1900. The media history relevance of the Social Question to the establishment of these new visual media has hardly so far been examined. Nor have these media been critically investigated as social history sources. The conference aims to make a fundamental contribution towards establishing an innovative field of research in the area where social history and media history overlap.

The rapid success of ‘cinematography’ at the beginning of the twentieth century owed much to what was known as the ‘art of projection’. The screen became firmly established as a part of international cultural life in the second half of the nineteenth century by the ‘art of projection’. The enormous creative potential of these new visual media in public performances was used not only for commercial purposes, but also for events in areas such as education, religion, and social policy.

The interdisciplinary comparison will discuss the state of research on the motifs, production, dissemination, and reception of the projection media in the field of poor relief and social policy. Different methodological concepts will be introduced for researching the performative potential of existing scripts and artefacts (glass slides, films, projectors). In addition, projects editing sources will be presented, and new processes for digitally reproducing and documenting historical sources and artefacts will be discussed.

Preliminary Conference Programme

Thursday, 1 December 2011:

13:00
Registration

14:00
Welcome and Introduction
Andreas Gestrich (German Historical Institute London) and Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (University of Trier)

14:30 – 17:00
Panel 1: Screen Culture and the Public Sphere – Historic Context and Social Impact 1880 – 1914
Chair: Ian Christie (London)
Martin Loiperdinger (Trier): The Social Impact of Screen Culture 1880 – 1914.
Stephen Bottomore (Bangkok): The Lantern and Early Film for Social and Political Uses.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 1
Comment by Andreas Gestrich (London)

17:15 – 19:00
Road Show: Approaches to the Hidden History of Screen Culture
Frank Gray (Brighton): The Lucerna Network for the History of Projection.
Ine van Dooren (Brighton): Archiving and preserving lantern slides and related resources.
Richard Crangle (Exeter): Digitizing the History of Screen Culture: The Lucerna Database.

Friday, 2 December 2011:

09:30 – 12:30
Panel 2: Raising Public Awareness for the Living Conditions in Slums and Tenements
Chair: Clemens Zimmermann (Saarbrücken)
Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (Trier): Slum Life and Living Conditions of the Poor in Fictional and Documentary Lantern Slide Sets.
Joss Marsh (Bloomington) / David Francis (Bloomington): “Poetry of Poverty” – The Magic Lantern and the Ballads of George R. Sims.
Bonnie Yochelson (New York): Jacob Riis, His Photographs, and Poverty in New York, 1888-1914.

11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break

11:30 – 12:30
Comment and Discussion Panel 2
Comment by tbc

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch Break

14:00 – 17:00
Panel 3 – Education and Entertainment for the Poor – the Use of Lantern Shows and Early Films by Charity Organisations
Chair: Ine van Dooren (Brighton)
Karen Eifler (Trier): Free Meals and Lantern Shows: Charitable Events in Great Britain and Germany.
Judith Thissen (Utrecht): Educating Moyshe: Jewish Socialists, Gentile Entertainments, and the Future of the Jewish Immigrant Masses in America.
Caroline Henkes (Trier): Early Christmas Films in the Tradition of the Magic Lantern.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 3
Comment by Frank Gray (Brighton)

19:00 tbc

Evening Programme at The Foundling Museum:
“TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY
A festive and true-made Victorian Magic Lantern Show for the deserving poor of London”
by Mervyn Heard with Juliette Harcourt (recitation and song) and Stephen Horne (piano)

Saturday, 3 December 2011:

09:00 – 12:00
Panel 4 – Social Prevention with the Aid of the Screen and Exhibitions
Chair: Richard Crangle (Exeter)
Annemarie McAllister (Preston): The Promotion of Temperance by means of the Magic Lantern.
Marina Dahlquist (Göteborg): Health Entrepreneurs: American Screen Practices in the 1910s.
Michelle Lamuniere (Harvard University): From Jacob Riis’s Lantern Slide Presentations to Harvard University’s Social Museum.

10:30 – 11:00 Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 4
Comment by Scott Curtis (Evanston)
12:00 – 13:00
Closing Remarks and General Discussion
Chair: Andreas Gestrich
Closing Remarks by Ian Christie (London) and Clemens Zimmermann (Saarbrücken)

Spaces are limited (with all those speakers they can’t have much space left) and those interested to register should contact the organisers via this link.

The running man

It is perhaps the most iconic of all photographic images. Eadweard Muybridge‘s running man (he made several photographic sequences of a man running, but I’m thinking of the one illustrated here) conjures up the very idea of photography. It has captured the instant, has brought a moment out of its specific time into all time. We can hear the click of the shutter. It is one of a sequence of twelve, any one of which can seen as representative, as all document the same action, but the point where both legs leave the air is the most quintessentially photographic. It is the image for which photography was made.

It is the point where the nineteenth century turns into the modern age. It doesn’t just offer a view of the past – it makes the past coterminous with us. He started running in 1887 and he is running still in 2010. The plain background accentuates the timelessness, leaving us nothing to contemplate save bare, unaccommodated man. It sums up who we are: hurtling forward from who knows where to who knows where, yet never really going anywhere. It simultaneously celebrates and laughs at progress.

The image has classical resonances. There is an echo of Ancient Greek statuary and the Olympic ideal, but the stronger echo is with Leonardo dan Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man‘ or the ‘Proportions of Man’, the idealised, perfectly proportioned figure inscribed within a circle and a square. Muybridge’s man, similarly ideally proportioned, is inscribed within a square. And Da Vinci’s image has an intimation of motion about it – the figure’s body is static but there are two sets of arms and two sets of legs, indicating that idealised man can only be revealed in movement. I run therefore I am.

The image is about time itself. Just as in times past a skull might be used as a memento mori, a means for the observer to contemplate the death that must come to us all, the running man obliges us to contemplate the ceaseless flow of time. The image seeks to defeat time by capturing the moment – the science of sequence photography that Muybridge inspired was called chronophotography, which means ‘picturing time’. A photograph does not capture time in any actual sense; it is a chemical (or now digital) illusion. But it does capture the idea of time, a thing for contemplation.

The image also represents the historical moment between the still image and the motion picture. Muybridge was interested in dissecting motion by capturing that which could not be detected by the naked eye, namely the individual elements of motion. He was not trying to create motion pictures (though he did experiment with these as a sideline). Motion pictures do not reveal the invisible as such; they replicate visible reality. But Muybridge’s vision and technical accomplishment led the way to motion pictures as others built on the logic of what he had established. It is right that he is the usual starting point for histories of film.

The running man is also telling us a story. One of the most engrossing elements of the Muybridge exhibition currently on show at Tate Britain is how it leads us to imagine Muybridge playing out the psychodrama in his head following his acquittal for the murder of his wife’s lover (and she died soon after). Much has been made of the women in his sequence photographs, shown as they are in submissive, playful, dancing, teasing, eroticised or domestic roles. The men, however, are all going somewhere, doing physical, masculine things – lifting, wrestling, throwing, marching, chopping, running. Muybridge himself appears (naked) in some sequences, and just as we can see all of the women in the photographs as Flora Muybridge, so all the men are Eadweard Muybridge, emblematised as the man running for the sake of running, wanting to be doing something that it is good for man to be seen doing, without really knowing why.

Then there is athletics itself. This is not just an image of a man out of time. It is a photograph, or a set of photographs, of an athlete. Competitive sports became hugely important in the late nineteenth century, and in 1878 Muybridge photographed members of the San Francisco Olympic Club. In 1884 he started work at the University of Pennsylvania, producing hundreds of photographic sequences, many of them showing athletes from the university. American universities were hotbeds of the new enthusiasm for sports, and sport was becoming an important expression of what it meant to be a (male) American. The running man is someone who ran with a purpose, who knew what it meant to run.

The sequence photographs of the running man did not come out of nowhere. Produced as part of Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion series (1887), they came as the culmination of an exceptional career in photography. As the exhibition makes clear, Muybridge was a photographer of considerable accomplishments long before he started photographing galloping horses and running men. His work ranged from stereoscopes (3D images) to extraordinary panoramas. He was a photographer of landscapes and cityscapes, always able to capture something beyond the mere replication of a reality. Even before he began his motion studies in the late 1870s he was revealing something of the mystery of time and motion in his work. The necessarily long exposures that came with wet plate photography meant that the apparent instant is really a record of the passage of seconds. The passing of time is reflected in the stillness.

The running man as an instantly recognisable symbol of what it is to be human is a part of modern culture. The man running ever forwards yet getting nowhere has been used in pop videos such as Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere and U2’s Lemon. Videos inspired by Muybridge’s work, often inspired by the figure running endlessly against a black background with white lines, can be found all over such sites as YouTube and Vimeo, as modern artists demonstrate a compulsion to revisit his vision. Muybridge sequences have been used on posters, book covers, murals, television trailers and T-shirts. The running man even runs endlessly across twelve frames on the lenticular ruler I bought at the exhibition.

And then there is the science. For all that we can philosophise about time, or see the image(s) as depicting a crisis in the idea of masculinity, or see them for the inspiration they gave to artists such as Duchamp, Bacon and Twombly (and Muybridge wanted to inspire artists), the running man and all the other Animal Locomotion sequences were commissioned by a body of scientists. The University of Pennsylvania paid him $40,000 to undertake work of a scientific character, and the committee than oversaw his work included an anatomist, a neurologist and a physiologist. The running man was there to be studied. He was demonstrating the processes of human motion, revealing action and musculature as it had not been possible to show before. The white grid on the black background is there for scientific reasons: to gain the measure of a man.

The running man is not a complete work in itself. It/he is part of Plate 62 of Animal Locomotion; one of twelve images taken in succession (plus another twelve images giving a side-on view of the same action). It is one twelfth of a work that one cannot ever pin down. Looking at the twelve images in sequence does not really tell us what the work signifies; looking at one of the images does not give us the full work; looking at the sequence animated falsifies what Muybridge tried to achieve. And the man did not run forever, as the animations suggest. He ran from one end of the track to another. Then he stopped. Muybridge’s work is endlessly mysterious to contemplate.

The Muybridge exhibition at the Tate is a marvellous experience, and you should go if you can. It covers every aspect of his remarkable career, clearly explained and illuminatingly displayed. There are his haunting images of the Yosemite, the breathtaking panoramas of San Francisco, hypnotically beautiful cyanotypes (the blue-toned contact proofs from which published collotypes were made), and a Zoopraxiscope projector with which he exhibited proto-animation ‘films’ on disc based on his photographic sequences. A little more context, in the form of the works of his peers and those he has influenced, would have been welcome, but of his work there can be no complaint. OK, perhaps just one. In the exhibition there is no Plate 62. There is Plate 63, in which the same athlete runs a little faster, and not quite as iconically (he leans forward too much). The quintessential Muybridgean image isn’t there.

The Muybridge controversy

Eadweard Muybridge, The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs, published by Taschen

The long-awaited Eadweard Muybridge exhibition opens at Tate Britain on 8 September, running until 16 January 2011. The exhibition has been developed by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, where it ran April-July under the title Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change. The Tate exhibition is entitled ‘Eadweard Muybridge: The Photographer who Proved Horses Could Fly’, which has to win some sort of an award for direst exhibition subtitle of the decade, but the change from the Washington show is significant. Because since the Muybridge show opened in America controversy has arisen over the authenticity of some of Muybridge’s works, and in particular the name ‘Helios’.

‘Helios’ was a name adopted by Eadweard Muybridge when marketing his photographs in the United States in the 1860s, in the period before he took up sequence photography. Muybridge had emigrated from the UK to the USA in 1851, when his surname was still that which his parents would have recognised, Muggeridge, and initially was involved in book selling. He moved to California and changed his name to Muygridge. After a traumatic stagecoach crash he returned to Britain in 1860. The biography is a bit vague for the next few years, but somewhere along the line he pick up considerable skills in the wet collodion photographic process. He returned to the United States in 1867, traded as Helios, and revealed himself to be a photographic genius (now named Muybridge), with stereoscopic and panoramic views of landscapes and cityscapes which reached the pinnacle of the art-form. Then in 1872 he was approached by railroad baron Leland Stanford to help settle a debate about whether a horses hooves left the ground when galloping, using rapid photography, and the rest was proto-motion picture history.

‘Helios’ photograph of Yosemite Falls, credited to Eadweard Muybridge, from Yosemite: Its Wonders and Its Beauties (1868) by John S. Hittell, c/o http://www.yosemite.ca.us. Note the ‘Helios’ credit in the bottom right-hand corner

The controversy lies in the ‘Helios’ period. Just as the Washington exhibition opened, a photography historian Weston Naef was interviewed for a fairly explosive three-part piece about Muybridge for Artinfo which claimed that much of Muybridge’s work at this time was the work of another photographer, Carleton Watkins, who photographed the Yosemite region at around the ame time as Muybridge. Here are the three parts:

You’ll have to read Naef’s interview to get the full conspiracy theory, but essentially he argues that Muybridge bought negatives from other photographers, particularly Watkins, marketing them under the ‘Helios’ name, then goes on to claim that Watkins taught Muybridge all he knew, sometimes standing over him to coach him (there is no evidence for either of those last two assertions). There are two aspects to this: the arguments and the conclusion. The arguments range from the intriguing to the silly. The silliest is where Naef says that no one could become a photographic genius with the speed that Muybridge showed, giving this reasoning:

It seems very likely that when Muybridge returned to San Francisco in 1867 that he would have acquired — in the same way he acquired patents and the rights to publish books — he would have used the same kind of method to establish himself in a new business in San Francisco, and that new business would have been as a publisher of photographs rather than as a maker of them. There is no evidence for how in 1868 he could have gained the mastery required to make many of the exceptional small works that are on view in the first several galleries. The mystery remains: When did Muybridge perform the 10,000 hours of practice in photography that people who are involved in studying the psychology of learning believe is required to become a world-class master in any subject?

What tosh. There are very few people who put in 10,000 hours of practice at anything and come out geniuses. They come out as averagely proficient. Geniuses tend to leap-frog the stages that we ordinary mortals have to follow, and to do so damn quickly. Muybridge was a photographic genius because he was gifted.

But if some of the reasoning is faulty (and I should add that Naef has many more arguments in favour of the photographer he admires, namely Watkins), the conclusion has an element of probability about it. Why might not have Muybridge marketed the work of others under the Helios trademark? He was a businessman before he became an artist (or scientist, depending on your point of view). It may have taken a while before he saw photographs as something he wanted to create rather than objects he wanted to sell. It’s a speculative area that merits further investigation, but with the realisation that this is but one small aspect of the career of a major creative artist. One of the exciting things about Muybridge is that we are still discovering so much about him, and that so many intriguing mysteries remain about him.

Naef’s allegations have led to all sorts of online speculation. The best responses have been Muybridge authority Stephen Herbert’s Muy Blog, which looks at Muybridge’s ‘lost’ years of the 1860s while artfully debunking Naef, and Rebecca Solnit, author of the excellent Muybridge biography Motion Studies (aka River of Shadows) whose piece in The Guardian ably defends Muybridge against the campaign of innuendo.

Part of Muybridge’s 1878 photographic panorama of San Francisco, from America Hurrah!

Meanwhile, there’s a major exhibition to enjoy, which promises to bring together “the full range of his art for the first time”, exploring the ways win which Muybridge created and honed such remarkable images, works which influenced artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Bacon and Philip Glass’s music, and which continue to resonate powerfully with artists today. Highlights include a seventeen foot panorama of San Francisco and recreations of the Zoopraxiscope (pre-film motion pictures on a disc) in action.

Needless to say, plenty of associated publications and events will be around to coincide with the exhibition. Most exciting among the former is probably going to be Taschen’s monumental Eadweard Muybridge, The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs (published 25 September), put together by Hans Christian Adam. This reproduces all 781 plates from Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion (1887), the entirety of The Attitudes of Animals in Motion (1881), and an authoritative chronology by Stephen Herbert. At long last it looks like we have a replacement for the venerable volumes produced by Dover Publications. No less essential will be Marta Braun’s new biography, Eadweard Muybridge, published on 24 September, by Reaktion. Plus there’s the exhibition book, Eadweard Muybridge, edited by Philip Brookman, and from the Tate shop an irresistible selection of Muybridgean goodies, including posters, bags, calendars, prints, postcards, notebooks, T-shirts, rulers, and the inevitable fridge magnets.

Muybridge photographic sequences, from http://www.taschen.com

On the events side, Muy Blog provides this list (with the promise of adding more as they emerge):

Eadweard Muybridge at Tate Britain
8 Sept – 16 Jan
Tate Britain, Millbank
First major UK retrospective of Muybridge’s entire career.
Tickets £10/£8.50 from htpp://www.tate.org.uk/britain

Muybridge in Kingston Launch Day
Sat 18 Sept 12.30-7pm
Kingston Museum & Stanley Picker Gallery
Public launch of the Muybridge in Kingston exhibitions with special events for all the family, including a magic lantern show from Professor Heard, shadow puppetry from Zannie Fraser and an evening launch lecture on Muybridge’s links to the history of the moving and projected image by Muybridge expert Stephen Herbert.
All welcome – no booking required.

Park Nights at Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
Becky Beasley & Chris Sharp
Fri 24 Sept 8pm
Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens
13 pieces, 17 feet is a monologue in thirteen parts that finds its point of departure in Muybridge’s extraordinary 1878 San Francisco panorama.
Tickets £5/£4 from http://www.serpentinegallery.org/park_nights/

Late at Tate: Eadweard Muybridge
Fri 1 Oct 6pm-10pm
Tate Britain, Millbank
An evening of Muybridge-inspired events.
Visit htpp://www.tate.org.uk/britain for further details.

In Conversation: Trevor Appleson
Wed 6 October 7pm
Stanley Picker Gallery
Exploring Muybridge’s influence on contemporary arts practitioners.
Limited seating – to reserve a FREE place please call 020 8417 4074

Muybridge & Moving Image History
Thurs 14 Oct, 28 Oct & 11 Nov 7pm
Kingston Museum
Evening lecture series offering unique insights into the relationship between Muybridge’s work and the history of visuality, film and animation.
Limited seating – to reserve a FREE place please call 020 8547 6460

See also the events programme given on the Muybridge at Kingston site (Kingston-on-Thames being the birth and deathplace of Muybridge and home of a huge collection of his works at its museum).

Once again, the Tate Britain exhibition runs from 8 September 2010 to 16 January 2011.

Well, all I can say is, beat that, Carleton Watkins.

Seder and the Strobotop

The Strobotop Lightphase Animator

High up on the Bioscope’s list of essential blogs is Muy Blog, Stephen Herbert’s blog on all things to do with Eadweard Muybridge. Those of you who might think that too narrow a theme for their tastes really should take a look, because Muybridge’s many interests in visual media and technology, and the profound influence that he continues to have on artists, designers and filmmakers, make Muy Blog desirable for anyone enthused by visual invention.

As a particular case in point, do check out Herbert’s latest post on Rufus Butler Seder and the Strobotop. Seder, you may remember, is the author of Gallop!, a children’s book employing ingenious visual trickery which makes animals move (see earlier Bioscope post). The huge success of Gallop! has led to Swing!, Waddle!, and now the Strobotop.

Herbert says that Seder “brings the wonder of 19th-century philosophical toys into the 21st century.” The Strobotop – or Strobotop LightPhase Animator, to give it its full name – takes the idea of the Victorian optical toy, the Phenakistiscope (successive images on a disk viewed through a slot), and adapted for today by means of a pulsating light. See the video above for the Strobotop in action, and read the Muy Blog post for a description of how it works and how ingeniously it reimagines a Victorian means of recreating motion.

Seder is a filmmaker, inventor, designer, artist, muralist and author. Herbert has an essay on Google Docs, The Optically Animated Artwork of Rufus Butler Seder, which is a fascinating acount of an abundantly creative person who finds his inspiration in Victorian optical toys, the sequence photography of Muybridge and his contemporaries, and cinema’s prime magician, Georges Méliès. You can find out more about Seder and his work from his website, Eye Think, or you can meet the man here:

Monstrosities

peppersghost

http://www.monstrous-media.com

Monstrous Media/Spectral Subjects is the enticing title of the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association. The conference takes place 21-24 July 2009 at Lancaster University, and it touches pre-cinema and early cinema themes, with much else besides, as the conference description explains:

Gothic forms and figures have long been bound up with different media, from the machinery of Walpole’s modern romance to Robertson’s phantasmagorical shows in the eighteenth century; from uncanny automata to ghostly photographs and monstrous kinetograms in the nineteenth; from cinematic shocks to digital disembodiments in the twentieth. More than merely exploiting new technical developments in cultural production and consumption, the Gothic mode, in adopting and adapting new media, engages with excitements and anxieties attendant on social and technological change.

Examining conjunctions of literary, visual, spatial and digital texts in relation to spectral and visceral effects and affects, the conference aims to stimulate discussions of the relationship between the Gothic novel and other cultural forms, media and technologies. Doubling the monstrous with the spectral, it sets out to explore the cultural production and consumption of monsters and ghosts from the eighteenth century to the present.

Topics expected to feature in the conference include:

  • Early visual technologies (phantasmagoria/ magic lantern shows/spirit photography)
  • Gothic embodiments (staging, smoke and mirrors, automata and mechanical curiosities)
  • Gothic on screen
  • Digital Gothic (web, video games, hypertext)
  • Visualising Gothic narrative (graphic novels, comics and illustration)
  • Monstrosities (subjects, texts, bodies, forms)
  • Media monsters
  • Spectralities (subjects, spaces, environments, images)
  • Transgeneric crossings (cyborgs, science, fictions)

The call for papers has passed, and they report an overwhelming response which is making the selection of papers take longer than expected, so no programme as yet. However, the plenary speakers will be Elisabeth Bronfen, Tanya Krzywinska, Marina Warner and Christoph Grunenberg.

More information now, and later, from the conference website.

Professor Pepper at the Polytechnic

Interior of the Great Hall at the Royal Polytechnic, from http://www.magiclantern.org.uk

The Magic Lantern Society and the University of Westminster have organised a series of talk and events to be held at the University of Westminster’s central London site at 309 Regent Street, which was formerly the Royal Polytechnic Institution. For much of the nineteenth century the Polytechnic was London’s leading centre for the popularisation of science, hosting lectures, lantern shows, scientific demonstrations, and – on 20 February 1896 – the debut of the Cinématographe Lumière in Britain.

Visual technologies and performance were a stape attraction of the Polytechnic, and it is in this spirit that the series is being presented, under the name of one of the most popular of contemporary stage illusions, Pepper’s Ghost. This invention of ‘Professor’ John Henry Pepper, a director of the Polytechnic, this simple but ingenious illusions whereby ghostly figures could appear on stage was the subject of an earlier post, after its unexpected use in a Paul McCartney pop video.

As the blurb for the series puts it, the one hour talks and events

celebrate the spirit of the old Polytechnic featuring rarely-seen London-based historical material, physical demonstrations of “lost media” and surprisingly new applications of ancient optical techniques by contemporary visual artists, stage performers, filmmakers and designers.

Professor Pepper’s Ghost: Six Evenings of Optical Magic at the Old Polytechnic‘ got underway on 23 September, so apologies for being late with the news, but here’s the full line-up:

Tuesday 23 September
The World’s First Projection Theatre
Jeremy Brooker provides a guide (both virtual and actual) to the Royal Polytechnic’s famous optical theatre.

Tuesday 7 October
3D or Seeing Double
Dr David G. Burder offers a ‘sensational’ guide to the art and history of seeing things in 3-dimensions.

Tuesday 21 October
The Diorama: Weaving Time and Space
Photographer and video artist Simon Warner looks at the work of Daguerre and the Diorama phenomenon in the 1820s and 30s.

Tuesday 4 November
The Charing Cross Whale and the Fleas of Regent Street
Professor Vanessa Toulmin presents an illustrated and astonishing look at the wide range of ephemeral entertainments which captured the public imagination of visitors to London in the 19th century, drawing on rarely-seen flyers and bill material in the National Fairground Archive.

Tuesday 18 November
Old Media: New Light
Freelance illustrator Geoff Coupland showcases his own work and that of his students from the Camberwell College of Art applying what are often referred to as 19th century and earlier ‘dead media’ forms such as the magic lantern, shadow-play and flickbooks, to illustrate modern ideas and points of view.

Tuesday 2 December
The Magic Lantern Believe it or Not
In this unruly entertainment ‘Professor’ Mervyn Heard highlights some of the more bizarre, surprising and often horrifying lantern ‘entertainments’ of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and attempts to prove that, in the right hands, ‘the lantern lecture’ could be much more than a naive precursor to cinema: instead the basis for inspired live performance.

The prize goes to Professor Vanessa for the catchiest title, but all sound enticing. All the lectures start at 7pm, and admission is free, with tickets issued from 6pm. For further information, visit the University of Westminster site.

Projection Box Awards

Phenakistiscope, from Stephen Herbert’s not-MOMI site

A reminder to you all that entries are welcomed for the 2008-09 Projection Box Essay Awards. Established last year by the UK independent small publisher, The Projection Box, the awards are for essays on a theme relating to historical, artistic or technical aspects of popular optical media. The subject of this year’s competition is Popular Optical Media (to 1900), including nineteenth century photography, Dioramas, Zoetropes, the magic lantern, shadow theatre, panoramas, Victorian cinema, and optical toys.

First prize is £250 and publication in the journal Early Popular Visual Culture (Routledge). Plus book prizes. Last year’s first prize went to Dr John Plunkett for his essay ‘Selling Stereoscopy 1890-1914: penny arcades, automatic machines and American salesmen.’

Submissions are invited for unpublished essays of between 5,000 and 8,000 words. Entry is open to all, and the deadline for entries is 24 January 2009. Full details, including competition rules, are available on the Projection Box Awards site.

(You’ll find not-MOMI (a recreation of parts of the defunct Museum of the Moving Image) at http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~s-herbert/momiwelcome.htm.)

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