Digital delights


Eadweard Muybridge’s Descriptive Zoopraxography

You know, there are times when the Internet just spoils us. The Cinémathèque française has just issued an online digital library of some of the key books on early and pre-cinema (and related arts), the Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma. The collection is based on two sources: that collected by pioneering British historian Will Day, which includes many key books from 1895 onwards on the new art and science of cinema, but also going back all the way to Athanasius Kircher’s Ars magna lucis et Umbra of 1646; and a collection of historic works on film and photography amassed by the Cinémathèque itself from 1936 onwards, in particular through the efforts of those greats of film archiving and film historiography, Henri Langlois and Lotte Eisner.

So what have we got? Well, first of all, it’s all free. Every text is available in word-searchable PDF format, and comes with full catalogue record. The site offers the titles by author, title and date. There are 118 titles available. They are in the languages in which they were published, fairly obviously, and so many are in English (while a challenging few are in Latin). Here are some of the highlights:

  • Bayley, R. Child, Modern magic lanterns, a guide to the management of the optical lantern, for the use of entertainers, lecturers, photographers, teachers (1895)
  • Bennett, Colin N., A guide to kinematography, projection section for managers, manager operators, and operators of kinema theatres (1923)
  • Brewster, David, A treatise on new philosophical instruments, for various purposes in the arts and sciences with experiments on light and colours (1813)
  • Dickson, Antonia, The Life and inventions of Thomas Alva Edison (1894)
  • Dickson, William K.L., The Biograph in battle, its story in the South African War related with personal experiences (1901)
  • Ives, Frederic Eugene, Kromskop, color photography (1898)
  • Jenkins, Charles Francis, The Boyhood of an inventor (1931)
  • Marey, Etienne-Jules, Movement (1895)
  • Muybridge, Eadweard James, Descriptive zoopraxography, or the science of animal locomotion made popular (1893)
  • Rathbun, John B., Motion picture making and exhibiting, A comprehensive volume treating the principles of motography; the making of motion pictures; the scenario; the motion picture theater; the projector,…etc. (1914)
  • Talbot, Frederick A., Moving pictures, how they are made and worked (1912)
  • Trutat, Eugène, La Photographie appliquée à l’histoire naturelle (1892)

Some of those titles you may recognise as having been covered here already because copies are available in the Internet Archive. Others not listed above will be for the optics specialist or magic lantern historian. But all in all here is a specialist library open to everyone, immaculately digitised and ably presented. I’ll be adding individual titles to the Bioscope Library in due course, plus adding the extra links to those titles already in the Library.


Part of a Bamforth lantern slide sequence illustrating ‘Sally in our Alley’, from 1902

And there’s more. The Cinémathèque française has at the same time published La laterna magica, a beautiful and superbly-organised site on magic lantern slides. There are around 1,500 images, chiefly from the Royal Polytechnic Institution collection. The site is French but the titles of the slide series are all in English, and searching is easy – by theme, title or producer. Clicking on each thumbnail yields a larger picutre, then a click again and you get a larger one still. A model presentation, with exemplary catalogue data.

Go explore. We are so lucky.

3 responses

  1. This is excellent, as is the Bioscope library. Do you have any leads on digital copies of the following titles:
    “Georges Méliès mage” by Lo Duca and Maurice Bessy.
    “Auguste and Louis Lumière – Letters; Inventing the Cinema”
    Faber and Faber, edited by Jacques Rittaud-Hutinet, with the collaboration of d’Yvelise Dentzer, translation by Pierre Hodgson

    I’m needing them for a freelance project of my own, and I can only go to a distant library open limited hours (Herrick) which only allows on-site reading. I can keep doing that, but thought I would ask.
    My own search seems to indicate I am lucky to even have this library to access these rare materials at all (especially the Méliès book).

    Alternatively, do you happen to know if the ‘Mes Memoires” section from the Duca/Bessy book exists in translation anywhere? (I’m OK with the French, but a less rare book may have it translated.)

  2. Both books are still in copyright (in Europe at any rate), so they are unlikely to turn up online – the Lumiere book is only 15 years or so old. Certainly I’ve not come across either on my web travels. I don’t know of a complete translation of Mes Memoires either – quotations from it here and there, but not the full work. It’s about time someone produced a proper Méliès biography, in English, as would befit his status as an artist.

  3. Pingback: Paul’s Animatograph Works « The Bioscope

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