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:

Defining Muybridge

As was pointed out here recently, this is turning out to be the year of Eadweard Muybridge. The sequence photographer whose work laid paths both technological and intellectual towards motion pictures isn’t enjoying a centenary of any sort, but nevertheless we have a major exhibition now running Washington until July, moving to Tate Britain in London in September, and San Francisco in February 2011; a new critical biography by Marta Braun to be published in September; other events, exhibitions and symposia (there was a one-day event at the BFI South Bankon May 21st); and now a new website: Eadweard Muybridge: Defining Modernities.

The website has been produced in collaboration by Kingston University and Kingston Museum in the UK, Kingston being Muybridge’s home town. It sets out “to provide a definitive research resource surrounding the work of 19th Century photographer Eadweard Muybridge”, and it has gone about its task in a particularly handsome way. The site is divided into four main sections: Collection Map & Database; Muybridge: Image & Context; Comparative Timelines; and Bibliography.

The Collections Map & Database lists “all known physical collections of Muybridge’s work housed in cultural organisations around the world; as well as selected collections of rare books published by Muybridge during his lifetime”. The search form on the front page suggests that the research will be able to locate individual items in these collections through a single database, but in fact you are pointed to a more basic collection guide with indication of number of Muybridge-related items held. You can refine your research by country and category, and see the collections arranged on a world map.

‘Boy. Child without legs. Getting off chair’, from

Muybridge: Image & Context is a set of useful short essays on key aspects of Muybridge’s work, beautifully illustrated with slide shows (Muybridge remains an absolute gift to any designer). Themes include The Modern City, Landscape, Foreign Bodies, and The Human Figure in Motion.

Comparative Timelines is a browsable timeline of the Muybridge era, 1800-1907 (he lived 1830-1904). It allows you to trace events in his personal life, film history, invention, photography, US history and world history side-by-side. Finally there is a bibliography, with a surprisingly brief supplementary list of web links.

Eadweard Muybridge: Defining Modernities is a pleasure to look at and easy to navigate. It has ambitions to become the definitive resource for Muybridge online, and hopefully it will indeed build on these good foundations, though it has a little way to go before it can match Stephen Herbert’s solo production The Compleat Muybridge (oddly not included among the site’s links) for its range and comprehensiveness.

And there’s more. Also just launched is Muybridge in Kingston, a site which usefully brings together Muybridge collections, events and projects located in Kingston, which certainly is doing its native son proud. Next, the always excellent Luminous Lint photography website has an online exhibition entitled Scientific Movement. Created by Alan Griffiths, the exhibition traces the history of the efforts by scientists to capture movement through photography, covering Muybridge, his great French contemporary E.J. Marey, and others whose less familiar work continued well into the twentieth-century: Ottomar Anschütz (1846-1907), Arthur Clive Banfield (1875-1965), Prof. A.M. Worthington, Ernst Mach, the Bragaglia brothers in Italy, Frank B. and Lillian Gilbreth and Harold E. Edgerton (1903-1990).

Finally, as a taster for what we in the UK can expect in September, here’s short promo for the Washington exhibition, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change:

The year of Eadweard

This is the year of Eadweard Muybridge. No particular reasons why, given that the centenary of his death fell six years ago, but just the sheer excellence of his photographic work and the continued research and discovery that it encourages have led to three exhibitions of his work being planned for 2010 – a major one at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC, which then moves to Tate Britain in London and San Francisco in 2011, and two on a smaller scale at his home town of Kingston.

The Washington exhibition runs 10 April-18 July and is entitled Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change (‘Helios’ was the name Muybridge adopted for a time when working as a professional photographer). The exhibition is being organised by Corcoran chief curator and head of research Philip Brookman. Here’s the blurb, which indicates the great breadth of Muybridge’s work and its lasting influence:

Best known for his groundbreaking studies of animal and human locomotion, 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge was also an innovative landscape artist and pioneer of documentary subjects. Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change, the first retrospective exhibition to examine all aspects of Muybridge’s art, will be on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from April 10 through July 18, 2010.

Born in England in 1830, Muybridge spent much of his career in San Francisco and Philadelphia during a time of rapid industrial and technological growth. In the 1870s, he developed new ways to stop motion with his camera. Muybridge’s legendary sequential photographs of running horses helped spark a technological revolution that changed the way people saw the world. His projected animations inspired the early development of cinema and the enormous impact of his photographs can be measured throughout the course of modern art, from paintings and sculptures by Thomas Eakins, Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Bacon, to the 1999 blockbuster film The Matrix and the music video for U2’s hit song Lemon.

Structured in a series of thematic sections, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change includes numerous vintage photographs, albums, stereographs, lantern slides, glass negatives and positives, camera equipment, patent models, Zoopraxiscope discs, proof prints, notes, books, and other ephemera. Over 300 objects created between 1858 and 1893 are brought together for the first time from numerous international collections. Muybridge’s only surviving Zoopraxiscope—an apparatus he designed in 1879 to project motion pictures—will also be on view.

A catalogue of the exhibition will have with new essays by Brookman, Marta Braun, Andy Grundberg, Corey Keller, and Rebecca Solnit.

Then the exhibition moves to Tate Britain, where it will run 8 September 2010 to 16 January 2011, and thereafter it goes to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 26 February to 7 June 2011.

Kingston Museum’s Zoopraxiscope projector, from

Meanwhile, in Muybridge’s home town of Kingston (where he was born and where he died, thoughthe majority of his working life was spent in the United States) the museum will be hosting its own exhibition, Muybridge Revolutions. Kingston Museum is home to Muybridge’s personal collection, comprising nearly 3,000 objects which makes the museum home to one of the world’s most important historic collections of ‘pre-cinema’ artefacts. The exhibition will open around the time of the Tate Britain show in September 2010.

Kingston has played a major part in equipping the Washington/Tate/San Francisco exhibition, in particular by supplying it with its Zoopraxiscope, arguably the world’s first motion picture projector, along with some of its collection of 67 of Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope discs (only another three exist elsewhere in the world) through which he showed audiences from 1880 onwards animated sequences using silhouettes taken from his photographic sequences.

And there’s more, because Kingston University’s Stanley Picker Gallery is hosting a complemetary show which will include work produced by contemporary artists who have been given special access to the Muybridge collection.

Your first port of call for information on Eadweard Muybridge has to be The Compleat Muybridge site, while its offshot blog, Muy Blog (both are managed by Stephen Herbert) is the place to subscribe to for all the latest news on the year of Eadweard.

The man who stopped time

Another day, another Muybridge image, but they always look so good, and fit practically any purpose. This time it’s because there’s news of what should be a highly worthwhile event at the British Library. Currently we’re running there an exhibition on nineteenth century photography, entitled Points of View, which I’ve seen twice and will see twice more if I can, and strongly recommend it to anyone in the vicinity. It’s as clear and illuminating an introduction to the history of photography as you’re likely to find. The exhibition stays open until 7 March.

There are events associated with the exhibition, and on 1 February there is to be The man who stopped time: Eadweard Muybridge – pioneer photographer, father of cinema and murderer. It will be presented by Brian Clegg, author of The Man Who Stopped Time, the recent biography of Muybridge, and an additional attraction will be some unique animations of Muybridge photographic sequences by Marek Pytel. Come along at witness the historical point at which photography wills itself into cinema.

The event takes place 18:30-20:00 at the British Library Conference Centre (close by St Pancras station), and tickets can be booked now, price: £6 / £4 concessions.

The magic lantern and Victorian culture

Joseph Boggs Beale magic lantern slide illustrating ‘The Curfew Shall not Ring Tonight’, CC

Well it’s clearly the time of year when people are itching to get out of the darks and start organising things for 2010. Before long we’ll be having a catch-up post on the festivals being organised for next year, but the conferences and such like are also starting to get announced. And so, a call for papers has gone out for the 2010 Convention of the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada, to take place in Bloomington, Indiana, 20-23 May 2010. Here it is:

The Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada invites scholars to submit papers or proposals for papers pertaining to the lantern to the conference organizers, Professor Joss Marsh and Mr. David Francis (Indiana University, Bloomington) and Mr. Dick Moore (President, AMLS). (Papers in research sessions will be held to 20 minutes in length.) Deadline 15th February 2010.

Presentations will be especially welcome that address the key theme of the Convention: The Magic Lantern and Victorian Culture.

Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • advertising with the lantern/advertising the lantern
  • lantern-slide manufacturers and distributors
  • exhibition practices
  • individual and itinerant lanternists
  • multi-media lantern shows and lantern use
  • the lantern and nineteenth-century theatre, opera, and ballet
  • the lantern and Music Hall/Variety shows
  • local lantern shows
  • the missionary lantern
  • the Temperance lantern
  • the lantern and social change
  • urban and social lantern investigation
  • the psychology and theory of 19th century lantern spectatorship
  • the lantern and science
  • educational uses of the lantern
  • lantern-assisted virtual travel
  • the lantern and horror
  • literary reflections of the lantern
  • lantern performance of literature
  • the lantern and childhood
  • the lantern and cinema
  • lantern-inspired early films
  • lantern-slide use in movie theatres
  • animated slides and lantern representation of movement
  • the magic lantern and the long history of the ‘screen experience’
  • lantern song-slides
  • lantern humour
  • the lantern and Empire
  • lantern story-telling and lantern readings
  • the Victorian family lantern

Principal sessions of the Convention will take place at the Convention Centre, in downtown Bloomington, and on the campus of Indiana University. Presentations include a ‘Grand Optical Variety Show’ at the vintage Buskirk-Chumley (Indiana) Theater, Professor Mervyn Heard M.C., with Mr. Philip Carli at the piano.

Please address proposals to: jomarsh [at]; djfranci [at]; rmoore0438 [at]

Well, something there for everyone, and a reminder of how close the worlds of the lantern and the early cinema were. A general post on discovering the world of the magic lantern is promised, soon.

The Regent Street cinema project


The BBC News site has just put up one of its excellent audio slideshows, in which a short sound interview with someone is accompanied by a series of related images. The latest slide show is The first silver screen, and comprises an interview with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Westminster, Professor Geoffrey Petts, talking about the university’s lecture theatre in its Regent Street, London campus, which in 1896 when it was known as the Marlborough Hall was the venue for the debut of the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe. A campaign has been launched to restore the venue as a multimedia facility and teaching space for our students and the wider community. They have already received a million pound donation from the MBI Al Jaber Foundation – a Saudi billionaire, according to the BBC site. The target is £5m.

Well, it is good to know that there are Saudi billionaires out there who care about the restoration of early cinema venues. The BBC piece says that the venue counts as Britain’s first cinema, because it was where the first public show of moving pictures took place in the UK. Unfortunately this is wrong on three counts. Firstly, it was not a cinema – it was a lecture hall in what was then known as the Polytechnic, home to many a magic lantern show and popular lecture on discoveries and new technologies, with the Lumière films being introduced as a new scientific attraction on 20 February 1896. Secondly, the first showing of moving picture films in Britain has taken place a year and half before then, about ten minutes’ walk away at 70 Oxford Street, when on 17 October 1894 the Edison Kinetoscope (a peepshow device showing celluloid film on loops) had its debut. But even if you are talking about projected film shows, then the Regent Street Polytechnic still isn’t first, because the photographer Birt Acres had already given a projected film show to members of the Lyonsdown Photographic Club on 10 January 1896 and to members of the Royal Photographic Society at 12 Hanover Square, London on 14 January 1896.

But setting aside such nitpickery, the Polytechnic was the venue where motion picture films on a screen truly took off in the UK, and it is a marvellous, evocative venue with an important history that the present university clearly values highly.

There is further information about what they are calling the Regent Street cinema project on the University of Westminster’s website, including the above promo video which knits together the cinema of the 1890s with the filmmaking of today by the university’s students. If you want to contribute to the fund, or you know any other Saudi billionaires who might be encouraged to do so, visit the site (which has the bold URL and read on.


Interior of the former Marlborough Hall, at the University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London

  • There’s a timeline for the Polytechnic on the University of Westminster site, which gives the basic history of the site.
  • The Lumière brothers weren’t actually there for the debut shows – instead they were hosted by their friend, the magician Félicien Trewey – read his story on Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema.
  • The Polytechnic, established was established in 1881 (out of the old Royal Polytechnic Institution) by Quintin Hogg – read about him on
  • Information on the pre-cinema projection of lantern images at the Poly is on the Magic Lantern Society site.
  • There’s a well-illustrated documentary from 2007 on Louis Lumière made by University of Westminster students Alexander Marinica and Mamoon Ahmed on YouTube – part one and part two – which has some very thoughtful contributions from historian Deac Rossell on the Lumières’ achievements.

Laterna Magicka

As the Bioscope celebrates the immient arrival of its 300,000th visitor (keep on coming by folks, and tell your friends), here’s a taster for a sixty-minute documentary, Laterna Magicka, about the filmmaker Bill Douglas and his astonishing collection of pre-cinema artefects which now make up the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture at the University of Exeter. The documentary has been made by Sean Martin and Louise Milne and produced by 891 Filmhouse in association with Accidental Media. It is to be included in the BFI DVD and Blu-Ray release of Douglas’ 1986 film Comrades, which features a magic lanternist as a central figure. The film, which tells the tragic story of the Tolpuddle martyrs, pioneers of British trade unionism, is released on both formats on 20 July.

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.



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.

Making of America


The recent piece on ‘The Kinetoscope of Time‘ alerted me to Making of America, an online library of digitised primary sources on America social history “from the antebellum period through reconstruction”. This project, managed jointly by Cornell University Library and the University of Michigan, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, began in 1995. The current digital libraries are available on two websites, and they contain a number of documents on pre-cinema and early motion pictures.

The Cornell University Library site is based upon 109 monographs (267 volumes) and 22 journals (955 volumes) dating primarily between 1840-1900. The twenty-two journals used include The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, The North American Review and Scribner’s Magazine. There are also numerous digitsed books. With the 1900 cut-off date, we are looking at the earliest years of motion pictures, along with the so-called pre-cinema era, and profitable keywords to employ include Kinetoscope, Cinematograph, and Magic Lantern. Here are some of the stand-out texts available:

The University of Michigan’s site boasts an amazing 10,000 books and 50,000 journal articles from 19th century imprints. The subject browsing option appears to contain no keywords for motion pictures or their precursors, and I have found nothing of any consequence in our field – others may be able to say otherwise.