What makes the lantern slide experience distinctive from other media experiences?

What makes the lantern slide experience distinctive from other media experiences?


National Film and Sound Archive Scholars and Artists in Residence Presentation, 2011


The remarks I am going to make today are based on my initial brief encounter with the NFSA’s lantern slide collections. For the sake of brevity my remarks will not cover two significant collections in the Archive, the song slide collection, which is dealt with by the current excellent foyer show, and the theatre slide collection, which is large and fascinating, but falls outside the ambit of today’s talk. My remarks are based on several other diverse lantern slide collections in the Archive, but they do not go very deeply into any one collection, rather they are intended to be initial thoughts across a broad front which I offer in order to seek direction for the further research I might undertake. I’d also like to acknowledge that in preparing this talk I’ve relied on the previous published research of Elizabeth Hartrick, Chris Long and Shaune Lakin, as well as conversations with Dani Zuvela from Griffith University.



In April 1848 the Daguerreotypist Joseph Newland placed an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald that offered customers, along with a minstrel show, the following:


BEAUTIFUL SCIENTIFIC EXHIBITION OF DISSOLVING VIEWS/ Powerful oxy-hydrogen microscope, and newly discovered optical instrument/ THE CHROMATROPE/Mr Newland will exhibit his beautiful collection of dissolving views (as shown at the Polytechnic, Adelaide Gallery, etc) powerful oxy-hydrogen microscope, and dazzling chromatropes, by the aid of the celebrated/ DRUMMOND LIGHT/the apparatus is of the most splendid and costly description being of a scale of magnificence never before introduced in the colonies — calculated to blend instruction with amusement — to gratify the learned and the unlearned — refresh the memory of the scholar — and afford the general auditor a magnificent display./ 10,000 SQUARE FEET OF ILLUMINATED SCENERY (Hatrick Figure 1.1)

Newland was augmenting his itinerant Daguerreotype business by showing imported hand painted slides on imported magic lanterns. He is also showing an ‘oxy hydrogen microscope’, where live insects trapped between two sheets of glass were enlarged onto the screen, as well as chromatropes, two circular sheets of painted glass which were rotated in opposite directions against each other. All three experiences are driven by the unprecedented optical experience of the high-powered, white, limelight. A further advertisement he placed two weeks later details the transitions the viewer would experience through a total of forty slides, while an orchestra played:


Part I 1. Ponti Rotti, Rome; changing to 2. Hammersmith Suspension Bridge; to 3. Colonnade, Venice; to 4. Sligo Cathedral, Ireland; to 5. Mount Vesuvius by day; to 6. Mount Vesuvius by night; to 7. Chromatrope; to 8. Val el Casat; to 9. Alloway Kirk – Burns’s Monument; to 10. View near Paris; to 11. Punch before dinner; to 12. Punch after Dinner; to 13. Tyre; to 14. Netley Abbey; to 15. Chromatrope; to 1.; Rustic View Summer; to 17. Rustic View Winter; to 18. Leap Frog; to 19. Crypt in York Cathedral; to 20 Chromatrope.


Part II Overture — “Gustavue” — Auber.

Illuminated Natural History

Part III repeated the pattern of part 1in a further twenty slides. (Vine Press House Lorrraine; El Sibal on the Salt Plains of Tunis , with natural bridge; Outside the Caen Cathedral; Inside the same cathedral;  Belem Castle near Lisbon; Tutertachen; Chromatrope; Shirbrook Bridge; Mount of Olives; Greenwich Hospital by Stanfield; Lea Bridge in Summer; Lea Bridge in Winter; Chromatrope; Lake Como, upper Italy; Army and Navy; Hall of 1000 pillars; Brickfielder; Kent East Indiaman in a gale; Kent East India Man on fire; Chromatrope.)


The principle spectacular effect was the dissolve, hence the title of the show ‘dissolving views’. Viewers experienced the frisson of seeing one hand-painted image dissolve into a quite different hand-painted image; or the jouissance of seeing the dissolve effect a temporal transition from day to night in the same scene. Other slides, such as ‘Leap Frog’ were probably single ‘slipping slides’, where a sheet of clear glass with strategically placed areas of black paint was quickly slipped across the hand painted image — obscuring one part of the image, while simultaneously revealing another; or mechanical slides, where one layer of class was quickly rotated, producing a simple animation effect. Between these transitions were placed three displays of the Chromatrope, an entirely abstract effect of colour, pattern and movement creating an almost pulsating effect three-dimensional illusion. Finally, the display of ‘Illuminated Natural History’ enlarged live insects onto the screen.


In the audience’s experience of the show it was the spectacular attraction of the apparatus and the various transition effects that were given priority, over the putative content of the views. When Newland took the show to Maitland in August 1848 the local newspaper specifically commented on the aesthetic and spectacular effects, rather than the actual content, of the three components to Newland’s show. ‘Mr. Newland showed great skill in the gradual fading away of one view and encroachment on it of the succeeding one, until one had finally disappeared, and the other was revealed in all its beauty.’ The paper also remarked on ‘the most dazzling effect’ and ‘brilliant colours’ of the chromatropes; while the ‘extraordinary size and quick and ferocious movements’ of the live weevils which were projected on the screen, ‘almost gave rise to a feeling of fear in the mind.’ (Maitland Mercury and Hunter River general Advertiser 9/8/48 p2



The dissolve between two images was effected by having two lanterns focused on the one screen, with either an iris being closed over one lens while the other was opened; or a pivoting black metal fan with a feathered edges which ‘wiped’ one image while simultaneously ‘unwiping’ the other; or by the gas to one lantern being turned down while the gas to the other was turned up. As a variety of lecturers displayed them through the colonies during the rest of the century many other newspapers reported on the dramatic and narrative evocations dissolving views were able to create in their audience, particularly when accompanied by music and a lecture. In 1852 Alfred Cane exhibited a variety of chromatropes as well as dissolving views in Sydney, and the Sydney Morning Herald was quick to report on the effectiveness of the dissolve.


” A ship in a calm” was a particularly truthful representation of that most tedious, most trying, most wretched predicament. Grazing at the view, one might almost fancy one saw the lazy sharks crawling about in the blue water, carrying on their eternal war against every other creature… Then suddenly the scene changed, the ship is caught in a storm, and with double-reefed foresail only set, struggles vainly against the furious surge, which too fatally drives her onto the inexorable rock. These two representations of the chances of the ocean were followed by “the ship on fire,” and “the raft,” and elicited several rounds of applause, especially from the juvenile portion of the audience, who, with true British feeling, seemed to delight in the danger, although ’twas but in show. (SMH 30/1/52 p2)


Amongst the imported slides James Smith displayed in Melbourne in 1855 was the popular image of Vesuvius erupting. According to The Age the image began as:


‘[t]he Bay of Naples , smiling in the serenity of sunshine, with Vesuvius at rest lowering grandly in the distance. Then: Clouds and thick darkness come over the scene, and the volcano belches forth its red fires and gloomy vapours, and the effect produced is really admirable.” (9/5/55 p6).



The dissolving effects, chromatropes and live microscopic projections were only part of these shows. Also on display was the spectacle of science itself. In Maitland in 1842 Newland also displayed the wonder of raw light itself:


The exhibition concluded with an illumination of the room by the Drummond light [limelight]: the room was too small to fully show the power of the light, but the operator tested its intense heat by burning in it a gimblet, which he actually burnt [it] into three pieces, the iron giving out brilliant sparks just before separating.


In 1854 (according to newspaper reports) nearly a thousand people saw Knight’s dissolving views in Hobart.

“The evening concluded by the exhibition of the chromatic fire cloud. This splendid and curious cloud of fire is caused by driving a quantity of muriatic acid against a board suspended parallel with the ceiling; the acid is then ignited, and a cloud of fire of various colours appears to descend.” (Hobart Courier 8/9/54 p2).


The great South Australian photographer Nicholas Caire found his photographic business failing in 1869 because of the drought, so he took to touring South Australia with two lanterns and sets of dissolving views imported from Britain. However as part of the show he also administered electric shocks from a galvanic battery to members of the audience who desired it. (Hartrick p74)


In the early 1900s the travelling troop of entertainers the Corricks purchased an eight horsepower electric dynamo from Paris which gave 5000 candle power of light to the projector, allowing slides to be projected on the outside of the hall. The dynamo also drove arc lights which illuminated the streets outside the hall, as well as stings of incandescent lights around the proscenium of the stage.



We know that dissolving views were an important part of Australian colonial visual culture, because by the 1850s the terms ‘dissolving views’ and ‘chromatrope’ had firmly entered the Australian language as metaphors. For instance in 1857 a correspondent to the Hobart Courier satirized the various rhetorical exertions of colonial politicians in parliament as an exhibition of dissolving views. In his satire, taxes and debts were ‘dissolving’ the bright future Tasmania’s politicians were laying out:

A mist came over the glowing colours, extensive plains contracted to little valleys, undulating hills became rocky scrub, and the expected gold never came, and behind all appeared TAXES. Tax upon income; tax upon property; tax upon luxuries; tax upon four-wheeled carriages. It was evidently a mistake the obtrusion on so beautiful a vision of these unseemly and disagreeable objects, but unequivocally they made themselves apparent, and thus this beauteous scene dissolved away. (Hobart Courier 11/4/57 p3)


This would be equivalent to a satirist saying today that a politician’s promises were ‘virtual reality’.


In 1852 a poem called Ode to Melbourne was published in the Argus which was a satirical take on Melbourne’s poor drainage and alcoholic binge-drinking culture. It satirized Melbourne’s ‘filthy lanes’ and ‘atrocious smells’. Melbourne was full of pubs and drunkards, so the gutters ran with filth which reflected the debaucheries above:


Oh Pleasant city, full of pleasant places,

Thy very gutters show ‘dissolving views’


The dissolving view, far from the high minded transcendental language of the ads the exhibitors put in the papers, was here associated with the gaudy, the low, the inebriated and the insubstantial.


On the Irish poet’s Thomas Moore’s death in 1852, a literary reviewer critiqued the rich poetical imagery of his orientalist Romances, and used the optical experience of the Chromatrope, then only a few years old, as a powerful metaphor for the showy, the over the top, and the fake:


There is over-profusion of imagery [in Moore’s poem], and a uniformity of splendour, a constant succession of glittering images and high-strained emotions, by which the fancy, at first dazzled and excited, becomes sated and fatigued. We long for some relief and some repose. It is like the dazzling of the eye by too long gazing at a chromatrope, or other display of optical wonders. … The pleasure has been intense, but on that account all the more transitory, and followed by a feeling of disappointment. We have been looking at a grand pyrotechnic display with wonder and delight, but how different are the feelings of calm and lasting pleasure with which the glories of the nightly firmament fill the mind. Such contrast is here between Moore and other poets who are more true nature.


Why am I telling you about mid nineteenth century literary criticism? Because it shows by reflection what a profound impact lantern slides and chromatropes had on everybody during this period.



Throughout the 1850s and 1860s lantern slides were being shown by photographers like Newland and Caire needing to diversify, or by other showmen exploiting the new technology, their exhibitions were never as successful as their ads made out. Often newspapers commented on what disappointing failures their displays were, when they were unable to produce enough light, unable to keep their slides in focus, or unable to correctly size the projected disc to the sheet. However, increasingly in the 1880s and 90s magic lanterns were mass produced and mass marketed, and slide sets accompanied by printed booklets were produced on mass and imported into Australia. Temperance unions such as the Band of Hope as well as religious groups increasingly used these lanterns and slide sets in their meetings.


They were also increasingly incorporated into music hall entertainments. For instance the English baritone George Snazelle toured the colonies in the late 80s and early 90s. His singing, accompanied by piano, organ and chorus was illustrated by dissolving views that added a ‘charming feature to a refined and amusing program’, which also included whistling, recitations and banter. (SMH 26/10/89 p12). His recitation of Tennyson’s The Brook was accompanied by eighteen dissolving views of the Thames. His singing of Gounod’s Nazareth was accompanied by six well know pictures, including Holman Hunt’s the Light of the World. He concluded his evenings with a display of chromatropes. (SMH 19/10/89 p12)


The Light of the World was fast becoming the most famous picture of the nineteenth century. Its Pre-Raphaelite painterly style created the effect of light seeming to emanate from the painting itself. It’s visual and symbolic melding of physical light with spiritual light was therefore perfectly suited to magic lantern projection. A version of the painting even went on a world tour in 1904, coming to Australia and New Zealand. Patrons sat in from of the painting and let it enter their eyes, then the lights in the room were turned down so they could discern a crucifix-like afterimage on their retinas.


The Chorus to Nazareth runs:

Tho’ poor be the chamber, come here, come and adore, Lo! The Lord of Heaven hath to mortals given Life For Evermore, Life For Evermore, Life For Evermore


Snazelle recorded his songs for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company of London between 1898 and 1906, and Nazareth was also recorded by the Australian singer Peter Dawson.


In 1893 Snazelle sung to lantern slides at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings and the Melbourne Opera House, where they were projected as discs 30 feet in diameter. He displayed The Light of The World again, while singing the hymn Behold I Stand at the Door accompanied by a chorus. By this time Snazelle was also presenting life model slides, which were becoming increasingly popular. Companies such as Bamworth and Co produced slides with live models adopting narrative attitudes in front of painted backdrops. Snazelle presented thirty life-model slides of Dickens’ ‘ A Christmas Carol’, and his daughter sang ballads to the life model slide series Daddy, (Hartrick 100-103)



Daddy, Good Night

Take my head on your shoulder, Daddy

Why do your tears fall, Daddy

I often seem to hear her voice

But I’ve got you and you’ve got me


In life model slide sets the various poses of the life models told a story, but not in the sense of an action linearly extending within a defined length of time, rather in an iterative way, suited to the structure of a popular song with it repeating chorus and separate self-contained verses.



The 1890s saw the convergence of magic lantern lectures, which had been developing for fifty years, with the cinematograph. Companies marketed lantern slide sets as well as Lumiere films, and cinematographic adapters for lanterns were also for sale.


The two modes of display did find themselves in conflict for audiences. In 1897 Henry J. Walker wrote an article Animated Photographs versus Dissolving Views for the UK Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger, in which he lamented that the new cinematographic craze which had been taken up by music halls was pushing aside the old dissolving view exhibitions. To defend dissolving views he retreated to the age old argument that the cinematograph was merely mechanical copying, whereas the dissolving view required manual craft on the part of the operator: “The animated photographs I put down as a mechanical triumph, and the success of dissolving views to the skill of the operator”. P110.


But in Australia the two co-existed for about a decade. For instance in1901 Snazelle returned to Sydney with a show called ‘Our Navy’ that combined his singing with imported lantern-slide sets, purchased biograph films and on-stage theatrical wave effects. Travelling companies such as Joseph Check’s Popular Variety Company toured Northern NSW in the late 1890s with a troop of burlesque artists and baritones who also exhibited Edison’s cinematograph, imported lantern slides, and lantern slides taken in the districts through which they were touring. The Corricks also illustrated their songs with sets of dissolving views, as well as screening biograph pictures. Following on from Snazelle, their rendition of ‘The Lads in Navy Blue’ was illustrated by ‘forty modern pictures of ‘Our Navy’’ which they had brought from the slide makers G. West and Sons, of Southsea, England, who specialized in maritime subjects.



In the 1890s Joseph Perry of the Salvation Army used off-the-shelf life-model slides and popular ballads in services to be what he termed ‘Spiritual Barnums’ (as in P T Barnum the American showman). He also projected the words of hymns and showed lantern slides during hymns singing. Most of the slides were purchased from the Melbourne slide importers T. W. Cameron or Cooper and Co. Often these slides were hand-coloured copies of popular engravings, such as those by Gustave Dore.


The War Cry of 16/1/92 reported on a service:


Some magnificent pieces from the life of Christ were introduced. These are from Dore’s pictures and are superb. They speak very loudly, as they are flung upon the sheet, and stand out in bold relief on the canvas. One could see the vindictive look on the faces of those who were driving the nails into the hands and feet of Christ.


Two years later the War Cry reported:


A great many were moved to tears at the sufferings of Jesus on the canvas so ably explained by the Captain. (War Cry 28/4/94)


Although Perry used off-the-shelf slides, he had a bigger budget than other lanternists and was able to refresh his stock frequently. In addition he was able to give his off the shelf slides, such as the Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World, which he had brought from the Melbourne slide shop T. W. Cameron, more directly scriptural significance, as opposed to the merely religiously sentimental meaning they were given by performers such as Snazelle.


The scenes which followed depicted some of the choicest incidents in the life of the ‘Man of Sorrows’, with here and there pictures of symbolical character thrown in. Perhaps it is superfluous to say that spiritual allegory is only understood by those whose spiritual eyes have been opened. To such, the picture ,’”Behold\ I stand at the door and knock’, would be as an open book; ‘For in every breast that liveth\ Is that strange, mysterious door. (War Cry 28/7/94)


The Salvation Army programs also included chromatropes, and it was there that Joseph’s son, Reg, remembers seeing his first chromatrope as a small child sitting on his step-mother’s knee. It made an intense and unforgettable impression on him, and his memory of it in the 1977 film Reg Perry Remembers returns us vividly to the power of nineteenth century visual technology. But even the meaning of the chromatrope, which had been a staple of lantern performances for fifty years by this time, was given more pointed meaning by Perry because it was shown at the same time as the collection plate went round. Minnie L Rowell told the War Cry:


The proceeds of the service were to be devoted to reducing the electric light bill of the corps, and the collection was foreshadowed by the appearance on the sheet of a kaleidoscopic slide resembling a plate. By some wonderful means the patterns on the plate began to turn in and out and round and round in a most indescribable way, till I almost wondered if my head or this comical arrangement would turn inside out. (War Cry 1/7/96)


From 1893 Perry began to produce his own slides based on the life-model slides produced by British companies such as Bamworth & Co. This activity increased in 1896 when Herbert Booth arrived from Britain. In 1897 the combination of lantern slide, phonograph and Kinematograph was being promoted within the Army as a ‘triple alliance’. They were combined in the lectures given by Booth in the late 1890s, with titles such as Social Salvation, which combined slides and films both shot by Perry and brought off the shelf.


In 1900 Booth and Perry produced a recruitment lecture combining both off-the-shelf and home-produced slides and films called Soldiers of the Cross. The lecture, based on the Roman persecution of the Christians, ran for approximately two hours. In it’s original form the fifteen of so films, none of which ran for more than 90 seconds, occupied only a small proportion of the lecture time. All the ones made in Australia are now lost.


The film segments were all single, locked-off shots using the same actors, narrative scenarios, and painted backdrops as the slides. Chris Long, in his Cinema Papers article, maintains that the narrative of the lecture flowed smoothly from slide sequence to film, however he does quote a later program for the film which states: ‘Scenes are first shown by still pictures and then the same incidents are reproduced by cinematograph display.


This produces a fascinating dynamic between the iterative, chorus like structure of the life model slide tableaus and the continuous motion of the short film segments. An early episode features a spectacular stoning of the martyr Stephen.


The War Cry (22/9/00) describes this sequence:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The Sanhedrim, [Jewish court] the trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The Kinematorgraphe was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionist of the day cannot be described. The kinematographe gives way to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.


The slide sequence begins with a series in the court-room which is similar to the structure of the Bamworth life-model slides, where a series of rhetorical poses are iterated. There is even, as was common in Bamworth slides, a superimposition of a host of angels, probably derived from a purchased slide. We can readily imagine how these would have meshed in with Booth’s lecture as they, to quote the War Cry, ‘passed in review’. But later the slide sequences aren’t iterative, but appear to be diegetic, like frames extracted from a continuous movement: do we see Stephen’s blood pooling around his head as the persecutor Paul appears? Did film of Stephen’s stoning replace the two slides of the stoning, which were only shown when the cinematographic film wasn’t? Or did it come after the slide sequence of the same stoning, to re-iterate it and therefore re-emphasise the familiar tableau-like attitudes of the slides in the new medium of continuous motion pictures? I’d like to argue that it was the latter, as the War Cry says, ‘the Kinematorgraphe was employed in [my emphasis] this latter scene.’


However in other instances Chris Long seems fairly certain that film followed on from slide sequences, and these slide sequences seem to be quite cinematic, almost building up momentum. For instance in a later version of the lecture a scene of Roman soldiers raiding a church service was apparently followed by a filmed chase sequence shot on a new camera in which, according to the War Cry, a Roman soldier is boinged off a bendy plank and splashed into a stream.


Long also mentions films like ‘Paul escaping from Damascus in a Basket’ being commented on in 1901, did they replace similar slide sequences, or repeat and re-emphasize the movement of the slide sequence of the same incident.


Other slide sequences show strongly the bricolage approach of Booth and Perry. This bricolage is fundamental to the way the lantern-slide lecture was developing into the twentieth century. The longest episode from the lecture is titled Christians in the Catacombs, and is about how the Christian rituals of birth and death were continued underground. It begins with a historical map of the catacombs, also inserted are slides made from old stereographs of the catacombs which have been hand coloured to integrate them into the visual flow. Also included are engravings of the catacombs, which seem to have been the basis for the Army’s painted backdrops. According to Chris Long the climax of the episode, a clandestine burial, was also filmed, but it also appears as a tight sequence of slides. So we have a wonderful mixture here of what would, twenty years or so later, become separate genres within twentieth century media. ‘Documentary’ photography; ‘fictional’ acting; cinematography; ‘artistic’ engravings and paintings; ‘travel guides’, and even ‘historical anthropology’ are here all bricolaged together so that one lends authority and rhetorical emphasis to the other.


Perhaps the splitting apart and quarantining of different genres — into say fiction and documentary — which was to happen in the 1910s and 20s, is now collapsing together again at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Perhaps the logic of a You Tube channel, a blog or a web site is now not dissimilar to a lantern slide lecture.



Lantern slides are the missing ingredient which link together previously siloed scholarship on nineteenth century Australian visual technology and spectacle. Mimi Colligan’s Canvas Documentaries: Panoramic Entertainments in Nineteenth Century Australia and New Zealand and Anita Callaway’s Visual Ephemera: Theatrical Art in Nineteenth Century Australia are both fabulous books. But neither of them directly address magic lanterns. Similarly, the history of Australian painting often forgets that paintings could be optical spectacles as well as precious objects, not only in Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World, but also in Longstaff’s Menin Gates at Midnight, which toured Australia in the 1927 and 1928 to the accompaniment of organ music.


From the point of view of today’s museums, magic lanterns and slides from the nineteenth century are especially important. All of the other wonderful visual technologies of colonial Australia have been lost. The ‘transformation scenes’ in pantomimes, which created illusions with lighting effects and mechanical scenery-changes, have been lost. The back-lit transparencies which decorated buildings have been destroyed, likewise the mechanical panoramas. The cyclorama buildings in Sydney and Melbourne have been knocked down long ago. But we do have chromatropes, and we do have mechanical slides, and they can be re-projected to give visitors some idea of the richness of the colonial visual experience. For instance the wonderful 250 watt Mazda light globe in the collection’s Praestantia lantern from Riley Brothers could be replaced with a cool, UV filtered LED light to replicate pretty closely the cool, actinic colour temperature of limelight.



In the twentieth century the lanternslide slowly lost its sense of technological spectacle and uncanny magic. However it persisted as an important part of the emerging twentieth century mass media. Lantern slides increasingly became an ‘intermedia’, a conduit between different media platforms. They became a ‘vector’ along which images could travel. A good example of this is the slide collection of A. J. Abbott. ‘Professor’ Albert J Abbott was a palmist, a phrenologist, a Spiritualist and a pastor in the Free Christian Assembly, one of the many new radical churches which were springing up in Australia around the turn of the century. He couldn’t keep himself out of trouble, in 1896 he was accused of immorality for bestowing ‘pure kisses’ on female members of his congregation. And in 1906 a member of his congregations leapt on stage and hit him with her umbrella, accusing him of bigamy. He wrote various religious tracts, including one that subscribed to a widespread cult at the time that believed King George was descended from one of the tribes of Israel, and he drew elaborate diagrams of ‘God’s Dispensation’.


In about the 1910s he must have been attracted to Spiritualism, and begun to use lantern slides for his lectures. His lantern slide collection includes some old dissolving views, and some phrenological subjects, but are largely devoted to Spiritualism. They contain portraits of leading figures in the movement, including Emma Hardinge Britten who was the co-founder of Theosophy and visited Australia in 1880, and William Terry, leader of the Victorian Spiritualists and publisher of the journal Harbinger of Light. The lecture contains spirit photographs of all the major spirit photographers up to the 1910s: William Mumler, Frederick Hudson, Edouard Buguet, William Crookes, and Richard Boursnell. They are all copied out of books. For instance many are copied from a book published by Georgiana Houghton in 1882. The book was reproduced with carte de visites which had been turned into tiny lithographic plates, and these have been copied by Abbott.


If Abbott had access to the original book, he may have been able to recount the remarkable stories that Houghton told about how she conducted photographic séances at the glass house studio of Frederick Hudson and interacted with spirits in front of his camera. One image is of Georginia Houghton with a spirit called Zilla. Houghton described the photograph:


“We are standing face to face, her right hand is within mine, while with the left she gathers the drapery under her chin. There was a something that had puzzled me to understand, for it seemed almost like an arm passing round my left shoulder, yet it could not be, for both her hands were occupied.”


Houghton took the print to the medium Mrs Tebbs, who contacted the ‘Other Side’, and interpreted the bar of light linking the spirit to her:


“It is a ray of coloured light, flowing from her to you; they are shewing it to me” (here she moved her hands as if seeing the light issue from herself), “it is the link binding you to each other; it flows flows from the heart, but also from all this region below the heart, explaining the phrases  ‘his bowels did yearn upon his brother:’ ‘bowels of compassion’, etc and they are giving me to understand that unless that light can touch the other person, they ought not to have anything to do with one another: — a time is coming when that link will be perceptible to all of us, and thus we will know with whom we may beneficially hold communion. It does not seem the quantity of that stream of light, so much as the quality, which is of importance: — what they first showed me was a lovely pink colour, and now they are showing me some of a rich hue, like arterial blood. It encircles you, though you scarcely see it on this side (beneath the right arm), but it must come quite around, forming a complete bond of union: — you look as if you felt it, and the expression in your face is as if you had learned far more than words could tell; that language would only weaken the force you have received.”



Through the example of A J Abbott we can see that in the twentieth century lantern sliders were increasingly used as conduits through which various images were brought to audiences. They were vectors, not artefacts. For instance we can look at Charles Snodgrass Ryan and Ernest Brooks. Brooks was the official British photographer at Gallipoli, and Ryan was a surgeon, an ornithologist, and an amateur photographer. In April 1915, at the age of 62, Ryan was sent to Gallipoli as assistant director of medical services. He stayed at Gallipoli only until June 1915 when he was evacuated to London via Egypt with enteric fever. He had taken many personal stereo views in Egypt and on Gallipoli, and it was probably when he was in London that his personal stereos were acquired by the Central News Agency. Some of them were then reproduced in the Australian press in September and October 1915. For instance in September 1915 The Melbourne Leader published A captured Turkish Sniper screened by foliage attached to his clothing; On October 30 it published Brooks’ shot of Australians resting in the trenches at Gallipoli; a Ryan’s shots : a  ‘British Officer leading a Turkish officer blindfold through Australian Lines’;Using a periscope rifle in an Australian trench; General Birdwood taking a dip in the sea; ‘From the Lone Pine trenches after the battle Australian Troops all wear white arm bands.


Probably through the Central News agency these images were acquired by the London lantern slide manufacturers Newtons and Co, probably one of the largest global producers of slides (from whom the Salvation Army also imported slides). One half of some of Ryan’s stereo pairs were then hand coloured and sold as slide sets, augmented, by other stock slides of Egypt, same possibly dating from the nineteenth century. This set of slides eventually entered the NFSA collection through the World War Two correspondent Allan Anderson. Meanwhile the original stereos entered the collection of the Australian War Memorial and are on display there. So we have the same image existing during the War as illustrated magazine picture, a handcoloured lantern slide, and one half of a stereo pair. Each of these images identical images in a different forma entered different archives, The NLA, the NFSA and the AWM.



I think with that brief historical context we can now begin to disentangle the lantern experience its domination by other histories, such as the history of cinema or the history of painting. I think we can pull some of the threads together and make a rough table of what, at the turn of the twentieth century, distinguished the cinematograph from the magic lantern:



Dissolving Magic Lantern Views

Music and inter-titles are diegetic (towards narrative and temporal movement) Music and lecture are ekphrastic (towards rhetorical emphasis of single images and statements)
Continuous motion Iterative gesture
Technology subsumed into image Image is a distinct part of a wider technological assemblage including limelight/electricity, dissolving mechanisms, audience wonder, etc
Editing Bricolage
A relatively discrete media object/event An intermedia vector shifting images between medias and genres


I believe that placing cinema in this broader context may help us have a more nuanced interpretation of viewer responses to film during this period. For instance the wonderful Pathé film Toto has been restored by the NFSA from the Corrick collection. Initially we may think that the audience’s main pleasure comes from the wonder of seeing a hand coloured simulation of a kaleidoscope up on screen. However, kaleidoscopes had been around since 1818, and the kaleidoscope craze had gripped Europe eighty years before the film was made. In addition, everybody in the audience had presumably already experienced, or at least heard about chromatrope slides. So the real pleasure for audiences at the time comes from feeling their point of view change from their position in the audience seeing projected images of people on the street, to the point of view of somebody within the film looking through an optical toy.


I also think that the qualities in the right hand column: ekphrasis, iteration, technological assemblage, bricolage, and image vector may have more in common with the contemporary producer and consumer of blogs, web pages and you tube channels, than the contemporary viewer of movies.


Martyn Jolly

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