One-day symposium, Wednesday 21 April 2021, 8:45am-5pm
Ann Harding Conference Centre, University of Canberra
re)create is a one-day symposium exploring the role of creative art practice in the activation of heritage places, practices and projects. Artists are adept at generating new perspectives on seeing, feeling and thinking. In doing so they play an important role in urging us to consider how we perceive and value the world around us.
(re)create brings together artists, curators, heritage professionals and other researchers to explore the new perspectives that art can bring to heritage interpretation, engagement, community participation and collective problem-solving. Speakers will discuss their involvement in reanimating archives, reimagining histories, place and ecologies, and drawing inspiration from collections and things. Whether it be the activation of dormant seed banks, endangered mammals on the edge of suburbia, or the values of mid-century modern buildings, art has a role to play in how we frame our future heritage.
Stuart Jeffrey (Glasgow School of Art)
Stuart Jeffrey (Glasgow School of Art
Tessa Bell, Elisa de Courcy, Ursula Frederick, Katie Hayne, Cathy Hope, Tracy Ireland, Edwina Jans, Martyn Jolly, Martin Rowney, Joanne Searle, Erica Seccombe, Tim Sherratt, Denise Thwaites, Sharon Veale, Carolyn Young, and Ruth Waller.
Tessa Bell, Elisa de Courcy, Ursula Frederick, Katie Hayne, Cathy Hope, Tracy Ireland, Edwina Jans, Martyn Jolly, Martin Rowney, Joanne Searle, Erica Seccombe, Tim Sherratt, Denise Thwaites, Sharon Veale, Carolyn Young, and Ruth Waller.
Conveners: Ursula Frederick and Tracy Ireland (University of Canberra)
Hosted by the Centre for Creative & Cultural Research (CCCR
Faculty of Arts & Design
University of Canberra
More information and registration:
Image: UK Frederick, Planet X (detail), 2019, chemigram, slide mounts and plastic sleeving
Dr Elisa deCourcy and Dr Martyn Jolly, with Dr Donna West Brett
Thursday 11 March, 6.30pm
In the mid-19th century, daguerreotype portraiture was taking the world by storm. Join historians Dr Elisa deCourcy and Dr Martyn Jolly, in conversation with Dr Donna West Brett, for a discussion on this portrait of Sydney publican Edward McDonald.
Edward McDonald, the publican of the Forth & Clyde hotel at The Rocks, obviously had a strong personality. It still twinkles through his daguerreotype portrait now in the collection of the Chau Chak Wing Museum and featured in The Business of Photography: the 19th century studio in NSW. Our speakers will connect this palm-sized image, captured by JW Newland in 1848, to the intricate local, imperial and global visual economies in which it was embedded.
Thursday 11 March, 6.30pm
Nelson Meers Foundation Auditorium, Chau Chak Wing Museum
A Zoom link will be provided to those attending online.
This article was published in The Magic Lantern Journal, Number 25, December 2020, pp4-7 and was based on a paper read at the conference ‘Camera Education: Photographic Histories of Visual Literacy, Schooling, and the Imagination’, at the Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester, June 2020.
Among the thousands of magic lantern slides offered up for sale on auction sites every year, there are always hundreds of chromolithographic transfer slides. They are often of hackneyed fairy tales or cliched subjects, so they are not highly sought after. But the fact that they are so readily available, one hundred and twenty years after they were first produced, indicates that they must have played an important role in the visual culture of the period.
One of the biggest producers of these slides was the British firm W. Butcher & Sons. In November 1900 the magic lantern trade journal announced that Butcher’s were:
at present making a special feature of lithographic slides pertaining to the Boer war. Of course slides made by this process cannot for a moment compare with photographic slides, but all things considered they are good of their kind, and with, say, an oil light, will look very well when projected on a screen. These sets of slides are known as the Junior Lecturers’ series, and are sold at a low price.
Like many British magic lantern firms, Butcher’s was vertically integrated. It imported and manufactured apparatus — the ‘device’ — and also produced the imagery which their lanterns would project — the ‘content’. Within a few years they had given the series the brand name ‘Primus’.
The genius of the Primus series was that it brought together several different new industrial processes and emerging social developments into the one package. The slides themselves were an offshoot of the massive chromolithography industry which had been growing in popularity throughout the nineteenth century. The image was drawn in separate colours onto multiple stones, but instead of being printed in registration onto paper or cardboard for posters or packaging, the layers of pigment were printed onto a transparent decal, and then transferred to a square of glass. The decorated boxes in which the slides were packaged made use of developments in cardboard manufacture and offset printing in coloured inks to look attractive in the retail space of a fancy goods store, and to be of a comparable price to the toys and games with which they were competing.
Through chromolithographic transfer a diverse range of different pictorial sources from different periods could be brought together into sequences of visually homogenous images. The format of eight numbered and boxed slides could be expanded progressively into different series and sets, comprising a large ‘library’ in many different genres. Eventually there were almost 200 different boxed sets.
The series was aimed not at the assembly hall but at the home parlour. Most importantly, the Primus series was interactive, children could unfold the prepared readings included in the box and read them as the corresponding slide was passed though the lantern. Supported by this systematic structure a child with a ‘Primus’ lantern and slides could become a ‘Junior Lecturer’ for their friends and proud parents. As their catalogue claimed:
The colouring is of the finest quality and is very transparent, so that the slides give perfect results with the minimum amount of light, making them very suitable for home use where incandescent gas or electric light bulb is the only illuminant available. The sets are all carefully selected, and offer a varied choice of humorous, historical, educational, and religious subjects suitable for both young and old. The slides are prepared in many instances from specially taken photographs — others from drawings by famous artists. In every case the draughtsmanship and colouring leave nothing to be desired. […] [They] are accompanied by a well written and interesting lecture.
The series was launched with five sets about the Boer War. As many scholars have argued, the Boer War was a media watershed because public demand for up-to-the-minute war news catalysed well established media such as the telegraph, illustrated newspapers, music halls and the magic lantern with new technologies such as the cinematograph and half-tone newspaper reproductions. This produced an emergent media space where different kinds of immediate experience were developed for audiences who were reconstituting themselves in new ways.
A 1901 newspaper advertisement from the Victorian town of Castlemaine illustrates the changing structure of this crowded media space very well. It promises Australian made films of that year’s Federation celebrations as well as ‘All the Latest War Films’ from South Africa. But more encouragingly for the audience, it also promises ‘No dreary lecture, no magic lantern’. In this context, while capitalising on the established educational prestige of the lantern lecture, the Junior Lecturer slides were also careful to place themselves not in the ‘dreary’ world of old, but in the new world of ‘the most interesting entertainment’.
To keep ‘up to the minute’ Butcher’s contracted with illustrated newspapers such as the The Graphic and The Sphere. The Sphere was a new illustrated newspaper that had begun in late 1900 as a response to the public’s appetite for images of the War. The monochrome paintings made by the special war artists it sent to South Africa were translated into square colour slides by artists for the Junior Lecturers’ Series.
Such immediacy continued to be an aspect of the Junior Lecturers’ Series. For instance, in November 1901 both the death of Queen Victoria and the accession of King Edward was marked in a trade advertisement for ‘New Lithographic Slides’.
Fourteen years later, with the beginning of the First World War, the series once more began to produce up to the minute historical sets. Eventually numbering ten sets, twice as many as for the Boar War, The World War slides once again relied on illustrated newspapers such as The Sphere, but illustrated newspapers no longer used paintings by war artists, but photographs by press photographers.
However, the set on which I now want to concentrate is not ‘historical’, but putatively educational. That set is ‘Australia’, the third ‘chapter’ in the series Our Colonies, which also included Canada, New Zealand, India and South Africa. Although produced around 1906, the Australian set seems to reside in some a-temporal time of empire — a time which was already disappearing because of Federation in 1901. To provide context for this anachronistic colonial imagery I want to look at three other British and American lantern slide firms who sent photographers to Australia during this period.
Firstly, in the late 1890s the Scottish firm George Washington Wilson hired an Aberdeen photographer Fred Hardie to travel by train and horse cart across Australia. He eventually produced five sets of photographic slide lectures with accompanying readings, one on each colony except Western Australia.
Secondly, between 1909 and 1910 the artist and photographer Hugh Fisher travelled though Australia on an itinerary organised by the geographer Halford Mackinder. He was gathering lantern slides for the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee who were producing forty-two lectures to show the empire to British children. Of these, the committee eventually produced eight lectures on Australasia.
Although part of the Colonial Office, The Visual Instruction Committee had to enter the highly competitive business of lantern slide retailing as a semi-commercial body in order to manufacture and distribute their slides. Their slides and textbooks were made and sold by Butcher’s main rival, the firm Newton & Co. The entire set of 489 hand coloured photographic slides from Australasian could be purchased from Newton’s for 39 pounds — a hefty nineteen pence a slide. For the ordinary consumer this price compared unfavourably to the boxes of eight Butcher’s Junior Lecturers’ slides which retailed from a mere two shillings a box, less than a sixth of the price.
Thirdly, in 1907 and 1908 the American stereograph company Underwood & Underwood sent their photographer James Ricalton to New Zealand and Australia. The stereographs he shot became the ‘Australia and New Zealand Tour’ within the Underwood & Underwood ‘Travel System’. This system boxed printed guides, maps, stereoscopes and sets of sequenced stereographs into faux book bindings.
Like the other firms, Underwood & Underwood also saw value in a systematic global library of stereoscopic and lantern views aimed at educating children. A few of the stereographs Ricalton shot became a small part of their massive visual library marketed as: The World Visualized for the Class Room: 1000 travel studies through the stereoscope and in lantern slides classified and cross reference for 25 different school subjects. Of the 1000 slides in the set, a grand total of nineteen, less than two percent, came from Australasia and Oceania.
However, when it comes to Our Colonies, unlike George Washington Wilson, the Colonial Office, or Underwood & Underwood, Butcher’s did not send a photographer to Australia. Nor did they contract with specific magazines such as The Sphere and The Graphic as they had for their historical sets. And nor, as they claimed in their publicity, were the slides prepared from ‘specially taken photographs’ or ‘drawings by famous artists’. Rather, the images seem to have been found, more or less at random, from within the vast pool of colonial imagery which had been produced and reproduced over the previous thirty years, and which was swirling around in the London printing trade.
The Illustrated London News was one useful source for the slides. For instance, an engraving from 1876 of the Prince of Wales killing a tiger did duty forty years later as the source both for a slide in the set ‘India’, and in the set ‘Wild Animals and How They Are Hunted’. And another Illustrated London News engraving, the entirely fanciful Kangaroo Hunting in Australia of 1876, also did duty thirty years later to represent Australian sport in Our Colonies.
The opening image of the set, ‘Government House Melbourne’, comes from twenty years before 1906, from an 1886 book Australian Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil. This introductory slide demonstrates the extraordinary laziness of the series as a whole. The text reports that the colonies had recently federated to become a commonwealth, but rather than showing the grand exhibition buildings in which the first parliament had been held, the slide shows the unprepossessing residence of the Governor of Victoria, whose powers had recently been diminished by Federation.
The same 1886 book is the source for the background image in the final slide of the set, ‘Australian Aborigines’. The foreground image comes from even earlier, from the South Australian photographer Samuel Sweet’s 1880 album ‘Views in South Australia’. The eye-watering racism of the lecture children were meant to read out as they projected this slide contrasts with the slightly more enlightened lecture produced by the geographers at the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee for their equivalent slide. For Butcher’s: ‘The Australian “black fellow” is a savage of a decidedly low type: he has a steady objection to work, has no ideas on the subject of crops, but is marvellously acute as a tracker, and an adept at throwing that peculiar weapon — the boomerang’. But the attitude of the Colonial Office was more nuanced: ‘The hostility of the native to the European colonists often arose from their interference with his natural food supply, or to their careless ignorance of his semi-religious ideas or customs, such as the tabu’.
Although most imagery in Our Colonies was decades old, some images were contemporary, but they were taken by photographers who were themselves retailing a retrospective, nostalgic view of Australia. The source images for the slide In the Bush were the popular ‘bushmen’ photographs of Nicholas Caire. At this time Caire was himself also turning his stock of negatives into lantern slides and postcards for the expanding tourist trade. Caire’s customers, who were day tripping office workers catching the train from the bustling modern metropolis of Melbourne to nearby beauty spots, saw these photographs as nostalgic evocations of a disappearing past.
In conclusion, the vertically integrated W. Butcher & Sons were extraordinarily successful in appropriating images from a residual nineteenth century print and photographic culture and an emerging twentieth century media culture for the cheap chromolithographic slides which they used to sell their magic lanterns into homes around the world. In this respect they, and other firms like Underwood & Underwood, are like later media conglomerates such as computer game corporations, where the development of the technology is integrated with the development of content.
But, even in the context of the period, the imagery of the Junior Lecturers’ Series was egregiously reactionary, ignorant, racist and, frankly, lazy. This was because their business model was not the middle-brow visual instruction of George Washington Wilson, nor the imperial geography of the Colonial Office, nor the virtual travel of Underwood & Underwood. Although they borrowed the rhetoric of ‘education’, their ultimate purpose was not, in fact, educational. It was to sell apparatus into homes, and ‘education’ was a useful way for children to activate the apparatus by enacting the new role of ‘Junior Lecturer’. For decades the watchwords for ‘reputable’ magic lanternists had always been ‘instruction AND entertainment’, but Butcher’s innovation was to turn those familiar watchwords into: ‘instruction AS entertainment’.
 ‘Butcher’s Lithographic Slides’, The Optical Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger, November 1900, 150.
 Hermann Hecht, ‘Decalcomania: some preliminary investigations into the history of transfer slides’, The New Magic Lantern Journal, vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1980), 3-6.
 See examples at the following websites: lucerna.exeter.ac.uk; luikerwaal.com; ehive.com (enter the search term Heritage in the Limelight)
 Quoted in Mike Smith, ‘Primus Slides’ in David Robinson, Stephen Herbert, Richard Crangle, eds., The Encyclopedia of the Magic Lantern (Rippon: The Magic Lantern Society, 2001), 240.
 Some of these slides are viewable online as a performance by the University of Sheffield Library, see: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/library/special/boerwar.
 Simon Popple, ‘”Fresh from the Front”: Performance, war news, and popular culture during the Boer war’, Early Popular Visual Culture, 8:4 (2010), 401-418. Denis Condon, ‘Receiving news from the seat of war: Dublin audiences respond to Boer war entertainments’, Early Popular Visual Culture, 9:2 (2011), 93-106.
 Advertisement, Mount Alexander Mail, Victoria, 7 February 1901, 3.
 Advertisement, The Optical Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger, November 1901, v.
 Mark Butterworth, ‘Imaging a Continent: George Washington Wilson & Co.’s lantern slides of Australia’, Early Popular Visual Culture 7:3 (2009) 253-271.
 James Ryan, ‘Visualizing Imperial Geography: Halford Mackinder and the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee, 1902-11’, Ecumene 1:2 (1994), 157-176.
 A. J. Sargent, Visual Instruction Committee Handbook, Australasia, Eight Lectures Prepared for the Visual instruction committee of the Colonial Office (London: George Philip & Son, 1913).
 Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 January 1908, 8; Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 11 September 1907, 6.
 Frank McMurry, The World Visualized for the Class Room: 1000 travel studies through the stereoscope and in lantern slides classified and cross reference for 25 different school subjects (New York: Underwood &Underwood, 1915).
 Howard Willoughby, Australian Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil, By Howard Willoughby of ‘THE MELBOURNE ARGUS’, with a map and one hundred and seven sketches from sketches and photographs, Engraved by E. Whymper and others. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1886)
 Printed reading to ‘Australia’, c1906, chapter 3, Our Colonies, Primus Junior Lecturers’ Series, W. Butcher & Sons.
 A. J. Sargent, 13.
We’ve just received a few advanced copies of our book Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle: The Global Career of Showman Photographer J. W. Newland in the post. It was wonderful writing it with Elisa deCourcy. And now we’ve got it, it is so great seeing the daguerreotypes and magic lantern shows we discuss reproduced side by side as they should be.
We are going to give it a bit of a launch on 18 February next year, so for those in Canberra put it in your diaries, we are even going to put on a magic lantern show under the trees at PhotoAccess.
You can get the ebook if you forgo a few coffees. Or the hard copy if you save up a bit.
“Driven by some extraordinary research, this fascinating book traces the itinerant career of nineteenth-century photographer and projectionist J.W. Newland as he restlessly traverses the world in search of images and customers. Offering a new way of understanding the early history of photography, deCourcy and Jolly embed Newland’s story in an intricate global network of spectacle and exchange. The end result is a brilliant exposition of one man’s working life that also illuminates the advent of the modernity in which we all still live.”
Professor Geoffrey Batchen, University of Oxford
“This fascinating book turns on its head ideas about Empire, and indeed colonial, visual culture. As it makes clear, many more people encountered images of Empire in theatres, music halls and popular lectures than through fine art. Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle helps address the common over-emphasis on paintings and prints when describing how empires illustrated themselves. The reality, as this book demonstrates, is a much more messy, less linear, often technology-based conflation of images, which are teased out through this eminently readable text. By its focus on someone apparently inconsequential, something of real substance and importance emerges.”
Richard Neville,Mitchell Librarian, State Library of New South Wales
“Original, thoughtful, and remarkably readable, this book presents a fascinating story of international and inter-imperial mobility during the mid-nineteenth century. In tracking the itinerant career of the daguerrotypist J. W. Newland across the margins of global empires, deCourcy and Jolly consider the significance of the showman as a shrewd negotiator of colonial and other networks, finding a mixed media space at work in territories from the United States, to the Pacific Islands, Australia and India. An extraordinary global research project in its own right, this book discovers a diversifying trade in cultural goods in this period, offering enlightening insights not only to media and art historians, but also to observers of contemporary global media spaces.”
Professor Joe Kember,University of Exeter
“Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle takes the career of British daguerreotypist and showman J.W. Newland as a central device to explore the volatile world of image production, consumption and transnational cultural exchange in the mid nineteenth century. Exquisitely researched and written with extensive illustrations, this book draws on international archival material, images, historical and biographical data to consider the relationship of one itinerant photographer to the global explosion of image making and visual culture. Through this important and richly illustrated study deCourcy and Jolly reveal both the historical and ongoing relevance of photography as a global visual media.”
Associate Professor Donna West Brett, University of Sydney
“A dazzling and dynamic journey through a world on the brink of an enormous expansion in global visuality. Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle is a major achievement, offering a new way of understanding the intertwined complex of optical technologies, visual experiences, practices, and audiences across multiple sites of empire in the 1840s and 1850s.”
Associate Professor Jennifer Tucker, Wesleyan University
“Much more than an episode in the history of photography, Elisa deCourcy and Martyn Jolly’s book is an excavation into the emergence of modern media culture. The biography of photographer and performer James William Newland is turned into a chapter of the wider biography of entertainment media, providing us with a powerful testimony of how the new appetite for mediated entertainments emerged and developed across the globe in the mid nineteenth century.”
Dr Simone Natale, editor of Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century
The essay Elisa deCourcy and myself wrote for The Conversation, PORTRAIT OF HEMI POMARA AS A YOUNG MAN: HOW WE UNCOVERED THE OLDEST SURVIVING PHOTOGRAPH OF A MĀORI, has been collected into this publication. The other writers are excellent, and the book is very reasonably priced.
This video was made for Fiona Hooton to project on the walls of Verity Lane Canberra, as part of Localjinni’s AlleyHart video walk for Contour 556 2020, Canberra’s public art biennial, and the Design Canberra 2020 festival. The song was arranged and sung by Jacqui Bradley and Krista Schmeling. In a video studio they stood either side of the screen as I projected the original slides through a pair of magic lanterns, using the bat wing dissolver to dissolve between the slides, and a piece of black cardboard with a hole in it to ‘iris’ in on details. The video was shot and assembled by Amr Tawfik and then projected from a mini projector. The life-model magic lantern slides were made by Bamforth & Co after 1897. The song was written in 1877 by George W. Persley and Arthur W. French.
Figure 21. Detail from Centennial Photographic Company, Philadelphia International Exhibition, ‘Queensland Court, Philadelphia ’76, Evening Before Opening’, 1876.
Richard Daintree is well known as an Australian colonial photographer and geologist. I look at six international exhibitions he created from 1872 to 1879 that promoted the colony of Queensland by systematically integrating spectacular grids of painted photographs with displays of scientific samples. By analysing installation views, I argue that the popular success of these exhibitions came from the use of various new photographic technologies within the space of the exhibition, where the frontier directly interacted with the metropole. Further, I argue that Daintree’s personal passion for the science of geology profoundly structured the colonialist narrative of his exhibitions, which combined the latest apparatuses of scientific knowledge and imperial communication, revealing him to be an innovative and internationally significant creator of synthesised exhibitionary experiences.
The exhibition was curated by Virginia Rigney, designed by Greer Versteeg, and installed by Gary Smith.
We displayed 560 slides in a large light box. Grids of 85x85mm square holes, each and 13mm apart, were laser cut into sheets of 4.5mm black acrylic. These were laid on 3mm clear backing acrylic, loaded with slides arranged in groups and sequences, and topped with a cover sheet of clear 2mm acrylic. The sandwiches were then taped around the edges and vertically held by a wooden frame against the inside doors of four bays a large display case. The front of the doors were covered with self-adhesive black vinyl except for the blocks of slides. The slides were lit from the front by ambient LED light, which allowed visitors to see the labels, and they were backlit through UV filtering film by fluorescent light bounced off the back wall of the case.
Interpretative handouts nearby were keyed with thumbnail images to allow visitors to find information and commentary about individual slides and slide sets within the overall grid.
As well as square glass slides, wooden mechanical slides were also displayed on glass shelves. These were lit from the front with LED lights, while the transparent painted glass images were lit from behind with electroluminescent panels trimmed down to size from 100mm x 100m sheets. The colour of each EL panel was corrected with an 81a photographic filter, and UV filtered with film. Each sandwich of EL panel, filter and UV film was lightly attached to the rear of the slide with conservation tape and individually wired into a low voltage circuit.
These displays were augmented with:
- Conventional displays of magic lanterns.
- A circular digital projection on a facing wall introduced visitors to the exhibition, transitioning between text and images.
- Four video screens showed performance documentation and demonstrating the mechanical slides, chromatropes and panoramic slides.
- Enlargements of an Australian lantern slide and a Primus slide box.
Interpretive text was included in the digital projection:
WHY I COLLECT
As an artist and a writer I have always been interested in the way the pictures, especially photographs, affect the way people think and feel. Although I love looking at individual ‘great’ pictures, I have also been interested in the day to day work of unexceptional, sometimes overlooked, perhaps anonymous, now forgotten images — the kind that come to us en masse. I have always been interested in modest images assembled into large archives. I think about them as grids, arrays, deployments, matrices, configurations, layouts and databases. Often I delight in discovering small telling details in them, then I think about them as ancient middens, archaeological layers, geological substrata or loamy deposits.
Although I have spent my entire career involved one way for another with large collections, initially I was somewhat disdainful of collectors themselves. I held myself aloof from the covetous passions to which they allowed themselves to be myopically subjected. Then I got interested in magic lantern slides. The magic lantern is the great-great-grandmother of today’s data projector, and the glass slides they once projected onto screens in darkened rooms are the great-great-grandmothers of today’s jpegs or gifs. But the magic lantern show was much more than just the antecedent of the Powerpoint presentation. They were just as ubiquitous, but for their nineteenth and early twentieth-century audiences they could be uncanny experiences of phantasmagoric apparitions, or powerful moments of collective witnessing, or virtual journeys to exotic places, or intellectual revelations of new knowledge, or even prompts for communal praying and singing.
Magic lantern slides are not self evident objects like paintings, they are a media like a computer file, they need to played on a device — projected through a lantern with voice and music — in order for their ‘magic’ to be fully understood. To understand the historical importance of the magic lantern I needed to be able to recreate a magic lantern show, and for that I needed a lantern and slides. Although some lanterns and lots of slides have been preserved in our museums, those can no longer be used, so I was forced to become a collector.
I told myself it was only for my research, but soon the unruly passions of the collector took over and enslaved me. To get enough material to work with to produce creative reenactments I need quantity, so my collecting is more Costco the Cartier, but it is still deadly serious. I am racked with jealousy when I miss out on something at an auction, and subject to bitter self-recrimination as I succumb to the impulse to bid on just one more lot. I am now a member of an international fraternity of like-minded enthusiasts and, although we are friendly enough, we watch each other warily. As I hold them up to the light one by one up, or rearrange them on a light box, I feel that it is I, and I alone, who can properly give the slides I possess the love they deserve.
Working with actual magic lanterns has raised a whole new set of issues which I find fascinating. The lanterns I use were originally lit with oil lamps and, theoretically at least, I could clean the glass and reflectors, clean the rust off the reservoir and wick housings, source new wicks and fresh paraffin oil, and light them up. Alternatively, I could follow the paths of some researchers in Europe and recreate limelight itself, which was generated by superheating a block of calcium oxide with the flame from a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gas. But, so far I have chosen to follow the more expedient route of using standard LED floodlights. This may be sensible because it reduces the effect of radiant heat on my old slides, and answers some of the inevitable health and safety issues in a modern performance environment, while also removing a level of complexity from the performance. I am aware that it takes the performance further away from an ‘original’. However, while on the one hand LED light is much cooler and more constant that what would have been the warm flickering light of an oil lamp, on the other hand it may have been close to the colour temperature of limelight, which I have not yet had the opportunity to see it myself, but which I understand from reading newspaper reports is very cold in colour temperature.
Despite these inevitable compromises, working directly with lanterns and slides has allowed me to physically ‘connect’ with an interesting series of people — some living, and some dead. I have enjoyed enlisting the expertise of contemporary crafts people from the ANU School of Art and Design. University schools of art and design are potentially very good places to do the kind of historical research I do because colleagues can come together with a diverse range of historical knowledges. In the cases of the artists and craftspeople I have worked with from the Painting, Jewellery and Furniture Workshops some of that historical knowledge is not only conceptual, it is also inscribed into their very muscle memory as they use skills and techniques which have lineages at least as old as the lanterns themselves. As they have repaired my lanterns and slides before performances, I have been afforded the opportunity to think about the semi-industrial manufacturing process which were the very lineaments of the emerging media industry. When we, literally, break the apparatuses down into their component parts, I am particularly struck by the high level of ‘approximation’, compared to today’s industrial devices. As we separate the brass mechanisms from their wooden armatures, or gently lever the delicate painted glass from its housing, we reveal manual variation continually playing off mechanical repetition. You really get the sense of an industry in an urgent, quite laissez faire competition as designs were copied, corners were cut, and different markets were targeted. The standard three and a quarter inch by three and a quarter inch lantern slide was accepted as a universally interchangeable component from about the 1860s (although it was three and quarter by four and a quarter in the US), but meanwhile the wood framed hand painted and mechanical slides continued to vary widely in size and thickness until the twentieth century. In another example, four inches seems to have become the standard diameter for condenser lenses (which sometimes cracked under the heat of the flame) by the 1890s, but some manufacturers designed in brand loyalty by making their condensers slightly bigger or smaller.
I have also benefitted enormously from collaborating with a series of performers, composers, musicians, actors and singers. Only through performing have I been able to understand the true, integrated multi-dimensionality of all contemporary and historical media forms such as the magic lantern experience. Because they have generously adapted and added their own deep disciplinary knowledges and skills to support my tentative steps into projection performance, I have been able to travel quicker and further towards both rediscovering an historical affective experience and creating a new contemporary re-enactive practice. They have introduced me directly to dimensions of media which I, trained as a photographer, haven’t had to think much about. For instance, throughout my career I have talked about ‘duration’ as an abstract concept, but having to actually deal with images unfolding in a shared collaborative time has been enormously educational.
However, I have found the necessity to encounter the actual apparatus at a very intricate level, which is necessary to stage a performance with it, to be the most challenging, the most fascinating and the most rewarding. I am very glad I have had the opportunity to partner with Elisa deCourcy as a co-lanternist, who has contributed many new ideas as we have to, often quite forcefully, shove our cranky wooden slides into our ancient magic lanterns. Looking at a magic lantern for the first time is a lot like looking at any new device for the first time. There is an impressive array of knobs, levers and slides, ranged around its body, all of which evidently have some function. At first, we admire the designers and manufacturers of the nineteenth century who appear to have thought of everything, and forged a component, or cut a joint to deal with it. Brass flaps can be swung with a fingertip so the interior of the lantern can be discreetly checked though a coloured-glass porthole, wooden flaps can be raised or lowered to regulate airflow, and so on. We feel the kind of workmanlike satisfaction that BBC documentaries on Victorian railways are meant to give you.
But it is only when the contemporary lanternist begins to actually use the apparatus to give entertainments, that they realize that so much just doesn’t work properly, and never worked properly in the first place. Victorian engineering was compromised by retail expediency, the lanterns and slides worked just enough to be saleable. Slides, even the mass-produced ones, never sit in the same focal plane within the carrier and need to be adjusted for each and every slide, but some manufactures saved a few pence by only having the knurled focussing knob on one side of the lantern. There was not much integration between different manufacturers, and retailers would often assemble kits for their customers from different factories which in fact integrated poorly. For instance, because each mechanical wooden-slide or glass-slide carrier was of different size and thickness, the ‘stages’ into which they were inserted in front of the condenser lens and behind the objective lens were designed to have a very large tolerance. Even so, some elaborate slides we have, which are masterpieces of ‘Victorian ingenuity’, are in fact too thick to fit into a lantern. If we can just squeeze them in between the springs of the stage, in practice it is impossible to keep all the different layers of glass in focus at the same time. I found that many of the old slides I was purchasing have extra pieces of wood attached them, probably by a lanternist over a century ago. Now I know why, since I now have to attach my own small pieces of wood to the edges of my slides so their images fall in approximately the same spot on the screen during a show. Even with mass produced glass slides it is impossible to keep all of the image in focus because of the extreme spherical aberration of the magic lantern’s Petzval lenses, which were optically designed originally not for magic lanterns but for early portrait cameras. The fact that they optically traded off edge-to-edge focus for a larger quantity of light wasn’t such a big problem for portrait photography, where the main object of interest was a fidgeting face towards the centre of the image, but it meant that when they were used as projection lenses the images, although brighter, lost definition at the edges. Nonetheless many lantern slide artists, working for companies far removed from the lantern manufacturers, continued for decades to produce slides with important details right at the edges, which were guaranteed to be out of focus on the screen.
Nonetheless, myself and Elisa deCourcy have found this wide ‘tolerance’ in the projected image to not only be evidence of an industrial formation at a particularly undeveloped stage of its historical transformation, but also to be enormously stimulating creatively. Many magic lantern lenses had slots for ‘tinters’ and flaps for ‘faders’, but we have invented several, as far as we know, entirely novel techniques to add even more indeterminacy into our projections, for the pleasure of our audience. The ‘Cardboard Ken Burns’ is a large piece of black cardboard with a hole cut in the middle about the same diameter as the outer lens of our magic lanterns. We move this back and forth in front of our lanterns to ‘iris in to’ and ‘iris out of’ different significant details across the image surface, in a similar way to the rostrum camera technique famously developed by Ken Burns for the seminal TV series The Civil War (1990). ‘Flicker Fingers’ is an instruction on our cue sheets to flick our fingers quickly in front of our lenses which gives the sense of ‘interference’ to a visual ‘signal’ (anachronistically associated with the electromagnetics of the twentieth century not the Newtonian optics of the nineteenth century). These techniques interact wonderfully with our performance collaborators who use loops, electronic distortion and other vocal and instrumental techniques to create an affective response in the audience.
WHY WE RE-ENACT
Magic lanterns were pervasively important in Australia for a century. Magic lanterns were machines that were used by various operators, from sophisticated professional showmen to Sunday School teachers. In a range of venues, from theatres to home parlours, they projected multiple types of slides, from ingenious hand painted mechanical slides to high quality hand tinted photographic slides. These were combined with different forms of musical and theatrical accompaniment to entertain and inform a wide variety of audiences, from opening night crowds to gaggles of local kids.
Therefore, any magic lantern slide found in an archive, no matter how humble, is tangible evidence that at some particular time, in some particular place, some Australians had collectively witnessed images, heard music and listened to texts. These had been orchestrated together by some individual or some organisation to give them an experience, persuade them of an opinion, or connect them to others.
Magic lanterns, magic lantern slides and magic lantern scripts were media — ‘apparatus’ and ‘image’, ‘hardware’ and ‘software’, ‘device’ and ‘content’ — simultaneously closely connected to, and very distant from, today’s digital media. The magic lantern apparatus is recognisable within today’s modern data projector, and the different types of magic lantern slide are recognisable within today’s cinema, television, animations, internet memes and public projection events. We have therefore found the overall approach of media archaeology very useful. Rather than seeing media history as a succession of technological improvements and innovations progressing inevitably towards the present, a deep time archaeological approach sees past media formations as heterogeneous layers containing multiple potential futures, and therefore able to connect with the present in new ways.
We undertake traditional historical research into Australian magic lantern culture, but simultaneously we also take a complementary practice-led research approach to investigating the magic lantern experience. Through re-enactment we seek to understand the particular characteristics of a historical audience’s ephemeral experience of the magic lantern, and the particular material conditions and constraints of the technologies that produced that experience. For this reason we have assembled a working collection of over five thousand slides and several different magic lanterns.
We want to give audiences in the present something of the same affective experience audiences had in the past — their emotional responses to witnessing distant events, their collective joy in experiencing music or laughter, their involuntary ‘aaahhh’ at an uncanny special effect — in short, the magic of the magic lantern. We are historians, and our intention is to understand the past. While a straight reenactment, where everything is done as closely as possible to how we think it was done in the past, can replicate the basic historical form of a magic lantern show, it cannot generate a similar frisson in a contemporary audience, one inured to a century and a half of subsequent media thrills. However we are dealing with a media archaeology, where the technologies which produced the laughter, tears and gasps of two hundred years ago still form the technical substrata of the technologies which produce laughter, tears and gasps today. They are not identical, and they cannot substitute one for the other, but because they share a structural kinship one can touch the other in surprisingly close ways. For this reason the participation of a contemporary audience is very important to our reenactments. We do not want to create ‘historical dioramas’, where the performance is seen as a self-contained curiosity separate from the audience, as though they were looking at a frozen taxidermied tableau through a sheet of glass. Likewise, we are not interested in bringing our magic lantern shows ‘into the present’, turning them into some ‘steam-punk’ event where they simply exist to give a retro flavor to an essentially contemporary mise en scene. Rather, we want our re-enactments to exist for the audience as an ‘experiential object’, an experience in the present which can be reflected upon from an historical point of view.
We could (in fact we do) digitise our slides and make enhanced videos or gifs for easy distribution, the way an old movie might be restored. But seeing a crisply digitised image on a computer display is a very different ‘experiential object’ to that experienced by a historical audience seeing an actual glass slide manually projected through a nineteenth century apparatus by an individual. We could attempt to precisely replicate a magic lantern show down to the last ‘authentic’ detail the way a medieval re-enactor might hand forge his chain mail. But a magic lantern performance is not a single object, it is a multimedia performance where a human operates a machine. We could attempt to perform complete slide sets the way an orchestra might perform a baroque concerto score on period instruments. But magic lantern performances had no authoritative texts like a music score, rather, each performance was the extemporised product of many different elements — slides, music, texts, lanterns, instruments, audiences, performers, special occasions and particular architectures — all bricolaged together into unique combinations. Therefore we have found creative re-use an essential ingredient in our re-enactments.
In order to recover the magic lantern as a more historically accurate ‘experiential object’ we have introduced contemporary elements such as music, voice and electronics. Although these elements in themselves come from the present, and would be unrecognizable from the perspective of the past, the way we have incorporated them comes just as assuredly from historic practices when all magic lantern shows were occasions for improvisation and bricolage. We hope our creative re-enactments invite the fleeting manifestation of something like an uncanny delight that our audience can feel they are perhaps sharing with an audience of a hundred and fifty years ago.
We have used creative re-enactment to explore specific historical sites in Australia or particular Australia historical experiences:
- In a performance at the Bundanon Homestead in 2016 we explored a locally significant drowning tragedy that had had occurred at the site in the 1920s by using techniques derived from ‘verbatim theatre’, young participants from the local area, and a set of roughly contemporaneous magic lantern slides.
- In a performance in a burnt-out telescope dome at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in 2018 we presented verbatim part of an authentic astronomical lecture from the mid nineteenth century, with some of the mechanical scientific slides which were actually used in popular science lectures of the period.
- In a performance at the Cell Block Theatre in Sydney we presented some of the imagery from, and recreated some of the experiences of, the pastoral property of Rouse Hill House and Farm, which had used a magic lantern and associated slides within the family from the 1860s.
We have also produced more open-ended performances, experimenting with musicians, actors and students in exploring new possibilities in the form of the projection, music, electronics, voice and interaction:
- A magic lantern ‘Horror Show’ at the National Portrait Gallery, in association with the exhibition Sideshow Alley, 2016.
- A magic lantern show ‘Five Scenes for a Modern Prometheus’ at the Australian National University in association with a conference on Frankenstein, 2018.
- A magic lantern show ‘Raeburn’ at the Australian National University in association with students from the Schools of Art and Design and Music, 2017.
As well, we have directly connected the magic lantern to contemporary technologies and practices.
- The computer artist Kieran Browne algorithmically coded animations that replicated the formal logic of the clockwork colour kaleidoscopic slides known as a chromatropes. These were then laser cut and reversed engineered directly back in the nineteenth century apparatus.
- The contemporary painter Waratah Lahy is using the powerful idea of the ‘dissolving view’, where one projected scene is dissolved into another, in her practice. She has painted two images of dusk falling on her childhood home. The transition from day to night is particularly magical when viewers have the opportunity to operate the ‘dissolver’ between the two lanterns themselves.
These experiments — in performance, projection, voice, music, electronics, painting, computer coding and digital fabrication — open up many new avenues through which real, tangible and meaningful links can be forged between the present and the past. Through physically manipulating the same fundamental materials — light, pigment and mechanics — as the media makers of the nineteenth century, a significant new dimension is immediately added to our understanding of the ways the past has constructed the present. The obdurate materiality of all media is revealed. For instance, through actually encountering the fact that it is impossible to keep all part of a mechanical slide in focus at the same time, we have revealed the technological disconnections between different manufacturers who made up the ‘magic lantern industry’, a discovery that could only have been made through practice. Most importantly, this dimension of material and experiential research is only fully activated when a vital third element is added to the experiment — an audience, an audience whose reaction can feed back into the experimental iteration.
However, our creative re-use and creative re-enactment are not ends in themselves. We believe that these performances are as an effective a way of understanding the past, through experience, as an academic paper, through description. We also believe that, if documented by video, our performances can be looped back into the archive from which they were derived to act as a ‘generous interface’ to that archive, through which new users can discover their component archival parts such as images, music, or texts.
Martyn Jolly, Canberra 2020
For more information search Heritage in the Limelight
Portrait of Hemi Pomara as a young man: how we uncovered the oldest surviving photograph of a Māori
It is little wonder the life of Hemi Pomara has attracted the attention of writers and film makers. Kidnapped in the early 1840s, passed from person to person, displayed in London and ultimately abandoned, it is a story of indigenous survival and resilience for our times.
Hemi has already been the basis for the character James Pōneke in New Zealand author Tina Makereti’s 2018 novel The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke. And last week, celebrated New Zealand director Taika Waititi announced his production company Piki Films is adapting the book for the big screen – one of three forthcoming projects about colonisation with “indigenous voices at the centre”.
Until now, though, we have only been able to see Hemi’s young face in an embellished watercolour portrait made by the impresario artist George French Angas, or in a stiff woodcut reproduced in the Illustrated London News.
Drawing on the research for our forthcoming book, Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle: the global career of showman daguerreotypist J.W. Newland (Routledge, November 2020), we can now add the discovery of a previously unknown photograph of Hemi Pomara posing in London in 1846.
This remarkable daguerreotype shows a wistful young man, far from home, wearing the traditional korowai (cloak) of his chiefly rank. It was almost certainly made by Antoine Claudet, one of the most important figures in the history of early photography.
All the evidence now suggests the image is not only the oldest surviving photograph of Hemi, but also most probably the oldest surviving photographic portrait of any Māori person. Until now, a portrait of Caroline and Sarah Barrett taken around 1853 was thought to be the oldest such image.
For decades this unique image has sat unattributed in the National Library of Australia. It is now time to connect it with the other portraits of Hemi, his biography and the wider conversation about indigenous lives during the imperial age.
A boy abroad
Hemi Pomara led an extraordinary life. Born around 1830, he was the grandson of the chief Pomara from the remote Chatham Islands off the east coast of New Zealand. After his family was murdered during his childhood by an invading Māori group, Hemi was seized by a British trader who brought him to Sydney in the early 1840s and placed him in an English boarding school.
The British itinerant artist, George French Angas had travelled through New Zealand for three months in 1844, completing sketches and watercolours and plundering cultural artefacts. His next stop was Sydney where he encountered Hemi and took “guardianship” of him while giving illustrated lectures across New South Wales and South Australia.
Angas painted Hemi for the expanded version of this lecture series, Illustrations of the Natives and Scenery of Australia and New Zealand together with 300 portraits from life of the principal Chiefs, with their Families.
In this full-length depiction, the young man appears doe-eyed and cheerful. Hemi’s juvenile form is almost entirely shrouded in a white, elaborately trimmed korowai befitting his chiefly ancestry.
The collar of a white shirt, the cuffs of white pants and neat black shoes peak out from the otherwise enveloping garment. Hemi is portrayed as an idealised colonial subject, civilised yet innocent, regal yet complacent.
Angas travelled back to London in early 1846, taking with him his collection of artworks, plundered artefacts – and Hemi Pomara.
Hemi appeared at the British and Foreign Institution, followed by a private audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. From April 1846, he was put on display in his chiefly attire as a living tableau in front of Angas’s watercolours and alongside ethnographic material at the Egyptian Hall, London.
The Egyptian Hall “exhibition” was applauded by the London Spectator as the “most interesting” of the season, and Hemi’s portrait was engraved for the Illustrated London News. Here the slightly older-looking Hemi appears with darkly shaded skin and stands stiffly with a ceremonial staff, a large ornamental tiki around his neck and an upright, feathered headdress.
A photographic pioneer
Hemi was also presented at a Royal Society meeting which, as The Times recorded on April 6, was attended by scores of people including Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and the pioneering London-based French daguerreotypist Antoine Claudet.
It was around this time Claudet probably made the quarter-plate daguerreotype, expertly tinted with colour, of Hemi Pomara in costume.
The daguerreotype was purchased in the 1960s by the pioneering Australian photo historian and advocate for the National Library of Australia’s photography collections, Eric Keast Burke. Although digitised, it has only been partially catalogued and has evaded attribution until now.
Unusually for photographic portraits of this period, Hemi is shown standing full-length, allowing him to model all the features of his korowai. He poses amidst the accoutrements of a metropolitan portrait studio. However, the horizontal line running across the middle of the portrait suggests the daguerreotype was taken against a panelled wall rather than a studio backdrop, possibly at the Royal Society meeting.
Hemi has grown since Angas’s watercolour but the trim at the hem of the korowai is recognisable as the same garment worn in the earlier painting. Its speckled underside also reveals it as the one in the Illustrated London News engraving.
Hemi wears a kuru pounamu (greenstone ear pendant) of considerable value and again indicative of his chiefly status. He holds a patu onewa (short-handled weapon) close to his body and a feathered headdress fans out from underneath his hair.
We closely examined the delicate image, the polished silver plate on which it was photographically formed, and the leatherette case in which it was placed. The daguerreotype has been expertly colour-tinted to accentuate the embroidered edge of the korowai, in the same deep crimson shade it was coloured in Angas’s watercolour.
The remainder of the korowai is subtly coloured with a tan tint. Hemi’s face and hands have a modest amount of skin tone colour applied. Very few practitioners outside Claudet’s studio would have tinted daguerreotypes to this level of realism during photography’s first decade.
Hallmarks stamped into the back of the plate show it was manufactured in England in the mid-1840s. The type of case and mat indicates it was unlikely to have been made by any other photographer in London at the time.
Survival and resilience
After his brief period as a London “celebrity” Hemi went to sea on the Caleb Angas. He was shipwrecked at Barbados, and on his return aboard the Eliza assaulted by the first mate, who was tried when the ship returned to London. Hemi was transferred into the “care” of Lieutenant Governor Edward John Eyre who chaperoned him back to New Zealand by early December 1846.
Hemi’s story is harder to trace through the historical record after his return to Auckland in early 1847. It’s possible he returned to London as an older married man with his wife and child, and sat for a later carte de visite portrait. But the fact remains, by the age of eighteen he had already been the subject of a suite of colonial portraits made across media and continents.
With the recent urgent debates about how we remember our colonial past, and moves to reclaim indigenous histories, stories such as Hemi Pomara’s are enormously important. They make it clear that even at the height of colonial fetishisation, survival and cultural expression were possible and are still powerfully decipherable today.
For biographers, lives such as Hemi’s can only be excavated by deep and wide-ranging archival research. But much of Hemi’s story still evades official colonial records. As Taika Waititi’s film project suggests, the next layer of interpretation must be driven by indigenous voices.
The authors would like to acknowledge the late Roger Blackley (Victoria University, Wellington), Chanel Clarke (Curator of the Maori collections, Auckland War Memorial Museum), Nat Williams (former Treasures Curator, National Library of Australia), Dr Philip Jones (Senior Curator, South Australian Museum) and Professor Geoffrey Batchen (Professorial chair of History of Art, University of Oxford) for their invaluable help with their research.
Elisa deCourcy, Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow 2020-2023, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, Australian National University, Australian National University and Martyn Jolly, Honorary Associate Professor, School of Art and Design, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University