Mechanical motion versus manual dexterity in pre-cinematic Australian animation

‘Mechanical motion versus manual dexterity in pre-cinematic Australian animation’,

The Animation Machine, Society for Animation Studies Conference, RMIT University, 25-27 June 2012.

 

Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive Collection Scholar and Artist in Residence Fellowship program which supported the research that led to this paper. Some of my examples come form their collection as well.

 

For over fifty years, from the late 1840s to the early twentieth century, magic lantern operators astounded and delighted Australian audiences with exhibitions of a wide variety of optical phenomena. These ranged from swirling and pulsating patterns of pure colour as two hand-painted glass discs were rotated in opposite directions by the rack and pinion mechanism of the chromatrope, to the enlargement of live insects onto the screen. Central to their displays however were two key optical experiences, the essential visual pleasures of which are still familiar to us today. One was the dissolving view, the other was the mechanical slide. The dissolving view needed two aligned magic lanterns and a device for dissolving from one to the other, by either sweeping a feathered fan in front of the two lenses to give the audience the frisson of a defined ‘wipe’ from one image to another, or by turning down the gas supply on one lantern as it was simultaneously turned up on the other so that the audience experience the jouissance of one image literally dissolving into another. Dissolves could be done quickly, to give the impression of, say, a volcano suddenly erupting; or they could be done slowly, to give the impression of, say, day turning to night, or summer to winter. The second experience came from mechanical slides, which were hand-manipulated whilst in the projection-gate of the lantern. In slipping slides 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. In lever slides one layer of circular glass was quickly rotated, producing a simple animation effect. Other slides used the circular rack and pinion mechanism of the chromatrope but replaced the kaleidoscopic patterns with hand-painted scenes.

 

For most of the period these phenomena were illuminated by limelight, a powerful white light produced when a gas flame heated a block of lime.

But they were also incorporated into larger intermedial performative contexts which might have included music played by an orchestra to accompany each slide, singing, and commentary from the lantern operator — either instructional information, light hearted patter or narrative storytelling. When lanternists purchased their sets of hand painted slides imported from overseas they also purchased booklets containing the accompanying patter.

 

In April 1848 the Sydney Daguerreotypist Joseph Newland offered customers a minstrel show, an orchestra, and a: BEAUTIFUL SCIENTIFIC EXHIBITION OF DISSOLVING VIEWS covering  10,000 SQUARE FEET OF ILLUMINATED SCENERY. His show featured several simple narrative transitions such as ‘Punch before Dinner’ to ‘Punch after Dinner’, and one based on a famous recent event, the burning of the East Indiaman ship the Kent in 1825, which transitioned from a ship in gale to a ship on fire. There was also at least one animated mechanical slide,  ‘Leap Frog’.

 

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 various components to his 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.(Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 9/8/48 p2

 

As a variety of other lecturers displayed them throughout 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 well presented lecture. In 1852 Alfred Cane exhibited a variety of dissolving views in Sydney, and the Sydney Morning Herald was quick to report on the effectiveness of the sequence of dissolves.

 

” A ship in a calm” was a particularly truthful representation of that most tedious, most trying, most wretched predicament. Gazing 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)

 

Alfred Cane must have been very skillful to create such a seamless effect and such an extended narrative from just four slides, a dissolving apparatus, and his own voice. Of course shipwrecks were particularly vivid for colonial audiences in Australia, and the narrative followed a familiar trajectory triggering socially programmed responses, but nonetheless the unified, single effect of a coherent animation of the painted pictures, produced in their midst by the magic lantern,  must have been very compelling for the audience. However they knew that, to use the newspaper’s words, ‘twas but in show’, so their pleasure was an alloy of both the enjoyment of the illusion itself, and the realization that the illusion was a mechanical creation.

 

Within their shows of other optical attractions such as chromatropes most dissolving view exhibitions  strove for extended narratives in at least one slide sequence. For instance the first exhibition of Mr Lillywhite’s views was described by the Adelaide Register in 1853 as containing an extended narrative involving a tiger:

 

The representations included pleasing landscapes, magnificent architecture, grotesque figures, and other features of a grave, fantastic, and startling character. The spectators were particularly delighted with some very amusing representations of the extraordinary means successfully resorted to by two Bengalees, who entrapped a ferocious tiger, which had scented them out whilst taking their noontide repast.

 

This exhibition also included a famous rack-work slide called ‘The Rat Catcher’.

 

Compelling short narratives were also being produced in the 1850s which relied on abrupt sudden unexpected changes, rather than a sequence of scenes.  James Smith displayed a series of imported slides in Melbourne in 1855. One 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).

 

Newspaper reviews weren’t always so complimentary, however. For instance, a report in The South Australian of November 1847 commented on the mish-mash of the effects as well as the morally ambiguous subject matter of the dissolving views exhibited by Messrs Hall and Plush:

 

The exhibition was a sort of melange, consisting of optical illusions, phantasmagoria, fun, and harlequinade. The dissolving views were numerous and diversified, but contained too few representations of local objects. Some of the personal figures bordered upon indelicacy; so much so, as, in our opinion, to deter parents from treating their children to an otherwise harmless amusement; and it struck us that the dance of death savoured too much of profanity… a prudential change in their exhibition, with an improvement in the mechanical arrangement, would make it worthy of general patronage.

 

Although by the end of the century magic  lanterns had become associated  with didactic, scientific , religious,and temperance lectures, in the 1840s and 50s dissolving views and mechanical slides were still associated with ‘low’ entertainment — juvenile and obsessed with the occult —  often appealing to the baser instincts of their audiences. This is something that lanternists needed to both encourage and manage. But sometimes they weren’t able to entirely manage unpredictable audience responses in the dark. For instance a report of the lanternists’ Seymour and Gordon’s opening night in Adelaide in 1864 said:

 

The audience was not very large, and consisted entirely of occupants of the pit and gallery who, being unable to appreciate the nature of the entertainment, created such confusion that it was with great difficulty that the exhibition was gone through. The views were good, but the descriptive part was rendered inaudible by the noise.

 

Throughout the century newspapers regularly reviewed dissolving view performances and assessed as good or bad a consistent set of aspects of each evening’s entertainment, such as: the brightness and size of the disc of light on the screen (generally from 8 to 12 feet); the consistency of the illumination which was difficult to maintain because of a limited supply of gas; the focussing of the lantern; the  artistic control of the dissolve; the thematic appropriateness of the music (provided by orchestra, piano, accordion, or harmonium); the interest and relevance of the accompanying patter; the strength of the lecturer’s voice; the behaviour of the crowd (often the rowdiness of ill-bred children in the dark was commented on); the moral appropriateness of the subject matter (which ranged from ecclesiastical to occult themes); the topicality of the subject matter; and the educational value of the subjects. The wide range of experiences persistently commented on by the newspapers indicates the complex intermedial nature of the performances in which mechanical animations were embedded, and the way that they were an integral part of the re-organisation of modes of audience spectatorship.

 

We also know that dissolving views themselves were an important part of Australian colonial visual culture, because by the 1850s the term had firmly entered the Australian language as a metaphor. 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 that Tasmania’s politicians were laying out:

 

A mist came over the glowing colours [of the politicians promises], 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 merely ‘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 education language of the ads the exhibitors put in the papers, remained associated with the gaudy, the low, the inebriated and the insubstantial.

 

It is clear from accounts such as this that it was the optical effects which were most responded to by audiences, rather than any putative content. However, when these effects could be extended over a narrative which linked them together they were responded to even more strongly. In the 1880s, a new kind of slide called ‘life model slides’ began to be produced. These hand-coloured live models adopting tableau-like attitudes in front of painted backdrops foregrounded narrative, rather than special effects, even more.

 

In life-model slide sets the various poses of the life models told a story, but not in the sense of a realistic story teleologically extending through linear time, rather in an iterative way, suited to the structure of a popular song with it repeating chorus and separate self-contained verses. These songs and recitations were issued in booklets along with the slide sets.

 

The sequence of life model slides called Daddy had a special effect, the appearance of an angel, double exposed  (or in our contemporary parlance, composited) on one slide, so it was suitable for a lanternist with a single lantern. However another series of life model slides, Jane Conquest, which would have been shown accompanied by a melodramatic poem about the mother of a sick baby who nonetheless managed to heroically ring a church bell in order to save fishermen from a shipwreck, was designed for dissolving lanterns, so a skilled lanternist could make the angel slowly appear and disappear above the baby’s crib.

 

REMEDIATION AND CONVERGENCE

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.

 

Long-time lanternists were quick to defend themselves against the new technologies. For instance in 1897 the senior lanternist Edmund H. Wilkie wrote an article called ‘The Dawn of Animated Photography’ in the British journal The Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger. First of all he dismissed motion pictures as an:

 

 ephemeral idea which will be the fashion for a season and then subside into the background to be seen no more … so far from superseding  general lantern work [animated photography]  will most likely act in the contrary manner, and by directing public attention to optical exhibitions give a powerful impetus to dissolving view entertainments generally.

 

But even after dismissing motion pictures as a fad he felt compelled to also argue that in fact magic lanternists such as himself had been involved in the same project as the new cinematographers all along:

 

Ever since the lantern emerged from what we may turn the chrysalis stage, and took rank amongst other valuable scientific instruments, attempts have been made to obtain natural motions with regard to the figures of human being and animals. The forces of nature, the great terrestrial and atmospheric phenomena presented generally no particular difficulty to the slide painter and mechanician, but with the appliances until recently obtainable, movements such as walking could only be imitated in a degree and with great difficulty, and could not be considered as successful. p21-22

 

Wilkie couldn’t have been more wrong about the future of animated photographs. This blind spot was because, as a veteran lanternist, he was focused solely on the optical effects of the new cinematograph, rather the indexical ‘reality effect’ it promised. He saw the natural motion of the cinematograph as just another category of illusion which happened now to merely incorporate the persistence of vision, as compared to the optical effects of the dissolving view, which had, in his eyes, the advantage of rich hand-painted colour and fine detail that at the time still far outstripped the cinematograph, particularly in spectacular and sublime weather effects, if not always in complex motion.

 

In the same issue of the Almanac  Henry J. Walker wrote an article Animated Photographs versus Dissolving Views, in which he, too, lamented that the new cinematographic craze was pushing aside the old dissolving view exhibitions. To defend dissolving views he retreated to the argument that the cinematograph was merely mechanical copying, whereas the dissolving view required manual craft on the part of the operator:

 

If animated photographs draw a large amount of applause from the audience, it is because they think the moving figures wonderful; but they do not know which requires the most skill, the dissolving views or animated pictures. The majority know, comparatively speaking, nothing of the working of the lantern; and have know idea of the skill required to carry through successfully a first class dissolving view exhibition … with some dissolving view effects, a very considerable amount of thought and skill is required to make the pictures projected on the screen appear ‘just right’ to the spectators … I think I shall be right when I say that, placed side by side [dissolving views take] infinitely more skill to turn out a first class entertainment … The animated photographs I put down as a mechanical triumph, and the success of dissolving views to the skill of the operator. P110.

 

But nonetheless the two co-existed for about a decade during a period of major technological remediation, both around the world and in Australia, as modes of mass spectatorship were re-organized around both established viewing conventions and emergent new technologies. Actuality, illusion and the trick were key terms during this crisis, but so was the idea of ‘animation’. At stake was not only what animation might become with the persistence of vision, but also what it had been. I would therefore like to argue for the discussion of the history of animation to not begin with the cinematograph but much, much earlier.

 

Obviously the long history of cartooning is one archaeological substrata to modern animation. For instance we can clearly see newspaper cartooning being remediated into cinematographic animation in the World War One films of Harry Julius, which open with him in his role of a traditional cartoonist, before zooming in on his hand doing ‘lightning sketches’ in front of the camera in real time, before cutting to a stop frame animation where his role as the artist has been totally sublimated into the retinal flow of the animation itself. This process, which happens in a few exhilarating seconds in Julius’s films, mimics a process which had been happening in the auditoriums of Australia and the world over for the previous two decades, when the projectionist moved from being a performer at the centre of the audience artfully manipulating his lantern and delivering his patter, to being invisible inside his bio box using his skill to make the cinematographic mechanism run so smoothly that the audience forgot it was there.

 

But while most people would recognize cartooning as a tradition which was mediated into the cinema and is still present — subsumed into twentieth and even twenty-first century animation, I wonder what happens when we put dissolving views into a similar remedial framework. The ruptures and discontinuities have already been clearly identified by our alarmed lanternists from the late 1890s. They saw that their hand-produced illusions, produced live in the midst of an audience who were willing to emotionally enter familiar narratives through the intermedial techniques of music and poetry, whilst also appreciating them as illusion, were gradually being replaced with automatically recorded and projected illusions that relied on the persistence of vision alone. But they were too alarmed by the new cinematographic technology to realize that other visual pleasures were also continuing from the dissolving view to cinematographic animation. The newspaper accounts of the shipwreck stories, or transformation scenes, reveal that the audiences felt a raw pleasure in seeing pictures  move and morph, and dissolve from one to another. In both the dissolving view and the cinematographic animation it seems to be the between states, the indeterminate states of fluidity, the constant change that caused the most pleasure. To me it is this raw visual pleasure which unites contemporary audiences with audiences of the 1840s, despite the massive changes in technology in the intervening 170 years. This unifying pleasure in transitional images needs further investigation.

 

Martyn Jolly

 

 

 

 

A Melbourne Spiritualist’s carte-de-visite album

‘A Melbourne Spiritualist’s carte-de-visite album’,

 

 Migration and Exchange Symposium, Potter Gallery, Melbourne University, 29- 30 November, 2012.

 

At first glance it’s an unassuming album, barely twelve by fifteen centimetres in size and about six centimetres thick. It’s made up of only eighteen cardboard leaves between morocco covers, and each page has a pre-cut pocket so the owner could slide in a carte-de-visite photograph. The anonymous owner purchased the blank album for three shillings in Melbourne, Australia, in the early 1880s, and the thirty-six cartes-de-visite she slipped into it were originally taken in Australia, Britain and the US from the late 1850s onwards.

 

So far there is not much to distinguish this album, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, from the hundreds of other carte-de-visite albums which were assembled in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Cartes-de-visite were portrait photographs, mounted onto pieces of card of about six by ten centimetres, which were used as the visual currency for extended networks of social exchange. Thousands of photographic studios around the world printed them in multiples of eight and sold them cheaply. Album owners would fill their albums by exchanging cartes of themselves with their friends and families, as well as buying cartes of celebrities such as politicians, actors and royalty. Carte albums visually located their owners within widening concentric circles of immediate family, social groups and political classes. Carte albums were oral objects as well as visual objects, they were narrated by their owners as they showed them to their family and friends in the parlour. Although they were domestic objects, the images they contained opened out onto the whole world.

 

In most carte albums portraits of intimate friends rubbed shoulders with portraits of famous personages, but in this album these images also rubbed shoulders with portraits of spirits. The album documents one person’s passion for the religion of Modern Spiritualism. Its owner was probably a member of the Victorian Association of Spiritualists, and her album uses photographic portraits to map the spiritual, social and political world the Victorian Spiritualists created for themselves. Recently, photographic historians have become increasingly fascinated by spirit photography. (For instance see my book Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography) However hitherto our focus has tended to be on the mysterious ‘extras’ which appeared within the emulsion of the image, which seemed to hyperbolize the indexicality of the photograph; or our focus has been on the moment of the photographic séance, where a thaumaturgic medium-photographer photographed the sitter in the act of channelling their lost loved ones, which seemed to hyperbolize the ritual of portrait photography; or our focus has been on the body of the medium, which in its ability to manifest phantoms and extrude ectoplasm seemed to hyperbolize the fertile power of the female body. But this album, full of its faded carte-de-visite portraits, enables us to expand our focus to the ordinary Spiritualist herself, and the personal, social and metaphysical world she constructed for herself. The world she constructed may, in fact, even share some characteristics with the mediated worlds we construct for ourselves in contemporary media spaces such a social networking sites.

 

Looking through this album, 130 years after it was compiled, we are missing the all-important narration its owner would have provided, but it is possible to recover some of the knowledge she would have recalled about each subject as she slid their photograph into its pocket. The portraits were inserted into the album in no particular order and most are, in themselves, visually unremarkable. However analysing the album as a complete, integral object is still worthwhile, because when we know the things the album’s original owner knew about each portrait the disparate images begin to network together into a complex world-view made up of succeeding spheres of the local, the famous, and the disincarnate. A description of even a small representative sample of the thirty-six portraits in the album still gives an indication of the extent of the album’s reach, all the way from Melbourne, to Britain, to the US, and on to the Beyond.

 

The Network of Portraits

The album contains portraits of Melbourne spiritualists who its owner probably would have known personally. Perhaps she even obtained their portraits in exchange for her own. Most significant is a portrait of William H. Terry by the Melbourne photographers Stewart & Co. Terry was Melbourne’s most prominent Spiritualist. In 1859 at a Melbourne séance he received evidence that his brother had survived death. He wrote:

 

Never shall I forget the eventful night when I realized the grand truth of man’s continuous sensuous existence after death. I felt the presence of my brother, and it was indeed a happy reunion. (Gabay, p31)

 

A vegetarian teetotaller, Terry became a spiritual healer, diagnosing ailments through what he called a ‘spiritual telegraph’ with the Beyond. He opened a bookshop and herbal emporium, importing some of his herbs from the Banner of Light organization in Boston. In 1870 he set up the Victorian Association of Spiritualists and established the long-running Spiritualist magazine the Harbinger of Light. The magazine’s title came from a vision a young medium had, when she saw a spirit holding a scroll inscribed with the words ‘Harbinger of Light’ and the motto:

 

Dawn Approaches, error is passing away; men arising shall hail the day

 

Throughout the 1870s, popular interest in Spiritualism and séances continued to grow so that by 1878 a reporter for the Melbourne Age was confessing:

 

Though I do not profess to being a Spiritualist, I own to having been infected with the fashionable itch for witnessing ‘physical manifestations’ as they are called, and accordingly I have attended several séances with more or less gratification. (Britten, p238)

 

By 1881, at about the time this album was being compiled, the membership of the VAS had climbed 853 members, at a time when Melbourne’s population was barely 300,000.

 

The VAS sponsored the visits of many prominent international spiritualists to Melbourne, and their cartes-de-visite were placed into the album. The glamorously bearded American lecturer, Dr J M Peebles, who came to Melbourne in 1872 and again in 1878, visited the same Melbourne photographer Terry had, Stewart & Co, to have his carte-de-visite made.  He lectured to standing-room-only crowds of up to 3000 people every Sunday for three months. His greatest enthusiasm was for progressive vegetarian diet reform. He styled himself as a ‘Professor of Ontology and Biodynamics’ from the Eclectic Medical College of Battle Creek, Michigan, where he had previously been pastor at a Free Church. The small town of Battle Creek, with its strong Freethought and Seventh Day Adventist culture, was world famous amongst progressives. For example it was where John Harvey Kellogg was born, and where, from 1875, he ran the Battle Creek Health Reform Sanitarium, which eventually led, by the late 1890s, to Kellogg and his brother inventing the corn flake. (Gabay pp83-86)

 

One of the most high-profile mediums to visit Australia was J J Morse. Supposedly an uneducated barman, he suddenly became full of erudition when entranced. An investigator put to him the most difficult questions in psychology, and received wise and eloquent answers, however when released from the trance he appeared to be at a loss for sufficient language in which to express a commonplace idea. He also appeared to be able to withstand fire and physically elongate his body. (Fodor p246) His carte in the album was taken by the photographer James Bowman of Glasgow. The album also features a Bowman portrait of Morse’s spirit guide, Tien Sien Tie. Tien Sien Tie, supposedly a Chinese philosopher who had lived on Earth in the reign of the Emperor Kea-Tsing, first ‘controlled’ Morse in 1869.  The spirit portrait is in fact a photographic copy made by Bowman of a trance drawing produced by the Glasgow medium David Duguid. Duguid would take a plain card, previously identified by a sitter, and breathe on it and rub it between his hands in order to ‘magnetize’ it. He would then place it in a sealed envelope in the centre of the séance table, while the sitters placed their hands on the envelope and sang hymns in order to protect the fine mechanisms of the spirits from outside influences as they worked. When the envelope was eventually opened a spirit drawing was found on it. Duguid’s trance drawing is not the swirling abstract vortexes of energy produced by other trance drawers of the period, rather it is a stilted piece of proto ‘photo-realism’. However as a drawing it is adapted to being turned into a carte-de-visite, allowing the spirit to take his place amongst the other personages in the album.

 

Conventional cartes-de-visite of many of the senior figures of the international movement were also placed in the album. For instance it contains a thoroughly unremarkable portrait of Modern Spiritualism’s first and most famous medium Kate Fox, who, as a young girl in 1848, had first established a code of raps for communicating with a spirit that haunted her house in upstate New York, thus sparking the growing craze for Spiritualism which spread across the world. She held many séance sittings, but by1888 had confessed to making the noises with her toe joints. (Fodor, pp146-148)

 

These cardinal figures are supported by a range of lesser known writers, proselytisers and investigators for the movement such as the industrial chemist Professor James J Mapes who had set down the three basic principles of modern Spiritualism:

 

First, there is a future state of existence, which is but a continuation of our present state of being…Second, that the great aim of nature, as shown through a great variety of spiritual existences, is progression, extending beyond the limits of this mundane sphere…Third, that spirits can and do communicate with mortals, and in all cases evince a desire to elevate and advance those they commune with. (Fodor p,215 and http://www.aspsi.org/feat/life_after/tymn/testimonials.htm#Mapes)

 

However without doubt, the highlights of the album are the spirits themselves. The world’s first spirit photographer was William Mumler of Boston, and his photographs were circulated widely throughout the global Spiritualist community as visual testimony to Spiritualist truths. Perhaps the most famous testimony associated with Mumler’s photographic mediumship came from Moses A. Dow. The faded, desiccated spirit we see slipped into the album today gives the contemporary viewer little indication of the intense emotions and complex interactions that surrounded the photograph. Dow had taken a talented young woman, Mabel Warren, under his wing and eventually came to regard her as a dearly beloved daughter. She was suddenly taken ill and quietly passed into spirit land, leaving Dow grief stricken. The spirit stayed in touch with Dow through several different Boston mediums before announcing that she wished to give Dow her spirit picture. At the studio Dow sat for five minutes before the camera, while Mumler stood with his back to him with his left hand resting on the camera. As the exposure was finishing Mumler’s wife, who was also a medium, came into the room and, immediately falling into a trance under the control of Mabel said: ‘Now I will give you my picture, it will be here in a few minutes. … I put into it all the magnetism I possess.’ As Mrs Mumler came to herself, Mumler re-entered the room with the developed plate. Dow took the plate and looked at it:

 

Mabel stands partially behind my right shoulder, dressed in a white well fitting robe. Her hair is combed back, and her head is encircled by a wreath of white lilies. Her head inclines forward so as to lay her cheek on my right temple, from which my hair is always parted. Her right hand passes over my left arm and clasps my hand. Her left hand is seen on my left shoulder, and between the thumb and forefinger of this hand is held an opening rose bud, the exact counterpoint of the one I placed there while she lay in the casket at her funeral. (Jolly p19)

 

For three shillings sixpence for a packet of three, spiritualists living in Britain and Australia were able to order copies of these photographic proofs that the dead lived.  However in this album all traces of that rose bud have finally leached out of the photograph.

 

The other key photographer in Spiritualism was the London photographer Frederick Hudson. His 1872 group portrait of two mortals and a spirit is inserted into the album’s first page. The medium Charles Williams, who is seated, could supposedly produce fully materialized spirits while he sat tied up and entranced in a curtained-off cabinet. He benefited from the patronage of Samuel Guppy who is photographed standing beside him. The wealthy Guppy had married the medium Agnes Nichols in1867and they became London Spiritualism’s ‘first couple’. The Guppys had reportedly discovered Hudson’s powers of spirit photography when they received, supposedly by chance, an extra image of a draped figure on the plate when they visited him for a photograph on a whim in March 1872. In this portrait the top half of a shrouded spirit appears to be materializing in front of the two men, assertively looking towards the viewer and raising his hand in a biblical gesture.

 

Some Spirits were known by name. The best-known spirit of the day was John King, who spoke in direct voice through a floating trumpet and said he was Henry Owen Morgan, the buccaneer. Many mediums claimed to be able to materialize him, including Charles Williams, and with his trademark turban King frequently appeared at séances in London. He even posed behind some studio scenery in substantial form (though with suspiciously similar facial features to Charles Williams himself) for his carte-de-visite, which is in this album.

 

Hudson’s fame quickly grew amongst Spiritualists and he began to accept many clients into his studio, producing draped spirits on the plates for them as well. However his most important collaborator was Miss Georgiana Houghton, an accomplished upper class women who in 1859 found her true passion in Spiritualism and ebulliently developed her own amateur mediumship. In the 1860s she produced vertiginous abstract spirit paintings and drawings, quite unlike Duguid’s stiff portraits, which were exhibited in Melbourne.

 

She had read the first reports of William Mumler’s spirit photographs in the Spiritual Magazine of December 1862. She at once believed, and purchased one of the packets of Mumler photographs that the magazine offered to its readers. Ten years later the Guppys introduced her to Frederick Hudson. She recounted her subsequent four years of experimentation with him in a book illustrated with fifty-four miniaturised cartes-de-visite called Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye, which joined her previous work Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance. In the preface to the book Houghton granted her photographs a privileged role in proving Spiritualism’s truths:

 

I send them forth in full assurance that they carry a weight of evidence as to the substantiality of spirit being far transcending any other forms of mediumship.

 

Houghton travelled across London every Thursday to Hudson’s backyard glasshouse studio, meeting Mrs Guppy for a regular appointment at which Hudson would coat, sensitise and expose three plates of her. Hudson wholesaled his photographs of Houghton back to her, and she retailed them to her Spiritualist correspondents around the world, thus increasing his clientele as well as making enough profit for Houghton to cover her own costs. Miss Houghton and Mrs Guppy took turns to be photographed after mesmerizing the other in a ‘cabinet’ — a curtained-off part of a room which supposedly collected and concentrated the psychic energy of entranced mediums. The mesmerized women acted as batteries of stored-up spirit-power which could be drawn upon by the spirits to supplement their own spirit-power as they externalised themselves. To Houghton the draped figures could not possibly be collaborators dressed-up, they were too flat and unfilled-out. Their draped appearance was the result of the spirits using her reserve spiritual power with wise economy. Spirits told the lady experimenters to wear clothes that they had had about their person for a considerable time, and to avoid wearing clothes that had just been laundered. Houghton went a step further, used one of her black satin petticoats to construct her own dark-cloth for Hudson to cover and uncover the lens of his camera.

 

What, for Houghton, was most genuine about the shrouded figures in her photographs was the simple, unassuming modesty of their attitudes (poses we would now see as stilted eschatological theatrics). In contrast, she noted, living people usually wanted their portraits taken in order to exhibit their ego, and photographers were paid to make the most of any good feature. For her, the hundreds of cartes-de-visite displayed in shop windows, where the sitters were full of self-consciousness and had an air of self-gratification, contrasted badly with the air of peaceful repose of the spirits which she she saw in Hudson’s photographs.

 

In a photograph taken in May 1872 a spirit appeared standing very close to Houghton. She thought she recognised who it was, but since they had passed away over thirty years previously she couldn’t be sure. Her sister, however, confirmed her recognition. It was her Aunt Helen who had died of heart disease brought on by grief at the loss of her husband. She had left half her fortune to Houghton who had gratefully spent it all on her Spiritualist enthusiasms. She appeared now standing right behind Houghton to indicate that she continuing to support her from beyond the grave. The compiler of this album purchased this double portrait for her album.

 

A key Hudson portrait for the album is of Dr Walter Lindesay Richardson, who was a successful doctor in Ballarat and became the first president of the Victorian Association of Spiritualists, while also holding other eminent posts in colonial society such as the Senate of Melbourne University. He was so successful in business he was able to return to Britain for a tour of the Continent with his family in 1873 and 1874. Whilst there he wowed British Spiritualists with an address that connected progressive Spiritualism to the manifest destiny of the colonies. He said:

 

I come from a far country where […] the Teuton and the Celt and the Anglo-Saxon are founding a new republic and […] the great wave of modern Spiritualism is spreading over the length and breadth of the land. It is sapping the foundations of ecclesiastical Christianity; it is splitting asunder corporations based on self-interest and human greed […] It is, amid much ridicule and denunciation, proclaiming the brotherhood of the human race and the absolute and unconditional freedom of each immortal soul. (Green, p5)

 

When in London Richardson also attended séances with London’s leading mediums including Charles Williams, Mrs Guppy and Miss Houghton. He witnessed the materialization of London’s most celebrated spirits as well, including John King. In early 1874 he visited Frederick Hudson, as so many others were doing. After cleaning the plates himself and followed every stage of the process through to development, he received spirits on three out of the four plates, sending prints back to William H Terry in Melbourne. The most remarkable of the three successes is in the album. Terry, writing in the Harbinger of Light, tried to wrap his head around exactly what he was seeing:

 

…a Gothic chair is standing before the sitter with its back in close proximity to his knees; a female figure which is kneeling in front of him seems to permeate the chair, portions of the chair being visible through the form, as though the matter of the chair offered no obstruction to the more refined material of the Spirit form. (HoL July 1st 1874, p651)

 

So, this form must be a transition stage to full materialization…..

 

As far as we understand it, the Materialized Spirit form which appears on these occasions, is a condensation of sublimated matter, brought about by a scientific process known to Spirits who have studied Chemistry. The power used is Electricity, brought to bear through the magnetic emanations of the Medium, and but few Media (sic) have the necessary emanation to enable the spirits to complete the process. (HoL July 1st 1874, p651)

 

Richardson also sat in on several séances with the leading matron of London Spiritualism Mrs MacDougall Gregory, who was also the widow of his old Chemistry professor. Hudson’s carte of Mrs Gregory is also in the album. The shrouded spirit who has joined her, identified in the caption as the sister of her departed husband, has eschewed the self-conscious formal poses of the standard carte, and instead sits comfortably cross-legged on the floor beside her, imitating the sitting conventions of the American Indians and Orientals who were often Spirit Controls for British mediums.

 

Spiritualism and Nineteenth Century Science

For us, one hundred and thirty years later, merely knowing bare facts such as these about the subjects of the cartes may have only succeeded in filling the album with bewildering chatter from the procession of grifters, hucksters, naifs and idealists who crowd its pages. But, if we could hear how it would have been narrated by its owner in the 1880s, this silent collection of now-faded cartes-de-visite would become full of the urgent discourse, the very presence, of all of the key protagonists in the Spiritualists’ world. These personages formed themselves into series of conceptual concentric circles around her: local campaigners such as Terry and Richardson; foundational elder members of the movement; celebrity propagandists and mediums who had visited and performed in Melbourne such as Morse; famous mediums and writers from overseas who she had only read of or heard about; and finally, in the outer circle, the spirits themselves, such as Charles Williams’ tall and turbaned John King or Georgiana Houghton’s stalwart Aunt Helen.

 

This structure of progressive elevation and etherealization was also how, in a cross-pollination of their Swedenborgian and Copernican cosmologies with progressive ideas of political progress and social evolution, the Spiritualists conceived of this life and the afterlife — as a series of concentric spheres through which mortals and spirits gained more knowledge as they continued their ascent towards God.

 

Not only were developments in politics and social philosophy shaping the movement’s progressive social agenda, but developments in science were also structuring its metaphysical imagination. Nineteenth century advances in evolutionary biology, geology, physics and chemistry, which emphasised that matter and being changed incrementally over time, were crucial to Spiritualism. The new technologies arising from these sciences also formed a specific context for Spiritualism. They not only provided tangible evidence that science was progressing and opening up hitherto unknown worlds of knowledge, which the Spiritualists were confident already contained confirmed examples of spirit communication, they also provided enabling metaphors and analogies which were joyfully inhabited and extrapolated upon by the Spiritualist imagination — an imagination which had the capacity to stretch far beyond the breaking point of incredulity other people had.

 

Nineteenth century spirits were much more chaste and eschatological than the bizarre bodily eruptions of ectoplasm through which they manifested themselves in the twentieth century. The reigning metaphor was the telegraph, the electrical wonder of the age, which allowed communication over vast distances. For instance in the 1850s two separate magazines called themselves The Spiritual Telegraph. In the faraway Australia of the 1870s the telegraph was a particularly potent piece of technology. Australia was finally connected to the outside world via telegraph in 1871, when a cable from Java was pulled ashore at Darwin and subsequently connected via the overland telegraph line to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. In 1880 a home séance circle, which included employees of the New South Wales Magnetic Telegraph Office, began to use a disconnected telegraph key as the means of communication with the Beyond. They would place it in the middle of the séance table and it would automatically begin to tap, transmitting from the Other Side in Morse Code while ‘spirit lights’ hovered around the key.  (Britten, p254-255) Spiritualism was therefore a theory of communication as much as it was a conventional religion. It was not so much a faith in a deferred redemption, as an active belief in the current opportunities provided by supposed communication with those who already had higher knowledge — the spirits.

 

Mediated Intimacy

If Spiritualism was a theory of technological communication, can contemporary theories of the media cast any light on the activity of this anonymous compiler of carte-de-visites? In his 1995 book The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, John Thompson argues that, because of today’s new technologies such as TV and the internet, our social relationships and sense of ourselves are increasingly characterised by what he calls ‘mediated intimacy’, an intimacy exemplified by the real sense of closeness many fans feel with the stars they idolize. He says:

 

It is this new form of mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space, which underlies, for example, the relationship between fan and star. It can be exhilarating, precisely because it is freed from the reciprocal obligations characteristic of face-to-face interaction. But it can also become a form of dependence in which individuals come to rely on others whose very absence and inaccessibility turn them into an object of veneration. p208

 

Within modernity the sense of ‘self’ is regarded less as something innate to the individual, and more as the product of an ongoing symbolic project that the individual actively constructs. In one sense the availability of media products enriches this reflexive organization of narratives of the self, because it gives individuals more choice over the sort of self they want to be. But in another sense, Thompson warns, it makes them more dependent on larger systems over which they have little control. This may lead to a kind of symbolic overload which can eventually absorb the self, so that what he calls ‘mediated quasi-interactions’ become ends in themselves, rather than a resource individuals can choose to draw on and incorporate reflexively into their developing narratives of the self.

 

Thompson warns us that celebrities, which are taking up more and more space in the daily discourse our lives, can begin to overshadow and redefine other aspects of our social interactions. For Thompson, the state of being a fan is rooted in a ‘non-reciprocal relation of intimacy with distant others’. Fans create their own customised worlds by taking up, transforming and incorporating media products into a structured symbolic universe inhabited only by themselves. So, for a while, being a fan may seem to be an effective strategy of the self, because it enables individuals to tap into a rich source of symbolic materials which can be used to cultivate non-reciprocal bonds which are incorporated reflexively into a project of self-formation. But, beware, because fandom can become addictive and take over. When this occurs the individual may find it difficult to sustain the distinction between the world of the fan and the practical contexts of daily life. The two worlds become inextricably entangled, and the project of self becomes inseparable from, and increasingly shaped by, the experience of being a fan. (Thompson p222—225)

 

Because of media technologies, Thompson says, we are all living in a mediated world in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time, but only at the cost of the displacement of immediate ‘lived’ experience:

 

As these mediated experiences are incorporated reflexively into the project of self-formation, the nature of the self is transformed. It is not dissolved or dispersed by media messages, but rather is opened up by them, in varying degrees, to influences which stem from different locales. […]. If we compare our lives today with the lives of individuals who lived two or three centuries ago, it seems clear that the structure of experience has changed in significant ways. […] While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation. P233

 

Perhaps we can see the owner of this album, who lived a mere one hundred and thirty years ago, as a pioneer of both the pleasures, and the pitfalls, of this use of mediated experience for a project of self formation. She probably never left Melbourne, but through the global interchange of cartes-de-visite, and through the global reach of Spiritualist networks, she assembled a coherent world for herself out of fragments of photographically mediated experience.

 

She probably did this by sending money overseas to magazines like Boston’s Banner of Light and London’s Spiritual Magazine, as well as to individuals like James Bowman from Glasgow, and Georgiana Houghton from London. In addition she brought cartes off visitors to Melbourne, and probably exchanged her own image for cartes of her fellow Melbourne Spiritualists. They all come together in her little parlour album — from Battle Creek, from London, and from Boston — all assembled in the ready-made pockets of her album.

 

These cartes construct an entire world, with the compiler’s firm place at the centre of it implied, but never stated. Some of the images were drawn from lived experience in the colony of Victoria, and some were drawn from the higher planes of the spirit world, where celebrity spirits such as John King perpetually hovered, intimately near, but yet always out of reach — very much like a contemporary fan’s relationship to their favourite celebrity. As media objects they were all flattened, delocalised and mobilised by the globalised conventions of the various photographic studios around the world, which produced cartes-de-visite in a standardised format, in standardised glass-house studios, with standardised photographic conventions. (The Glasgow photographer Bowman even transduced trance drawing of supposed spirits into conventional cartes-de-visites.) They were all brought together into the compacted space of the album, where they were available for instant retrieval and sharing. In many respects they are like a page on a contemporary social networking site such as Facebook. In contemporary social networking close intimates, social acquaintances and favourite celebrities are all similarly flattened into ‘friends’, which orbit around the empty centre of us, constructing what we now call our ‘profile’ through our connections, rather than our innate selves.

 

Conclusion

Thompson warns us that there are both strengths and dangers in mediated intimacy, both pleasures and pitfalls. Did our compiler experience any of these pitfalls? Was this album, and the extraordinarily intimate, yet mediated, world it constructed simply the product of a passing enthusiasm? Did the owner, perhaps with too much money and time on her hands, simply jump on the bandwagon at the height of the fad, collecting cartes indiscriminately before eventually getting bored with Spiritualism’s breathless rhetoric of progress and revelation, or perhaps disillusioned with its charlatans. Did the interpenetrating spheres she built up in her album all suddenly collapse in on her like a house of cards? Or, did she remain one of the social, spiritual and technological pioneers of Australia, expanding on the conventions of the portrait album to describe both the palpable and the evanescent world she lived in. Did she seriously manage to incorporate the worlds she constructed in her album, although they were ultimately built only within her imagination, into a sustained, and sustaining, personal commitment to her new religion?

 

We will never know.

 

Martyn Jolly

 

Bibliography

 

Alfred J. Gabay, Messages from Beyond, Spiritualism and Spiritualists in Melbourne’s Golden Age, 1870-1890, Melbourne University Press, 2001

 

Alfred Russel Wallace, On Miracles of Modern Spiritualism: Three Essays, Spiritualist Press, 1874

 

Georgiana Houghton, Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye, Interblended with Personal Narrative, E. W. Allen, 1882

 

Dorothy Green, ‘Walter Lindesay Richardson: the Man the Portrait and the Artist’, Meanjin Quarterly, March 1970

 

John Thompson, The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, Cambridge Polity Press, 1995.

 

Emma Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles: or Spirits and their work in every country of the earth: A complete historical compendium of the great movement known as ‘Modern Spiritualism’, William Britten, New York,1884

 

Nandor Fodor, Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science, Arthurs Press, 1933

 

Harbinger of Light, Melbourne.

 

Martyn Jolly, Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography, British Library, 2006

 

Captions:

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Samuel Guppy (left), the medium Charles Williams, and a spirit, c1872, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Miss Houghton and spirit of her aunt, c1872, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Dr Richardson and spirit of his sister, 1873-74, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Frederick Hudson, Professor Gregory’s wife and spirit of his sister, c1873, carte-de-visite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

Unknown, The spirit John King, c1870s, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

James Bowman (Glasgow), J J Morse’s Controlling Spirit Tien Sien Tie, c1874, carte-de-visite in album page, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

 

 

 

2.5D and the Photographic Document

‘2.5D and the Photographic Document’,

Visible Evidence Conference, Australian National University, 19-21 December 2012.

In this paper I want to attempt to analyse the visceral offence I take at seeing the CGI process know as 2.5D used in documentary films.

First of all, what is 2.5D? It is a relatively simple process — at least for experts — which is available through such popular software packages as Aftereffects and even Photoshop. It takes a scan of a still photograph and slices it up, cutting out individual picture elements and putting them on separate transparent layers. The background picture elements are then extended out beyond their initial edges by cloning the original pixels. Gaussian blur may be added to the background elements to increase the sensation of depth of field. The layers are then separated in virtual space, while a virtual camera tracks through them to create the feeling of motion parallax and to produce a stereographic visual sensation in the viewer. Sometimes animation is added to the picture elements — clouds can scud across the sky, arms and legs can pivot at their elbows or knees, smoke can rise from chimneys or cigarettes, and water can sparkle. Sometimes, even, final sound effects can be added.

The popular 2007 TV documentary Ten Pound Poms makes use of all of these effects to animate the personal family snapshots of the British migrant subjects of the show, who are also interviewed in a studio. These were then intercut with newsreel and home movie footage. From the point of view of the documentary filmmakers all of these effects only add to the photograph. They endow it with movement, time, spatiality, animation and even diegetic sound. All of these things can only enhance the experience for the viewer — to give them more sensation, to make them feel more like ‘they were really there’, and to integrate the boring old still photographs with the fabulous newsreel footage, staged re-enactments, emotional remembrances and talking heads which make up the rest of the film. They supplement for what the still photograph is so manifestly lacking, so what’s the problem? I think there is a problem.

However, I am not entirely a purist when it comes to the use of photographs in documentary films. I recognise the value of using still photographs in a variety of ways which enable the photograph to take part in the specifically filmic syntax of the documentary film.

Sometimes 2.5D is described as just a turbo-charged extension of the notorious Ken Burns effect, an effect so famous they named an iPhoto default setting after it.  The use of still photographs filmed on a rostrum camera had been growing steadily in documentary TV and film since the 1950s, and some docos of the 1980s used slow zooms and pans across the surface of historic photographs. But when, in the television series The Civil War which was about a historical period before cinema but at the height of the carte-de-visite craze, Ken Burns combined the extensive panning and zooming of his 16mm rostrum camera with soulful music, stentorian voiceovers, and long contemplative landscape shots over empty fields, the effect came in to its own. The Ken Burns effect narrativised the still photograph. Reframing, re-sizing and tracking slowly revealed faces and incidents that had been cropped out by the rostrum camera. By zooming, details were given emotional and dramatic emphasis. This is not dissimilar to the way an actual photograph is pored over by an avid viewer in real life, when perhaps small details initially unnoticed are delightedly pointed out, or perhaps a lover’s face is intently gazed into. Most importantly, from my point of view, the photograph remains in tact. After filming it is picked up of the rostrum table and returned to the archive, its ontological integrity respected.

Nor am I against the photograph being used as a collage element, or as a re-enactment trope. Still photographs offer the opportunity for expository collages which many doco filmmakers can’t resist. For instance this year’s television documentary on Australian suffragettes, Utopia Girls, makes extensive use of both photographs as documents, and photographs as expository tropes. The resultant phantasmagoria makes me squirm and cringe, but it doesn’t give me the visceral outrage of 2.5D. I’m used to naff anachronisms in documentaries —footage from fictional war films intercut with actual newsreel war footage; or film footage from the twentieth century used to illustrate events in the nineteenth century. And the producers of Utopia Girls take these anachronisms to new heights. Why, for instance, do they make a mock ‘slide show’ of Charles Bayliss’s famous and beautiful collodion glass-plate negatives of the gold fields, complete with added surface dirt and the clunk of a twentieth century slide projector, when to my knowledge they were never even used as lantern slides? Why do they embed twentieth century newsreel footage in the decorated pages of a nineteenth century photograph album? Why are the stained backdrops of the photographic studio, in which actors act out the written words of the historical characters, based on the Sydney underworld police photographs of the 1920s made famous by the recent book City of Shadows, rather than the middle-class studio portraiture conventions of the late nineteenth century, where the actual historical characters would have actually been photographed?  Why?

Nonetheless I understand and accept that perhaps these devices are there to try to make history ‘come alive’. They take the complex, disparate stories of Australian radicalism over a sixty-year period and turn it into a palatable piece of TV by recasting it as a single, self-contained, linear, racy detective story, with our historian as our own personal guide. In Utopia Girls, as well, these techniques, which essentially translate one less familiar media form into another more familiar media form, are used to explicitly link the past to the present — the young actors hired to play the protagonists, the film implies, only have their political rights because of the bravery of the women they are portraying.  All young women, therefore, should admire the pioneering Utopia Girls just as much as they admire the Spice Girls. Perhaps in these cases the loses of the specific artefactual quality of the documents which are being used — the smooth collodion of Bayliss’s glass plate negatives, for instance, are outweighed by the gains — the patience of the TV viewer at home which isn’t strained.

But I think that when it comes to the 2.5D even this isn’t the case. Why am I specifically against 2.5D? Because the photograph is ontologically different to film and 2.5D destroys that. The photograph has a particular relationship to time. Obviously it freezes time. It is a snapshot but it can also be, as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it in the 1950s, a ‘decisive moment’, a stilled action which nonetheless contains compacted into it a sense of the extended action from which it was extracted. Photographs are moments in which time is held. Roland Barthes even says they are ‘engorged’ with time (p91) and 2.5D deflates this engorgement. A documentary like this year’s Croker Island Exodus relies on the testimony of eye-witnesses to time. The memories of the young Aboriginal children are written on their faces when, as old ladies now, they are recounted directly to camera. These faces are intercut with acted out re-enactments of their epic walk across Australia. And again, as in Utopia Girls, those re-enactments which use young Aboriginal kids as actors connect past to present. However the historic photographs which are used to segue between testimony and re-enactment also given the 2.5D treatment, though admittedly not as extreme as in Ten Pound Poms. There is a little bit of motion parallax, and the addition of colour. But, if the women themselves can give their testimony through their own presence and in their own words, why aren’t photographs also allowed to give their testimony in their own way as well? Why must their still moments be given an alien filmic propulsion?

In Photography and Fetish, 1985, the film theorist Christian Metz defines the photograph as being fixed in the past, and therefore standing in for an absence. On the other hand, he said, film unfolds in time and orchestrates the viewer’s desire. The photographic theorist Roland Barthes agreed with this basic dichotomy. In his 1980 book Camera Lucida he said of the photograph:

‘…this very special image gives itself out as complete  — integral, we might say … The photographic image is full, crammed: no room, nothing can be added to it. In the cinema, whose raw material is photographic, the image does not, however, have this completeness (which is fortunate for the cinema). Why? Because the photograph, taken in [the] flux [of a film], is impelled, ceaselessly drawn toward other views; in the cinema, no doubt, there is always a photographic referent, but this referent shifts, it does not make a claim in favour of its reality, it does not protest its former existence; it does not cling to me: it is not a spectre. … in it, no protensity, whereas the cinema is protensive … Motionless, the Photograph flows back from presentation to retention.’ P89-90

I think this dichotomy is still very useful, despite changes in technology since then, when the photograph and video converged on the same digital platform. The experience of looking at a photograph is still very different to the experience of watching a film. We still don’t watch a photograph, and we still don’t gaze upon a film. The photograph still holds time, while the film still propels time.  The viewer still contemplates the photograph as an object, but enters the psychologically enveloping virtual space of the film.

For generations of photographic theorists such as Roland Barthes the photograph’s power came from it paradoxical relationship to time. From the point of view of the viewer’s experience the photograph is simultaneously both ‘here now’ and ‘there then’, however from the point of a viewer absorbed in a movie, filmic movement and montage has collapsed this paradox. The photographic image remains in the past while the moving and edited image creates its own present. Extrapolating further from this dichotomy, many writers have discussed the various ways in which the photograph is associated with the closure and distance of death, while film is associated with the flow and relentless becoming of life.

Of course this dichotomy is complex and entangled, and defined very much by the dominant social and historical uses of the twin technologies in the past: on the one hand the rise of the social habit of personal snapshot photography— which has tended to emphasise the mnemonic aspects of the photograph as an object; and on the other hand the rise of the movie industry— which has tended to emphasise the temporal compulsions of story and spectacle in movies which are experienced in cinemas. And you are all right now no doubt thinking of exceptions as well: the elegiac moments of a child waving from your grandfather’s Kodachrome standard 8 holiday film on the one hand, or the way that the various ‘decisive moments’ of news photographs were put together into the unfolding quasi-cinematic picture layouts of illustrated magazines like Life, on the other.

But nonetheless the fundamental ontologies of the dichotomy remain. Even within the filmic technology itself this distinction holds I think. In the 1890s early cinema exhibitors delighted their audiences by showing the first frame of the kinematograph frozen like a lantern slide, before suddenly cranking the projector forward into life. Since then countless fiction filmmakers have apotheosised their characters in a sudden freeze frame. Over the years millions of art school students have revelled in the uncanny temporality of Chris Marker’s 1964 film La Jetee, a film made up almost entirely of stills. And generations of video artists such as Douglas Gordon, Bill Viola or Gillian Wearing have made, and still make, work exploring the tension between stillness and movement.

But when, within the documentary genre, it comes to bringing together two related but distinct social practices — the photograph as documentary artefact, and the film as narrativized event; and two related and distinct recording technologies — snapping and filming, then I think this ontological dichotomy must be respected.

2.5D does a violence to the ontological integrity of the historic photograph, and it does a violence to the psychological power of the phenomenological experience of the photograph as historical object. The photograph does not need to be animated with CG effects because its unique power lies precisely in its lack of animation. In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes describes the effect this power had on him.

In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated (I do not believe in ‘lifelike’ photograph), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure.’ (p20)

The photograph must retain its temporal retention over which this animation can reach. Even embedded in the syntax of the documentary, the stillness of the photograph, and its historical authority as document and artefact, can still create the precious feeling of mutual animation over a mysterious distance of time. It must continue to be allowed to.

Martyn Jolly

Soldiers of the Cross and the Quo Vadis connection

Soldiers of the Cross and the Quo Vadis connection, blog entry, National Film and Sound Archive

One of the highlights of my CSAR Fellowship a couple of years ago was the chance to see the two hundred or so glass magic lantern slides from Soldiers of the Cross on the light-table out at Mitchell. I’m really interested in magic lantern slides and the history of the magic lantern in Australia. I kind of suspected that maybe these slides hadn’t yet received the attention they deserved because Soldiers of the Cross, an evangelical lecture produced by the Salvation Army in Melbourne in 1900, had been thought about by historians primarily interested in finding the origins of Australia’s cinema industry, and of course the cinematic part of the original presentation, the thirteen or so kinematographic films, had been lost. The slides, however, far from being just the remnants of a primarily movie-related event, are fascinating in their own right.

There is a lot visual information recorded on the 9 cm by 9cm glass slides, not to mention their extravagant handcolouring, or their careful and inventive narrative sequencing. One of people responsible for the production, Herbert Booth, the youngest son of the founder of the Salvation Army, left the Army in 1902 and took the slides with him overseas as an independent evangelist. He died in 1926, and the slides he had used for all those years didn’t return to Australia until the fifties. When I got access to some of the high resolution digital copies the NFSA’s Darren Weinert had made, in order to show them as part of Arc’s ‘Autumn Silents’ program, it was wonderful to be able to dive in to the detail in the slides, particularly the faces of the members of the Salvation Army who had dressed up as Romans or Christian martyrs to reenact the stories of the persecution of the early Christians. By showing the slides in sequence I hope I established that there were several distinct modes of temporality in the production, including what I dubbed the ‘iterative’, ‘expository’ and ‘action’ modes.

We had always known that some of the slides in the set that came back to Australia had been made a long time after the original production — the tableaus were more complex and the costumes and sets more elaborate. So I became intrigued to know where exactly the later slides had come from. At the Salvation Army Heritage Centre in Melbourne I had been shown a page from the Illustrated London News of 1907 where Booth was featured with his ‘evangelisation by tableaux vivants’ and ‘bioscope lecture’, so Booth was ‘on the road’ with slides and film for quite a long time. He was still touring when his first wife died in 1920.

I showed some of the later slides to colleagues in the lantern-slide researcher community, as well as the cinema historian community, and dropped them in to Google Image Search. I found that some were production stills from the 1913 Italian blockbuster Quo Vadis. Quentin Turnour had also cunningly programmed Quo Vadis into the NFSA’s season of ‘Autumn Silents’, and when I saw the film at Arc I identified twelve slides from the NFSA’s Soldiers of the Cross set as having their origin in Quo Vadis. They were most probably a set made by a commercial slide manufacturer in association with the exhibition of the blockbuster, purchased by Booth, and interleaved amongst the existing Soldier of the Cross set.

Back in 1900 the Salvation Army had incorporated slides of many famous nineteenth century paintings directly in their production, as well as using them as inspiration for their painted backdrops. Two of the paintings they had used, Thumbs Down and Last Prayers of the Christian Martyrs featured scenes in the coliseum and were by the popular French academic painter Jean Léon Gérome, also know for his soft-core porn harem scenes. The same paintings were clearly also the inspiration for the sets and costumes of the 1913 Italian Quo Vadis. My ANU colleague Gino Moliterno put me on to an article by Ivo Blom about the relationship of Gerome’s paintings to the Quo Vadis film where, as in Soldiers of the Cross, several scenes are directly modeled on the paintings. Blom’s article also discussed the relationship between the tableau vivant and early European cinema, as well as the general interest in ‘sword and sandal’ (or what I prefer to call ‘blood on the toga’) themes from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century, and indeed right up to the present day, including the Quo Vadis novel about early Christian martyrs published in 1895.

Clearly much work remains to be done. But I think we now have a richer, more international and more intermedial context for the Archive’s Soldiers of the Cross slides.

In thinking about the narrative and temporal sequencing of these slides I had relied on the numbers painted on the edge of each slide. But the numbering system incorporates the Quo Vadis slides, so these numbers were added after 1913, at least 13 years after the first slides were produced back in Melbourne. What was going through Booth’s head, I wondered, as he interleaved, amongst the slides he himself had produced a decade and a half earlier, the new slides from a mega commercial blockbuster which drew on the same literary and visual sources he had drawn on. But I think Lindsay Cox from the Salvation Army Heritage Centre gets it right when he says:

“First and foremost the prime motivation in Herbert Booth’s life was the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It consumed him in his Salvation Army service and then as ‘Ambassador’ Booth the travelling evangelist. His creativeness and entrepreneurial skills were in their entirety for his work for God. The production achievements of Herbert were entirely a means to an end. If Herbert could not see a direct connection between using the technology and the saving of souls, he would have discarded it. Herbert Booth was adamant that his lecture was ‘not an entertainment.’ As commander of the Australasian Territory he was able to draw upon resources he never could have after leaving the Army. He was not a wealthy man, although no doubt, comfortable. Nor was his family wealthy, or able to, or perhaps desiring to support him. So, I do not feel that he had the resources to make the slides himself. There is also no evidence that he had anything other than artistic involvement in the productions. All the technical and processing stuff was Perry’s domain. I’m comfortable with the thought he just used whatever commercially available slides were available.”

Soldiers of the Cross – NFSA

‘Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry’s Soldiers of the Cross of 1900’, National Film and Sound Archive, Arc Cinema, 1 March, 2013

I’d like to thank Quentin for the opportunity, and Clare, Darren and Brooke for the yummy files.

I want to go back to the turn of last century and try to re-imagine the experience that audience members might have had at the Salvation Army evangelist lecture Soldiers of the Cross. This massive production, the most elaborate of the Army’s many technologically cutting-edge productions, was seen by large numbers of people around Australia, and was particularly aimed at recruiting young men.

What other media experiences would the excited crowds we see milling about Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne or the Sydney Town hall have had, before the went inside to take their seats? They would certainly have seen many dissolving view magic lantern shows, featuring hand painted slides in series such as Jane Conquest, or life model slides of actors in tableau vivant photographed against backdrops, such as Daddy. These slide shows used a dissolving mechanism to produce special effects by, for instance, dissolving an angel over a scene with a separate magic lantern, or creating a montage on the slide itself. They would have experienced stereo views, where they clamped a viewer onto their face and immersed themselves in virtual three dimensional space as they took a trip through a sequence of twelve scenes, usually of exotic locations they had no hope of visiting in real life. They might have visited one of the new kinetoscope parlours — there was one across the road from the Army headquarters — where they could bend their heads to eyepieces and crank through sixty seconds of animated pictures. They may even have seen animated pictures projected onto a screen from an adaptor placed at the front of a magic lantern. They might have gone to the Melbourne cyclorama building, where they could immerse themselves bodily in a panorama of the Siege of Paris. And they would have been aware of the great celebrity paintings of the day which they would have mainly know from numerous lantern slide reproductions or prints, but even perhaps by experiencing the aura of the paintings themselves. Some celebrity paintings such as Holman Hunt’s 1850s Light of the World, after being familiar for decades through slide and reproduction, physically toured the world like aging rock stars. And finally they would have experienced the hurly burly of the cosmopolitan streets themselves.

All this can be summed up in three buzz words from the period: thrills, animated photographs and colour. So all that was in their heads as they took their seats, but what had been going on behind the scenes? Soldiers of the Cross was produced in the Salvation Army’s Limelight Studios, headed by Joseph Perry, which combined gramophones, magic lanterns and the kinematograph in a ‘triple alliance’. However the key piece of equipment was the most unglamorous, and the most overlooked — it was the copy camera, which could take virtually any flat image, and turn it into a glass slide that could them be hand-coloured before projection. For this production Perry, along with the Commandant of the Army in Australia Herbert Booth and his wife Cornelie produced about 250 glass lantern-slides and approximately fifteen sixty-second strips of Lumiere film. Of the slides about thirty were copied from other sources, and of the films about two were produced by the Lumiere company. The rest were produced in Melbourne, and the whole lot was integrated together by the Booths and Perry. The script has been lost, as well as the films the Army shot. But a large proportion of the slides, and two Lumiere films, survive.

The best way of thinking about the logic of Soldiers of the Cross is to imagine it as a turn of the twentieth century Powerpoint. Like Powerpoint it brought together disparate sources into a singly formatted lecture. Like Powerpoint every time it was performed it was slightly different. And like Powerpoint it was the lecturer who made the show. The Booths wrote the script and read it, while Perry and his team dissolved the slides one into the other and projected the cinematographs. A band also played well-known hymns from the period, and led the congregation is singing. Although it included narratives, these were chapters embedded in an overarching structure which was liturgical and sermonic.

THE ST STEPHEN SEQUENCE

The production began with general scenes of the Life of Christ derived from reproductions of prints and painting, as well as two commercial kinematographs which were each one-minute reels, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, from the thirteen one-minute-reels of the Lumiere production The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ made in 1898. It is important to look carefully at these Lumiere films. Although they weren’t shot in Melbourne they give an indication of what the Melbourne footage may have looked like. In these films it is the micro-movements, the swish of the palm fronds, the pounding of the Roman hammer, and the movement of the sponge through the air, these unmistakable markers of living animation, which would have most excited the audience.

After this introduction the first chapter of the lecture was the Martyrdom of St Stephen.  This is based on the biblical story of the first Martyr. It opens with St Stephen before the Jewish court. Why, one wonders, does this first chapter open with five very repetitive slides where not much is happening, where the narrative isn’t moving? This is because in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles St Stephen spends 53 Biblical verses defending himself against the Jewish court by recounting the story of Moses’ persecution. So it appears as though these slides would be dissolved, one in to another, perhaps quite slowly, as Booth recounted those 53 biblical verses.

After that, the Biblical narrative suddenly picks up. Stephen looks up and Heaven opens up to him. There he sees God with Jesus on his right hand. The Bible says:

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried out in a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Acts 7 55-60

Booth and Perry have superimposed a commercial slide of Jesus and angels for the effect of Heaven opening up.

The way the slides in this sequence have been made differ. We begin with slides shot with live models standing in front of a painted backdrop. But the slide of St Stephen being removed from the city is assembled in a different way. It is a collage of cut-out photographs pasted onto a painted background, and re-shot onto a glass-slide before being hand-coloured. Both quite different techniques are used throughout the Army’s productions.

The slides only follow the Biblical text loosely, but the general narrative would have been familiar enough to the audience. The account of this chapter in the Salvation Army magazine the War Cry closely follows the slides we have:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The [Sanhedrim, the] trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The kinematograph was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture the innocent Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionists of his day cannot be described. The kinematograph give place to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul (sic) the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.’ (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

The backdrop painting for the exteriors has clearly been inspired by a Gustave Doré engraving. There are three slides numbered in sequence for the stoning, two are shot against a backdrop, the third is a collage. The kinematograph would have come after this sequence of slides, which may have been dissolved more quickly, perhaps, than the earlier court slides. So the audience would have seen the same action again, repeated, but this time in moving picture.

We can get an indication perhaps of how this might have worked by looking at the script of a later set of life model slides called Lazarus, produced by the Army in 1902. This is a set of eight slides. The script for the later and shorter slide set tells the story of the raising of Lazurus with the usual cues for slide changes. At the end of the story the cue changes to ‘Kino’. Unfortunately the corner of the script has been torn off, but the lecturer says something like:

We shall now show you … (missing) … actually took place … (missing) … this remarkable miracle, most impressive and realistic. WE WILL SHOW YOU IN LIVING FORM WHERE MARTHA MEETS CHRIST, and tells him Lazurus is dead,…….’

The script then runs on as a commentary on the kinematograph, with prompts for the reader of the script for when the kinematograph scenes will change.

To return to the earlier, longer, Soldiers of the Cross production, as the War Cry says, the kinematograph then gives way to a slide of Stephen lying dead, with Jesus receiving his spirit. Then we see a hand-coloured copy of a lithographic reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite Millais painting of St Stephen, before cutting back to two slides of Salvation Army Officer Colonel James Annetts, who played St Stephen, lying on the ground. Between the final two slides we see his crimson blood poo, as though a few moments of time have elapsed, and a crucial character for the next chapter, Saul, appear to look over him.

So in this chapter, even though viewers are experiencing a synthesized production, it is not built on anything like a unified visual syntax. Instead they are experiencing   at least five different modalities of affect, and four different expressions of time:

  1. A strophic, verse-like, iterative mode of slowly dissolving lantern slides, familiar from previous commercial slide sets
  2. An expository mode of tableaus taking us through key narrative points
  3. A faster, time-based, action mode, often in couplets or triplets, and perhaps linked to an accelerated lantern dissolve, which is an innovation of the commercial slide format
  4. The real-time animation and realistic living-picture mode of the kinematograph, giving a visceral feeling of natural movement
  5. The contemplative mode of a familiar work of ‘great art’ which is embedded in some kind of universal historical/symbolic/aesthetic time

These five different modalities I have identified are reflected in the contemporaneous comments on the production. For instance often the micro-movements magically captured by the kinematograph are mentioned, such as the splash of water as a martyr is thrown in a river, the rising of smoke, or the falling of stones. But also the beautiful colour of the slides is frequently mentioned. All of these modes, although not syntactically unified in any way we would recognize from subsequent cinema history, nonetheless worked together to directly involve the audience with the story through shared sight. This sense of collective witnessing, which this opening sequence sets up, is caught well by the War Cry:

We saw the great stones falling thick and fast upon the white robbed figure on the ground, till it grew strangely still. Then the ‘witnesses’ left the scene, and Saul of Tarsus stood alone looking down upon the dead young man. (MWC 29/9/00 p14)

SAUL

The next slide, after we have shared with Saul our contemplation of the dead St Stephen, is a shot of contemporary Damascus extracted from a stereograph. But this clever segue still follows the Bible pretty closely, because after being transported to contemporary Damascus as it was in 1900, the next slide whooshes us back to Biblical times for Saul’s conversion. We then see a tight sequence of three slides, shot outside rather than in a studio, which is a time-based triplet shows us St Paul’s escape by basket from the walls of Damascus to continue his preaching.

These time-based ‘runs’ of slides often seem to pick up momentum towards a kinematographic climax. For instance at slide number 72 there is a sequence of Romans raiding an outdoor service by Christians who are then forced to flee underground to continue their worship clandestinely in the catacombs. In 1901 this sequence was added to with a kinematograph of the Romans chasing the Christians across a plank over a stream, augmented with the much commented on comic relief of a Roman boinging off the springy plank and into the stream.

CATACOMBS

A later sequence focuses on life in the catacombs, perhaps to parallel life for Salvationists in the midst of pagan Melbourne. Like an establishing shot from a movie of twenty years later, it begins with an aerial map of the catacombs, and then swoops us down through the contemporary underground stone passages using stereo views from a commercial stereograph set. We then see daily life— worship, marriage, birth, sickness and eventual death — carried on in what I have called the ‘iterative’ mode through a mixture of Army collages and copies of prints and engravings. As the War Cry put it:

All these scenes, painted and reproduced to sight and sound by word and art pictures, simply enchain the mind, and carry one in thought 1800 years back through the ages. The listener sups, prays, praises, adores worships, suffers and dies with these saints of apostolic times.

The mode switches from ‘iterative’ to ‘time-based’ for a detailed and strangely beautiful, even today, funeral sequence of four monochrome slides. Once more there is kinematographic climax, before a final extended contemplation of souls ascending into heaven painted in brilliant supersaturated colour, which may perhaps have been accompanied by music or singing.

LIME KILNS

About twenty slides later another quartet of slides appears which encapsulates a tight action. A Christian woman is about to be burnt to death in a lime-kiln. Will she offer just one grain of incense to the Pagan Gods and save herself? No! After pointing upwards to the one true God she disappears into the kiln. This again was followed by a kinematograph of martyrs joyfully jumping into the kiln, with the added bonus of smoke effects.

COLISUEM

Fourteen slides later another run of five slides introduces an extended piece of action. Christians wait at the gate of the Coliseum, while a stuffed tiger with a virulent red tongue threatens them from a cage. Then the gates inch open in the final three slides, before a kinematograph shows the Christians entering the Coliseum and being approached by lions, after which individual slides show their martyrdom.

PERPETUA SEQUENCE:

The final sequence of the two and half hour show was for many people the most affecting, in Hobart for instance, it caused ‘general sobbing’ in the audience. (MWC 26/1/01 p9)

Perpetua, played by the young, attractive Army member, Cadet Mabel Tolley was a young wealthy Roman woman who chose to give up her baby and be martyred in the coliseum rather than renounce Christ. A script with slide and music cues exists, probably for a stand-alone version made shortly after Soldiers of the Cross. The surviving script is also punctuated with nine popular hymns requiring audience participation, with a hymn supplementing the narrative about every four slides. However in Soldier of the Cross itself there were most probably far fewer hymns because of the whole production’s larger scale.

The script is ekphrastic, that is, it describes what the audience is seeing with their own eyes, and rhetorically explains what they should be feeling. For instance, during a dissolve between two opening slides the script says:

We may picture the surprise of this Christian lady when sitting in one of her well furnished rooms. The stillness of the occasion was broken by the intrusion of two armed men. On learning the object of their sudden appearance, Perpetua showed neither fear nor alarm.

This was immediately followed by a hymn. Later, when she is cast into prison, the script tells the audience:

Glory filled her soul amidst the gloom of her surroundings.

Later on, a tight sequences of slides showed the visual evidence of interpersonal conflict, while the script provided the ekphrasis. After her father leaves, disappointed that he has not been able to convince her to drop the whole Jesus thing, the script says:

This was to her a dark and trying moment. The grey beard, the fatherly face, the agitated frame, the loving entreaties, and the stern rebuke; as well as the somber environment of the place, all spoke to her heart with a weird-like eloquence. Still she faltered not. An invisible power supported her even now.

As we have seen in the St Stephen sequence at the beginning of the production, the script is often self-referential, making direct links between Perpetua’s experience and the experience of the audience seeing the projected slides in Melbourne eighteen hundred years later. After Perpetua has finally handed over her baby to her mother the script says:

But when the mother had gone a dreary lull set in. The baby’s prattle had given way to a deep silence. The past rose in vivid pictures, and strong as she was in the grace of God, her poor heart was grief stricken. But there is always solace in prayer, and even in this dark dungeon Perpetua might well prove the unfailing words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’.’

The script then calls for the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus.

In a second courtroom sequence more tight time-based, rather than expository, action is shown. She is offered pagan incense to burn and her mother and father show her the baby which will be returned to her if only she renounce Jesus. She refuses. Her father remonstrates with her once more, and is struck to the round by a guard.

After Perpetua has been martyred and before the final hymn the script ends with:

But the end was near, for soon Perpetua lay bruised and bleeding upon the floor of that slaughter house on iniquity still praying to Him she loved. The excited crowd yelled that her misery and pain might end with a thrust of the gladiator’s sword. A moment later the soul of Perpetua had gone to be with God, gone to hear her master say, “Now that thou hast been faithful unto death, I will give thee a Crown of Life”.

THE VOICE

Now we have looked in as much detail as possible at a few of the many sequences in this production, what general conclusions can be drawn? The unifying force in the piece was the voice, the live human voice reciting that sermon. That voice was provided first by the charismatic Herbert Booth, youngest son of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army movement. Herbert spoke in ‘short and harmonious’ sentences, ‘constructed with due regard to the balance and equilibrium of the whole’ (MWC 22/9/00). After he got sick the lecture was conducted by his equally charismatic wife. The War Cry  reported:

The lights went down, and the audience were hushed into breathless silence as the immense pictures were thrown upon the canvas. The Commandant’s voice alone broke the stillness thrilling the enthralled audience with burning words fitted in compact sentences, forming an eloquent and beautiful tribute to the heroic deeds and unflinching endurance of the saints whose pictorial reproduction riveted every eye. (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

Other connecting forces were musical, the familiar hymns and masses played by the orchestra and sung by the audience. But the dominant force which distinguished the limelight lecture from others was the lanternist himself, who was always present in the audience’s consciousness as his lanterns hissed and spluttered and projected their beam above their heads. As the War Cry noted:

Carefully watching the screen as the lecture progressed, and noting the rapid changes from one slide to another, from slide to kinematograph film, and then again from kinematograph film to slide, each appearing exactly at the right time, one could not help but admire the consummate skill with which Major Perry manipulated his elaborate and complicated apparatus. (MWV13/10/00 p8)

RETINAL POWER

The presence of the lanternist signaled the radical shift in focus of the site of principle address which the Salvation Army made in their evangelism: from the body, or the ear, or the mind, or the voice — although these were of course still present — to the eye and to the retina; from the phenomenological architecture of the church to the dominating address of the projection sheet; from the magical ritual of the service to the narrative power of the projected image.

The magic lantern shifted the locus of the spiritual to the limelight itself, and turned the lanternist into a kind of thaumaturge. For instance, before the third presentation of Soldiers of the Cross at South Melbourne Town Hall Brigadier Unsworth prayed with the congregation:

that the pictures might be luminous with Divine light, [instilled] with divine power, and fruitful in bringing about more of that spirit of heroism that dominated the lives of the Christian martyrs of old. (MWC 13/10/00 p8)

The Army’s spiritual bellicosity was evoked in another comment by the War Cry:

The lecture is a double-barreled weapon, which captivates both sense of sight and enchains the mind, while indelible impressions are made upon it. (MWC 22/9/00 )

THE DISSOLVE

The Army’s slides, like all slides of the period, were propelled forward by the retinal frisson of the dissolve, as one image appeared to materialize itself within the very optical substance of the image it was replacing.  The rhetoric of the Army frequently equates the light of the lantern with the light of salvation, and the magical transformation of the dissolve with the transformative power of Jesus.

INNOVATION

The Army’s main innovation was to use lantern slides to describe tight time-based actions, rather than expository narrative elements or iterative strophic elements. This I think is globally significant at the time.

The Army’s second innovation was to scale up the traditional lantern lecture into a complete evening’s production, and to give it a thematic unity. As the War Cry reported:

Although the audience was taken through a great variety of scene and incident, the intervals were cleverly bridged or, to change the metaphor, the stories, instead of being scattered gems were strung on an elocutionary necklace and, in their semblance or contrast made into a beautiful and complete circlet. (MWC 29/09/00 p8)

A third innovation was to work the kinematograph into the slides more closely. In Booth’s words:

I saw at a glance that living pictures, worked in conjunction with life-model slides, would provide a combination unfailing in its power of connecting narrative.’ (Citation)

THRILLS

These three innovations were all in search of thrills — Army thrills to compete with all of the other thrills young people, particularly young men, had to divert them in 1900. In its pre-publicity for Soldiers of the Cross, the War Cry described it as a ‘new sensation’. It was the power of the thrill which led Booth to chose as his subject the martyrdom of the early Christians, because the bloody and violent martyrdoms provided opportunity for spectacle and action. If the thrill was one key concept, the other was realistic action. The intention was to create a retinal connection between the audience and the Christian martyrs. The ultimate objective was for people, particularly men, to pledge their souls to Christ and their lives to the Army at the end of the lecture. Realism was one conduit of empathy, the other was the contemporary travel shots of the Holy Land and the copies of the great and familiar paintings which introduced each chapter.

As the War Cry predicted before opening night:

The thrilling scenes in the arena, the cruel tests, the thrilling presentiments of Christians under torture, the sustaining power of the presence of the invisible Christ should bring forth all that is best in the nature of the observers, while the graphic and eloquent word-pictures of our leader should tinge with colour, as with the hands of an artist in studies of human nature, these pictures, which all but speak their own story. May God’s spirit be poured upon lecturer, operator and audience alike!’ (MWC 15/9/00) p8)

TRANSPORT

Part of this thrill was also a sense of transport, to take the audience out of their seats in Melbourne, and into another spatio-temporal realm. As Booth promised:

I have sought to make everything absolutely correct. From the plumes on the Roman helmet and the imperial robe of Nero to the rough garments of the pagan slave, everything will be exact. You only have to follow the screen and you will be as much in Rome as if you had been there – now in the palace of Caesar, then in the open square – now in the residence of the patrician, then in the den of the libertine — now in the coliseum then in the Catacombs, where the early Christians concealed themselves for safety — all will be absolutely exact’ (MWC 18/8/00 p9)

This is very similar to the promises which had been made by stereograph manufacturers since the 1850s. By the 1900s sellers like Underwood and Underwood were marketing complete ‘Travel Systems’ incorporating, stereographs, guidebooks and maps, to give a similar, touristic sense of optical and retinal transport.

But to the Army audience this transport was more than just virtual tourism, it was transport of a more profound kind. A later report on a limelight meeting said:

the meeting almost becomes as a séance, and our spirits seem to blend with the spirits of these just ones.’(MWC 9/2/01 p9)

AFFECT

Was Soldiers of the Cross effective? The War Cry frequently reported on the ‘involuntary interjections, moans of pity, sighs of relief’ coming from the audience. (MWC 29/09/00 p8) All the Army reports are ecstatic, but they would be, wouldn’t they. However even the hard-bitten seen-it-all mainstream press confirmed the affective power of the production. The premiere scored a review from two out of the three of Melbourne papers, and both used the word ‘thrilling’.

The Age said:

To have some of the most tragic episodes of Christian history carried out in all savage but ?should? destroying realism is an accomplishment essentially of today. It was done by the aid of the kinematograph, when Commandant Booth delivered his thrilling lecture last night.

The Argus said:

Opening with the last days of the life of Christ, Commandant Booth dealt with the lives of the disciples [… ] and the thrilling scenes that were enacted in the arena of the Coliseum. Bold as the lecture was in conception, the illustration were even more daring. (MWC 22/9/09)

CONCLUSION

Soldiers of the Cross is extremely important because it was Australia’s first large scale multimedia production. On at least several occasions it kept close to 2000 people simultaneously enthralled by a production that was experientially integrated over an entire two and a half hour period. It innovated on narrative formats from the nineteenth century, and incorporated technology that would come to dominate the twentieth century.  It created an entirely new experience by weaving familiar visual forms and technological experiences in with established viewing protocols and ritualized behaviours that had been developed and inculcated into Australian audiences during the previous five decades. The scale and the complexity of the integration of these experiences looked forward to twentieth century media forms. One of those media forms was certainly the cinema, but others include the history of the lantern itself which continued in parallel to cinema for another five decades, as well as much later media forms such as broadcast radio and television, and even, at a stretch, contemporary digital media platforms. For these reasons it is an extraordinarily important event in Australian history. Much more important than we first realized.

Martyn Jolly

The Disinfected City in Australia

‘The Disinfected City in Australia’, Eugene Atget Symposium, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 25 August, 2012

Disinfected Sydney
The Panoramic, the Evidential and the Picturesque
The idea of Atget and archival delirium in Australian photography

Of course there is no antipodean Atget. The very idea is ridiculous. Any relationship drawn between a singularly exceptional photographer working in early twentieth-century Paris, the city which as the ‘capital of the nineteenth century’ was central to global shifts in urban culture, and any other photographer working far away in the colonial settler society of Australia, at the dusty extremity of a European empire, must be attenuated in the extreme.

Yet nonetheless Atget is here, and perhaps the mystique that surrounds him can be used as a lens to look afresh at some aspects of Australian photography.

The idea of Atget

Firstly what have been the reactions to Atget? The surrealists saw Atget’s photographs as suspended between fact and dream, between the prosaic and the poetic. Subsequent interpretations, particularly in the US, emphasised the prosaic, factual pole of this tension. Atget’s commercial imperatives were seen to have produced an archive of empirically authentic documents.

Walter Benjamin was attracted to Atget because his photographs thematised the spatially and temporarily liminal. Both were interested in contested and transformed spaces; and in the outmoded, which has the capacity to erupt into the present at the very moment it is consigned to history, challenging the linear distinctions between past, present and future.

In 1931 Benjamin said of Atget:

‘ … he disinfected the sticky atmosphere spread by conventional portrait photography … He cleansed this atmosphere, he cleared it; …  He sought the forgotten and the neglected, … such pictures turn reality against the exotic, romantic, show-offish resonance of the city name; they suck the aura from reality like water from a sinking ship.  … Atget almost always passed by the ‘great sights and so-called landmarks’ … the city in these pictures is swept clean like a house which has not yet found a new tenant. These are the sort of effects with which surrealist photography established a healthy alienation between environment and man, opening the field for a politically educated sight, in the face of which all intimacies fall in favour of the illumination of details.’

Five years later Benjamin praised Atget once again for eschewing the nineteenth century portrait ritual and the romance of the human face:

To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget … It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed [the streets] like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.’

What I take from all of that is that Atget’s photographs are dreamlike, but also authentic documents. They create a ‘disinfected’ city cleansed of the cloying atmospheres of myth, and cleared of the ideology of romantic humanism. They are made up of details that need to be read with a ‘healthy alienation’, rather than contemplated within a comfortable aesthetic familiarity. They document liminal temporalities where the smooth flow of history is folded back on itself; and liminal spaces where the seamless ideologies of civic space are unpicked to reveal urban gaps and layerings.

Urban photography in Australia

During roughly the same period in which Atget was working there were three dominant modes in the picturing of Australian cities, and each I think resonates in different ways with Benjamin’s comments on Atget. The three modes are the panoramic, the evidential, and the picturesque.

The Panoramic

Colonial audiences loved panoramas, and photographers took every opportunity to take them. Charles Bayliss used Holtermann’s North Sydney Tower in 1875, the roof of the Garden Palace Exhibition Buildings in 1879, and the GPO Tower in the 1890s, as vantage points for his panoramas of the growing city. Even some of his terrestrial views were panoramic, working to extend the viewer’s eye across long and deep diagonals that led all the way to infinity down long vanishing streets which are completely delineated by the sun. In the twentieth century the American adventurer Melvin Vaniman also took a panorama of Sydney from a tethered balloon, as well as from the mast of a ship.

The Evidential

Tucked away on the far right of Vaniman’s ship-mast panorama is The Rocks area, which is the first site of the second mode of photography I want to discuss, the evidential. In 1900 the Department of Public Works assembled 300 ‘Views Taken During Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Areas’. They were taken by John Degotardi, under the supervision of the engineer George McCredie. They documented the cleansing of The Rocks area following the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in January 1900 from which 103 people died. The photographs were commissioned as evidence of dereliction to forestall possible litigation from slum landlords whose properties were to be either demolished or cleansed. The quarantined residents, unable to leave, were employed to cleanse their own streets, and to finish with whitewashing their own walls. Whitewashing had no sanitary value, but was purely a signifier of cleanliness. Degotardi himself often wore white, and often his photographs capture a face-off between cleansing official and hapless denizen of the quarantined area.  Indeed the scale of the project gives it now, in retrospect, something of the same moral force that Jacob Riis’s much more famous flash-lit reportage of New York’s slums had. Some of the basements and toilets are lit by flashlight, as Riis’s was, but Degotardi’s usual illuminant was the purifying sun angled into the backyards.

The actual identity of the photographer was only established in about 1980 by the sharp-eyed historian Max Kelly who recognized, eighty years after they were first taken, that Degotardi had exceeded his initial brief.

…  he offers us a way to know this previously unknown world rather more intimately than a literary or statistical account could provide. Here people are as they were. There is no artifice. Some are caught unawares, some are apprehensive. Others are just as interested in the photographer as he is in them. Most have only rarely, if ever, had their photographs taken. The same is true for the buildings — the terraces, shacks, doss-houses, warehouses and make-do shelters.’

In 1977 he published some of the archive in the important book A Certain Sydney which went into three printings. It began with the epigraph:

‘Most of the people pictured here are dead. Nearly all of the houses have been demolished and a number of the streets no longer exist. The book tries to resurrect an aspect of Sydney’s life which, even in its time, was largely forgotten.’

Thirty years after this statement, this period of The Rocks is now permanently remembered as part of the tourist’s heritage experience. If Max Kelly saw the collection as documents of city life, the cultural critic and artist Helen Grace saw them as documents of city politics. In a 1991 article she noted that the buildings themselves became suspects under interrogation. She claimed that many of the photographs are like mug shots, ‘portraits’ of the front of the buildings. But the buildings’ facades initially resist penetration by the official gaze. ‘This is the age of the façade’ Grace asserts, ‘a building which does not have a noble visage, a building which is hidden away from other buildings, in a side lane, for example, must have something to hide’. Therefore the official desire to see the building beyond the façade, as though unclothed, becomes almost pornographic. For Grace this penetration beyond the façade brings into view an ‘invisible city’:

[T]hat space which must be brought into existence so that the mechanisms of the modern city can begin to operate. Public health is the focal point around which revolves the impetus for discovery of the invisible city of unspeakable horrors and sanitary evils. Once the official has tentatively ventured down a side lane there is no stopping him; his curiosity is excited; he loses his fears of the inhabitants of these forbidden places. He is ready to enter the other side, the reversal of the facade.

But in Grace’s narrative the pleasure which the European bourgeoisie traditionally took in their own revulsion at the Dickensian squalor of the Other is complicated because such familiar and comfortable old-world squalor is not even supposed to exist in the modern cities of the new world. The threat posed to the optimism of the new world by the unexpected irruption of the old world put additional pressure on the photograph to be proof of a social evil. Therefore, in an emerging evidentiary paradigm, the photograph combined with writing so that they reinforced each other, the photograph adopted an anti-aesthetic, style-free visual rhetoric, while the accompanying text adopted the status of legal eye-witness testimony. The image was able to prove the meaning of the words, and this new authority was put to immediate use by the government.

In Grace’s analysis the outbreak of the plague, and the commissioning of the photographs, was a convenient excuse for the state to not only rid the city of the disease itself, but also of certain sections of the population, in particular the Chinese, and to reclaim land from the people through an ad hoc slum reclamation program.

Shortly after her political analysis of the plague photographs Grace herself made an art series that also used photographs and legal deeds to create a polyvalent archive that documented the politics and psycho-geography of land use in inner-city Sydney. In Secret Archives of the Recent Past she counterposed spookily radiant infra-red photographs of buildings which had been the sites of now mostly forgotten political activism, with a suspended parchment palimpsest of the official property deeds and changing ownerships of the same building. To quote from this Gallery’s guide to the collection: ‘In the space between image and manuscript lie the unrecorded activities of the site — ‘the ghosts which redevelopment attempts to exorcise but can’t’, writes Grace. (p296)

If, with her ‘politically educated sight’ Helen Grace was, like Atget, more focused on the activities of a site rather than the people per se, then Max Kelly, as an historian, was more interested in the people themselves who were caught in the emulsion.  A few years after the success of A Certain Sydney he produced another important book, Faces of the Street, based on another set of albums that were also taken for evidential purposes by another photographer ,Milton Kent, under the official authorship of the City Building Surveyor, Robert Brodrick.  These were the ‘Demolition Books’, compiled by the council to record condemned properties about to be demolished.

Kelly’s new book concentrated on photographs taken over a period of just one week, in 1916, of the building to be demolished for a widening of William Street inspired by Haussman’s improvements in Paris. Milton Kent’s photographs are not only a one-week snapshot of the south side of the street, but they could be extracted from the archive and re-assembled to form a new kind of terrestrial panorama of the lost street façade, a sort of proto Google Street View.

By entering this systematic space and enlarging sections from the evidentiary photos, Kelly performs a kind of retro street photography within the archive. Writing in Photfile in 1983 he argued for photographs as a new kind of historical document, a human document which objectively recorded things other forms of record couldn’t, importantly, intimate, contingent, human things. He noted:

[I]n an endeavor to tune the reader’s eye, and to motivate his and her mind, I included enlarged details from a number of the original photographs. It is interesting to note that it has been these details, thus isolated, that readers have remembered best.’  P10

Something of the sort had been done previously within Australian photographic historiography. In Keast Burke’s 1973 book Gold And Silver, based on the 1951 discovery of a cache of Bayliss and Merlin gold-field negatives, most of the reproductions were severely cropped, while Burke also occasionally selected extreme details for enlargement — ‘emphasizing elements of human or sociological appeal’ he said. (p57). (Of course this technique had been used in documentary filmmaking since the late 1950s. Ken Burns used it heavily throughout the 1990s, and his name is now irrevocably attached to the technique.)

But back in 1983 Kelly’s book took this technique a few steps further than even Keast Burke had. Like a documentary filmmaker he used literary texts and newspaper reports to add contextual ambience to the demolition photographs which he mined for as much evocative detail as possible. For instance, even though no working prostitutes were captured in the demolition photos, there was still a section of his book about the prostitutes of William Street. It used reports from The Truth newspaper, plus poems by Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore and Kenneth Slessor, and was illustrated, not with images of real women, but with a tiny detail of shop window dummies the ever-vigilant Kelly had spotted in one facade.

While Max Kelly was concerned with the direct resurrection of the historical past, and Grace with our political education, other more contemporary artists are concerned with a more acknowledged fictionalized and poeticized evocation of history, but one with foundations still sunk deeply into the bedrock of evidential fact found in the photographic archive nonetheless. For instance Kate Richards and Ross Gibson have quarantined 3000 photographs off from the much larger collection at the Justice and Police Museum. They regard this data base of Sydney crime scene photographs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s as a self-contained ‘world’ which, under the title Life After War Time, they have iterated into various versions by introducing new poetic texts and various algorithmic sequencing techniques. Writing in 1999 Gibson described the uncanny relationship between artist and evidentiary archive.

The archive holds knowledge in excess of my own predispositions. This is why I was attracted to the material in the first instance — because it appeared peculiar, had secrets to divulge and promised to take me somewhere past my own limitations. Stepping off from this intuition, I have to trust that the archive has occulted in it a logic, a coherent pattern which can be ghosted up from its disparate details so that I can gain a new, systematic understanding of the culture that has left behind such spooky detritus. In this respect I am looking to be a medium for the archive. I want to ‘séance up’ the spirit of the evidence….

The Picturesque — Harold Cazneaux

My third mode is the picturesque. At about the same time as Degotardi and Kent, the artistic photographer Harold Cazneaux trod the very same streets of Sydney. In 1910 he wrote an article called In and about the City with a Hand Camera. Although ostensibly a guide for other aspiring Pictorialists, it is really a very personal record of his own engagement with the streets which, he said, ‘have all the humour and pathos of life’.  However, unlike the evidentiary photographers, Cazneaux did not shoot with the cleansing sun over his shoulder, rather he shot into the sun, as well as into the mist, into the haze, into the steam and into the rain. In Cazneaux’s words this ‘[cut] down insistent detail, so that the masses and tones become more picturesque’, but it also immediately re-infected the city with an anachronistic yearning for the free-floating contemplation of a city built to a European blueprint. The article also took the reader along Cazneaux’s personal itinerary through the various areas of the city, each with its own pungent atmosphere, from the brisk CBD streets, to the smoky docks, to the bustling markets, to the steamy railway, and to finally to the secret alleys of the The Rocks. The article makes clear that while the streets do contain picturesque subject matter and artistic lighting effects waiting to be discovered by the intrepid Pictorialist, they are also resistant to the his gaze; and without the official authority of a engineer or a surveyor to back him up, the mute stand-off we have seen in the evidentiary pictures could quickly become an outright hostility that destroys the Pictorialist’s personal old world fantasy. As Cazneaux warned:

Hand and eye must work together, and to hesitate is sometimes to lose. If you are once caught in the act of presenting the camera, your work is almost invariably spoilt as expressions are not pleasant when the subjects are aware that the camera is pointing their way. It is much better to move about calmly, and knowing your camera, study any little group or street scenes. Whilst moving past, decide upon the best view point, mentally calculate the exposure and distance, adjust the shutter, stop the focusing scale. Then, returning to the chosen viewpoint, turn and bring the camera up, locate the image quickly on the finder and expose at once, with perhaps no one but yourself aware that an exposure has been made. …  A trip down to the Rocks Area and Argyle Cut will convince any worker with Pictorial imagination of what is to be had, but photography is difficult in this neighborhood. To be successful the worker should have had some experience, as any nervousness of manner and lack of tact whilst working here would only end up by being ridiculed. However go by all means and get broken in. Tact and expert manipulation of one’s camera is necessary if you wish to deal successfully with side street work in this locality. Still, the chances are that you may not like to return again.

Despite these dangers Cazneaux’s photography was part a larger genre of ‘Old Sydney’, and pretty soon a plague of artists like Sydney Ure Smith, Julian Ashton and Lionel Lindsay were congesting the streets and alleyways with their quaint and charming views.

In the 1910s and 20s Cazneaux had turned many of the negatives he exposed into pictorial gems, such as the wee little gum-bichromate print of North Sydney, which is positively putrid with old world atmospheres. However in 1948 the young photographer Laurie Le Guay, editor of Contemporary Photography magazine, saw some of these prints in Cazneauz ‘s studio. He suggested  Cazneaux make new prints for a special of the magazine. In the subsequent article Cazneaux relegates the Old Sydney of his youth to a past now decisively brushed aside by Modernism, rather than still caught in a bubble of the outmoded, and the ‘old worlded’, as it had been in 1910:

The old Sydney is changing. The March of Time with modern ideas and progress is surely brushing aside much of the old — the picturesque and romantic character of Sydney’s highways, byways and old buildings. Some still remain, hemmed in and shadowed by towering modern structures. ….

Cazneaux goes on to describe how he restored his 250, forty year-old negatives, and made new prints on modern, smooth contrastier bromide papers. Le Guay now saw the collection in documentary, historical and nationalistic terms. Once Cazneaux himself had willingly disinfected them of their Pictorialism, they became for le Guay, as Atget’s images were for others at the same time, exemplars for the Documentary movement that le Guay was promoting in Australia. He said:

[These prints] must assume the same importance as Atget’s photographs of Paris. As a document of early Sydney, they are undoubtedly the finest prints of the period, and would be a valuable acquisition for the Mitchell Library or Australian Historical Societies. Photographically, they are remarkable for their quality. With slow plates, relatively unprotected from halation, the against the light effects have exploited the range of film and paper with maximum efficiency, while Bromoil and rough textured prints have been dispensed with entirely. It is hoped that this collection may furnish an incentive for a more direct and accurate approach to photographing Australia today.

Kid Stakes

If, in the tasteful aesthetics of the Old Sydney school of the 1910s and 20s, Cazneaux, Ure Smith, Lindsay and Ashton had re-infected the slums of Sydney with the sticky atmosphere of old world anachronism, it was left to popular culture to disinfect old Sydney again. The popular children’s film Kid Stakes, made in 1927 by Tal Ordell contains an astonishing sequence that perfectly, elegantly and poetically, captures the spatial politics of Sydney in the 1920s. Based on a comic strip, the film centres on the slum kids of Woolloomooloo who play cricket and live their lives freely in front of the wharves and ships of Woolloomooloo Bay. Above them lies Potts Point, full of its posh mansions and restrictive mores. Suddenly, out of the rows of grand houses at the bottom of Victoria Street, emerges Algie Snoops, an upper class boy who yearns for the freedoms of the Wolloomooloo kids. Through the bars of his suburban prison he performs a panoramic sweep of the city across the bay, including St Mary’s cathedral. But this panorama is not a projection into the future, as Bayliss’s and Vaniman’s had been, instead Algernon is assaying a potential itinerary, just as the nervous and highly strung Harold Cazneux who, a bit like Algie, lived on the salubrious North Shore had his favourite itinerary through the city. Algie sees the kids playing, and the camera irises in. The Woolloomooloo steps dwarf him as he descends down them like a latter-day Dante, but the steps are leading him towards the salvation of the slums. Initially the slum kids taunt him, but when he proves he can fight he joins their gang, and, his velvet clothes now torn and put on backwards by the girls in the gang, he is free. He is able to lead the kids back up the steps, past a sleeping policeman on guard between the two elevations, the two classes, of Sydney, and into the wilds of Potts Point for further adventures.

Conclusion

By applying the lens of Atget, that is the tension between the prosaic and poetic, the descriptive and the uncanny, to what I have identified as the three modes of urban photography during the same period — the panoramic, evidentiary and picturesque — I think I have been able to identify the archive, and not the single photograph, as the key object of both photography and photographic historiography. Some photographers have re-invented their own archives within their own lifetimes; while historians have produced others, who were one anonymous functionaries, into significance. Some historians have gone into archives as resurrectionists, seeking to bring back the lives of the dead (something Atget never did); while other artists (perhaps a bit closer to Atget’s mystique) have attempted to use the residual power of archives to pick at the seams of the city and expose the spatially and temporally liminal nature of so much of Sydney. Yet all, and in this sense alone they are exactly like Atget, have been infected with the delirium of the archive.

Martyn Jolly

Dana MacFarlane , Photography at the Threshold: Atget, Benjamin and Surrealism, History of Photography 34:1, 17-28)

Short History of Photography 1931

Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936Continuum, Photogenic Papers Vol6, No 2 1991

Photofile, Winter 1983 p10.

Harold Cazneaux: ‘In and about the City with a Hand Camera’ The Australasian Photo-Review August 22, 1910:

Photofile 58, December 1999

Soldiers of the Cross: Time, Narrative and Affect

‘Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry’s Soldiers of the Cross of 1900’, Magic Lantern Convention, Australasian Magic Lantern Society, Melbourne, 27-28 October 2012.

INTRODUCTION

The Salvation Army lecture of 1900, Soldiers of the Cross, was an extremely important event in the history of Australian media. It is reasonably well known, but because it included fifteen sections of kinematographic film along with its 200 lantern slides, until now it has largely been seen through the lens of subsequent Australian cinema history. Although it does have a place in that narrow teleology, it is much more important to a larger archaeology of media experience in Australia.  So I would like to discuss it on its own terms, and in particular try to think about it from the point of view of its audience’s experience. I would like to tease out two related aspects of that experience: the sense of realistic action it gave its audience, and the emotional affect it generated in them. In doing so I am building on the previous work of Chris Long, who discussed the production in the 1990s from the point of view of cinema, Elizabeth Hartrick who discussed it recently from the much more relevant point of view of broader Australian lantern slide culture, and Lindsay Cox who has discussed it from the point of view of the heritage of the Salvation Army. I’d also like to thank the National Film and Sound Archive who gave me access to the Soldiers of the Cross slides during my Collection Scholars and Artist Residency fellowship.

THE MYTH

Soldiers of the Cross has acquired a mythic status as Australia’s first film. It was not. Furthermore, a fixation on its an some kind of lost originary text has worked to obscure the complex multimedia work of the Salvation Army at the time, as well as the complex multimedia landscape of Australia as a whole. So one must return to it with circumspection. In addition, large parts of the production have been lost — the fifteen or so kinematographic films, and the script itself. All that remains are about 250 slides in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, which have not even all been scanned. In addition, this collection may have been modified after the initial production. Nonetheless, through looking carefully at the slide which are available, and putting them in their projection sequence by following the numbering system written on their edges, and then correlating that with published accounts of the production as well as scripts from other related productions, I think it is possible to make some general speculations about how it would have been experienced at the time. Further, I want to argue that seen on its own terms, stripped of its myth, it is an even more important and precious part of Australia’s history than we first thought

THE LIMELIGHT DEPARTMENT

Soldiers of the Cross was made in the middle of an extraordinary period of Australian media, from 1891 to 1909, when the Salvation Army were using advanced technologies to do two things: to convert souls to Christ, and to recruit new members to the Army. During this period the Army saw themselves as competing for attention with all of the other fantastic, thrilling, colourful attractions of the nineteenth century: the panoramas, the cycloramas, the dioramas, the pantomimes, the illuminated transparencies, the kinetoscope parlours, and the moving cavalcade of the streets themselves.

For instance in 1894 Joseph Perry of the Army’s Limelight Department used a limelight magic lantern to stage an outdoor meeting in a vacant lot on a cold and wet night in the middle of winter in the middle of Melbourne to divert the people who were aimlessly drifting along Little Collins street. The illustration in the Army’s magazine War Cry of this somewhat dismal event dramatized how the lantern not only obliterated with a blast of light the Schnapps ad on the side of the pub across which they had stretched their projection sheet, it also literally shouldered aside the attractions offered by Melbourne’s Cyclorama building. Other War Cry illustrations visually dramatized the ways the Army directly pitted their limelight lectures against the tired old productions of the theatre.

During this early period Perry used a variety of commercially produced and distributed media. From later in the 1890s they began to use commercial kinematographic films, as well as the gramophone recordings. But right from the early 1890s they extensively used many different types of lantern slide, these included: dissolving mechanical slides and chromatropes, which had been shown in Australia for over forty years; painted slides and life-model slides, that is hand-coloured photographed slides of models enacting a sequence of tableaus in front of painted backdrops to accompany the verses of a song, poem or short narrative, which had been popular for several years; ‘social’ slides, photographs of slum life and charitable works; song slides which projected the words of hymns for audience participation; and finally hand-coloured copies of famous paintings and engravings, such as Millais’s Light of the World  or Doré’s bible engravings.

The commercial slides the Army used before Soldiers of the Cross tell their stories in an iterative way, like visual verses. Some, such as Jane Conquest, which the Army used, are entirely painted, so they are able to move their narratives through a series of diverse scenes, though they are nonetheless locked into the repetitive verse structure of the accompanying poem that will be read by the lecturer. Other, such as the life-model set Daddy, are photographic, so they repeat exactly the same scene with only slight variation, in a strophic way. Many of these slides also feature additional special effects, usually angels, projected over another slide by a skilled lanternist, or collaged onto a slide by a skilled slide maker. Many commercial slide manufacturers copied each other in the competition for market share, so there is not much innovation during the 1890s.

From 1894 the Limelight Department began to produce its own life model slides, social slides and, from 1897, kinematographs of both ‘life model’ and ‘social’ topics. And they began to innovate on commercial formats.

When Herbert Booth took over as Commandant of the Salvation Army in 1896 he moved this production to the centre of the Army’s proselytizing, and began to work closely with Joseph Perry. They produced a major slide and kinematograph lecture in the ‘social’ genre called Social Salvation in 1899, and then embarked on another lecture in 1900 in the ‘life-model’ genre to be called Soldiers of the Cross. Even after the departure of Herbert Booth, who quit the Army in 1901 and took Soldiers of the Cross with him to the US, the Army continued to make slide and kinematograph lectures for a further eight years, as well as becoming an independent and active production company, before being precipitously closed down in 1909.

THE PRODUCTION

So what of Soldier of the Cross itself? What was it? It was a lecture. Although it included narratives, these were chapters embedded in an overarching structure which was liturgical and sermonic. What did the lanterns project? Occasionally, during the two and a half hours of the performance, about fifteen 90 second Lumiere kinomatographs were shown, but primarily the audience experienced about 250 slides dissolving one into another. These slides were a bricolage from various sources: copies of paintings and Gustav Doré bible engravings; copies of one half of stereo view photographs, which had been previously sold in sets of twelve as travel views for viewing in a home stereoscope; and commercially produced life model slides. But, predominantly, the production featured Army produced life model slides.

THE ST STEPHEN SEQUENCE

The production began with general scenes of the Life of Christ, as well as two commercial kinematographs which were each one-minute reels, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, from the thirteen one-minute-reels of the Lumiere production The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ made in 1898.

After this introduction the first chapter was the Maryrdom of St Stephen.  This is based on the biblical story of the first Martyr. It opens with St Stephen before the Jewish court. Why, one wonders, does this first chapter open with five very repetitive slides where not much is happening, where the narrative isn’t moving? This is because in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles St Stephen spends a whole 53 verses defending himself against the Jewish court by recounting the story of Moses’ persecution. So it appears as though these slides would be dissolved, one in to another, perhaps quite slowly, as Booth recounted these 53 biblical verses.

After that, the Biblical narrative suddenly picks up. Stephen looks up and Heaven opens up to him. There he sees God with Jesus on his right hand. The Bible says:

 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried out in a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Acts 7 55-60

Booth and Perry have superimposed a commercial slide of Jesus and angels for the effect of Heaven opening up. (This effect could have been dissolved as a superimposition on top of the slide if they had been using a triurnial lantern, but they reportedly used a biurnial lantern, so to give the animated effect of the heavens opening, only a dissolve from one slide to another double-exposed version of the same slide was possible.) The backdrop painting for the exteriors has clearly been inspired by a Doré engraving, but the way the slides in this sequence have been made seems to differ. We begin with slides shot with models standing in front of a painted backdrop. But the slide of St Stephen being removed from the city seems to be assembled in a different way. I think it is a collage of cut-out photographs pasted onto a painted background, and re-shot onto a glass-slide before being hand-coloured. Both quite different techniques are used throughout Soldiers of the Cross.

The slides only follow the Biblical text loosely, but the general narrative would have been familiar enough to the audience. In the effect generated by the montage with the commercial slide we see Jesus and angels, not Jesus on the right hand of God. We don’t see the court stopping their ears, or other details. However the account of this chapter in the War Cry closely follows the slides we have:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The Sanhedrim, the trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The kinematograph was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture the innocent Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionists of his day cannot be described. The kinematograph give place to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul (sic) the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.’ (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

There are three slides numbered in sequence for the stoning, two are produced in one method, the third in the other method. The kinematograph would have come after this sequence of slides, which may have been dissolved more quickly, perhaps, than the earlier court slides. So the audience would have seen the same action again, repeated, but this time in moving picture.

We can get an indication perhaps of how this might have worked by looking at the script of a later set of life model slides called Lazarus, produced by the Army in 1902. This is a set of eight slides. The script for the later and shorter slide set tells the story of the raising of Lazurus with the usual cues for slide changes. At the end of the story the cue changes to ‘Kino’. Unfortunately the corner of the script has been torn off, but the lecturer says something like:

We shall now show you … (missing) … actually took place … (missing) … this remarkable miracle, most impressive and realistic. WE WILL SHOW YOU IN LIVING FORM WHERE MARTHA MEETS CHRIST, and tells him Lazurus is dead,…….’

The script then runs on as a commentary on the kinematograph, with prompts for the reader of the script for when the kinematograph scenes will change.

To return to the earlier, longer Soldiers of the Cross production, as the War Cry says, the kinematograph then gives way to a slide of Stephen lying dead, with Jesus receiving his spirit. Then we see a handcoloured copy of a lithographic reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite Millais painting of St Stephen, before cutting back to two slides of Salvation Army Officer Colonel James Annetts, who played St Stephen, lying on the ground. Between the final two slides we see his crimson blood pool, and a crucial character for the next chapter, Saul, appear to look over him.

So in this chapter, even though viewers are experiencing a synthesized production, it is not built on anything like a unified visual syntax. Instead they are experiencing   at least four different modalities of affect, and four different expressions of time:

  1. A strophic, verse-like, iterative mode of slowly dissolving lantern slides, familiar from previous commercial slide sets
  2. A faster, more expository mode of action-tableaus, often in couplets, perhaps linked to an accelerated biurnial dissolve, which is an innovation of the commercial slide format
  3. The real-time animation and realistic living-picture mode of the kinematograph, giving a visceral feeling of natural movement
  4. The contemplative mode of a familiar work of ‘great art’ which is embedded in some kind of universal historico/aesthetic time

These different modalities I have identified are reflected in the contemporaneous comments on the production. For instance often the micro-movements magically captured by the kinematograph are mentioned, such as the splash of water as a martyr is thrown in a river, the rising of smoke, or the falling of stones. But also the beautiful colour of the slides is frequently mentioned. All of these modes, although not syntactically unified in any way we would recognize from subsequent cinema history, nonetheless worked together to directly involve the audience with the story through shared sight. This sense of collective witnessing, which this opening sequence sets up, is caught well by the War Cry:

We saw the great stones falling thick and fast upon the white robbed figure on the ground, till it grew strangely still. Then the ‘witnesses’ left the scene, and Saul of Tarsus stood alone looking down upon the dead young man. (MWC 29/9/00 p14)

SAUL

The next slide, after we have shared with Saul our contemplation of the dead St Stephen, is a shot of contemporary Damascus extracted from a stereograph. But we are still following the Bible pretty closely, because after being transported to contemporary Damascus as it was in 1900, the next slide whooshes us back to Biblical times for Saul’s conversion. We then see Saul’s own persecution, and a tight sequence of three slides which in an expository triplet show us his escape by basket from the walls of Damascus to continue his preaching.

These expository ‘runs’ of slides often seem to pick up momentum towards a kinematographic climax. For instance at slide number 72 there is a sequence of Romans raiding an outdoor service by Christians who are then forced to flee underground to continue their worship clandestinely in the catacombs, or by the cover of night. In 1901 this sequence was added to with a kinematograph of the Romans chasing the Christians across a plank over a stream, augmented with the much commented on comic relief of a Roman boinging off the springy plank and into the stream.

CATACOMBS

A later sequence focuses on life in the catacombs, perhaps to parallel life for Salvationists in the midst of pagan Melbourne. Like an establishing shot from a movie of twenty years later, it begins with an aerial map of the catacombs, and then swoops us down through the underground stone passages using stereo views from a commercial stereograph set. We then see daily life— worship, marriage, birth, sickness and eventual death — carried on in what I have called the ‘iterative’ mode through a mixture of Army collages and copies of prints and engravings. As the War Cry put it:

All these scenes, painted and reproduced to sight and sound by word and art pictures, simply enchain the mind, and carry one in thought 1800 years back through the ages. The listener sups, prays, praises, adores worships, suffers and dies with these saints of apostolic times.

The mode switches from ‘iterative’ to ‘expository’ for a detailed and strangely beautiful, even today, funeral sequence of four monochrome slides. Once more there is kinematographic climax, before a final extended contemplation of souls ascending into heaven painted in brilliant supersaturated colour, which may perhaps have been accompanied by music or singing.

About twenty slides later another quartet of slides appears which encapsulates a tight action. A Christian woman is about to be burnt to death in a lime-kiln. Will she offer just one grain of incense to the Pagan Gods and save herself? No! After pointing upwards to the one true god she disappears into the kiln. This again may have been followed by a kinematograph, with the added bonus of smoke effects. We have quite good scans of these slides and we can burrow into their details to appreciate the fine brushwork of the Army’s colouring studio applying swathes of colour on the robes and dabs of optical accents. These scans also bring us extraordinarily close to the ordinary Australian faces of the Army members who have consented to Booth’s request that they pose for his production.

Fourteen slides later, after another contemporary view of the coliseum, another run of five slides introduces an extended piece of action. Christians wait at the gate of the Coliseum, while a stuffed tiger with a virulent red tongue threatens them from a cage. Then the gates inch open in the final three slides, before a kinematograph shows the Christians entering the Coliseum (check), after which individual slides show their martyrdom. In the publicity for the production much is made of the violence of the scenes, but often the extreme action is not in the Army slides but in the copied prints. It seems unlikely to me that the kinematographs would have been any more violent than the slides.

PERPETUA SEQUENCE:

The final sequence of the two and half hour show was for many people the most affecting, in Hobart for instance, it caused ‘general sobbing’ in the audience. (MWC 26/1/01 p9)

Perpetua, played by the young, attractive Army member, Cadet Mabel Tolley was a young wealthy Roman woman who chose to give up her baby and be martyred in the coliseum rather than renounce Christ. This sequence of twenty slides perhaps only used the kinematograph at the very end. (CHECK) The sequence was remade at least two times again after Booth took Soldiers of the Cross away with him, and a script with slide and music cues exists, probably for a stand-alone version made shortly after Soldiers of the Cross. Although the slide cues of this script do not correspond exactly with the slides in Soldiers of the Cross they are pretty close and still, I think, give us a good sense of how the voice of the lecturer would have unified the experience for the audience. The surviving script is also punctuated with nine popular hymns requiring audience participation, with a hymn supplementing the narrative about every four slides. However in Soldier of the Cross itself there were most probably far fewer hymns because of the whole production’s larger scale, and they may have been sung for the audience.

The script is ekphrastic, that is, it describes what the audience is seeing with their own eyes, and rhetorically explains what they should be feeling. For instance, during a dissolve between two opening slides the script says:

We may picture the surprise of this Christian lady when sitting in one of her well furnished rooms. The stillness of the occasion was broken by the intrusion of two armed men. On learning the object of their sudden appearance, Perpetua showed neither fear nor alarm.

This was immediately followed by a hymn. Later, when she is cast into prison, the script tells the audience:

Glory filled her soul amidst the gloom of her surroundings.

Later on, a tight sequences of slides showed the visual evidence of interpersonal conflict, while the script provided the ekphrasis. After her father leaves, disappointed that he has not been able to convince her to drop the whole Jesus thing, the script says:

This was to her a dark and trying moment. The grey beard, the fatherly face, the agitated frame, the loving entreaties, and the stern rebuke; as well as the somber environment of the place, all spoke to her heart with a weird-like eloquence. Still she faltered not. An invisible power supported her even now.

As we have seen in the St Stephen sequence at the beginning of the production, the script is often self-referential, making direct links between Perpetua’s experience and the experience of the audience seeing the projected slides in Melbourne eighteen hundred years later. After Perpetua has finally handed over her baby to her mother the script says:

But when the mother had gone a dreary lull set in. The baby’s prattle had given way to a deep silence. The past rose in vivid pictures, and strong as she was in the grace of God, her poor heart was grief stricken. But there is always solace in prayer, and even in this dark dungeon Pepretua might well prove the unfailing words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’.’

The script then calls for the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus.

After Perpetua has been martyred and before the final hymn the script ends with:

But the end was near, for soon Perpetua lay bruised and bleeding upon the floor of that slaughter house on iniquity still praying to Him she loved. The excited crowd yelled that her misery and pain might end with a thrust of the gladiator’s sword. A moment later the soul of Perpetua had gone to be with God, gone to hear her master say, “Now that thou hast been faithful unto death, I will give thee a Crown of Life”.

THE VOICE

Now we have looked in as much detail as possible at a few of the many sequences in this production, what general conclusions can be drawn? The unifying force in the piece was the voice, the live human voice reciting that sermon. That voice was provided first by the charismatic Herbert Booth, who spoke in ‘short and harmonious’ sentences, ‘constructed with due regard to the balance and equilibrium of the whole’ (MWC 22/9/00) then after he got sick by his equally charismatic wife. The War Cry  reported:

The lights went down, and the audience were hushed into breathless silence as the immense pictures were thrown upon the canvas. The Commandant’s voice alone broke the stillness thrilling the enthralled audience with burning words fitted in compact sentences, forming an eloquent and beautiful tribute to the heroic deeds and unflinching endurance of the saints whose pictorial reproduction riveted every eye. (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

Other connecting forces were musical, the familiar hymns and masses played by the orchestra and sung by the audience. But the dominant force which distinguished the limelight lecture from others was the lanternist himself, who was always present in the audience’s consciousness as his lanterns hissed and spluttered and projected their beam above their heads. As the War Cry noted:

Carefully watching the screen as the lecture progressed, and noting the rapid changes from one slide to another, from slide to kinematograph film, and then again from kinematograph film to slide, each appearing exactly at the right time, one could not help but admire the consummate skill with which Major Perry manipulated his elaborate and complicated apparatus. (MWV13/10/00 p8)

RETINAL POWER

The presence of the lanternist signaled the radical shift in the site of principle address which the Salvation Army made in their evangelism: from the body, or the ear, or the mind, or the voice — although these were of course still present — to the eye and to the retina; from the phenomenological architecture of the church to the dominating address of the projection sheet; from the magical ritual of the service to the retinal power of the projected image. This separation of the Army lecture from convention religious experiences was signaled as early as 1891. For instance in reporting on a 1891 limelight lecture by the Army’s founder, General William Booth, at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings the War Cry reported:

A dim religious light pervades the building, which was, however, relieved at one end by a huge white sheet, behind which a mysterious manufacturing of light and shade seemed to be going on. (Citation)

The magic lantern shifted the locus of the spiritual to the limelight itself, and turned the lanternist into a kind of thaumaturge. For instance, before the third production of Soldiers of the Cross at South Melbourne Town Hall Brigadier Unsworth prayed with at congregation:

that the pictures might be luminous with Divine light, [instilled] with divine power, and fruitful in bringing about more of that spirit of heroism that dominated the lives of the Christian martyrs of old. (MWC 13/10/00 p8)

The Army’s spiritual bellicosity was evoked in another comment by the War Cry:

The lecture is a double-barreled weapon, which captivates both sense of sight and enchains the mind, while indelible impressions are made upon it. (MWC 22/9/00 )

THE DISSOLVE

The Army’s slides, like all slides of the period, were propelled forward by the retinal frisson of the dissolve, as one image appeared to materialize itself within the very optical substance of the image it was replacing.  The rhetoric of the Army frequently equates the light of the lantern with the light of salvation, and the magical transformation of the dissolve with the transformative power of Jesus. A War Cry comment on William Booth’s 1891 lecture says:

You would be gazing intently at a street girl’s red jacket, until all at once you would discover that it was not a street girl’s dress, but a Salvationist’s guernsey, and the surroundings were totally different. You would be taking in that fact when a glance would show you that what you took for a guernsey was a fire, the pantaloons of an actor, the side of a house, red Maria, a red flannel petticoat, or the leg of a horse. (Citation)

INNOVATION

Booth’s major innovation was to scale up the traditional lantern lecture into a complete evening’s production, and to give it a thematic unity. As the War Cry reported:

Although the audience was take through a great variety of scene and incident, the intervals were cleverly bridged or, to change the metaphor, the stories, instead of being scattered gems were strung on an elocutionary necklace and, in their semblance or contrast made into a beautiful and complete circlet. (MWC 29/09/00 p8)

A secondary innovation was to work the kinematograph into the slides more closely. In Booth’s words:

I saw at a glance that living pictures, worked in conjunction with life-model slides, would provide a combination unfailing in its power of connecting narrative.’ (Citation)

THRILLS

This was in search of thrills — Army thrills to compete with all of the other thrills young people, particularly young men, had to divert them in 1900. In its pre-publicity for Soldiers of the Cross, the War Cry described it as a ‘new sensation’. It was the power of the thrill which led Booth to chose as his subject the martyrdom of the early Christians, because the bloody and violent martyrdoms provided opportunity for spectacle and action. If the thrill was one key concept, the other was realistic action. The intention was to create a retinal connection between the audience and the Christian martyrs. The ultimate objective was for people to pledge their souls to Christ and their lives to the Army at the end of the lecture. Realism, through the meticulously researched and supposedly historically accurate costumes, was one conduit of empathy, the other was the contemporary shots of the Holy Land and the copies of the great and familiar paintings which introduced each chapter.

As the War Cry predicted before opening night:

The thrilling scenes in the arena, the cruel tests, the thrilling presentiments of Christians under torture, the sustaining power of the presence of the invisible Christ should bring forth all that is best in the nature of the observers, while the graphic and eloquent word-pictures of our leader should tinge with colour, as with the hands of an artist in studies of human nature, these pictures, which all but speak their own story. May God’s spirit be poured upon lecturer, operator and audience alike!’ (MWC 15/9/00) p8)

TRANSPORT

Part of this thrill was also a sense of transport, to take the audience out of their seats in Melbourne, and into another spatio-temporal realm. As Booth promised:

I have sought to make everything absolutely correct. From the plumes on the Roman helmet and the imperial robe of Nero to the rough garments of the pagan slave, everything will be exact. You only have to follow the screen and you will be as much in Rome as if you had been there – now in the palace of Caesar, then in the open square – now in the residence of the patrician, then in the den of the libertine — now in the coliseum then in the Catacombs, where the early Christians concealed themselves for safety — all will be absolutely exact’ (MWC 18/8/00 p9)

This to me sounds very similar to the promises which had been made by stereograph manufacturers since the 1850s. By the 1900s sellers like Underwood and Underwood were marketing complete ‘Travel Systems’ incorporating, stereographs, guidebooks and maps, to give a similar, touristic sense of optical and retinal transport.

But to the Army audience this transport was more than just virtual tourism, it was transport of a more profound kind. A later report on a limelight meeting said:

the meeting almost becomes as a séance, and our spirits seem to blend with the spirits of these just ones.’(MWC 9/2/01 p9)

AFFECT

Was Soldiers of the Cross effective? The War Cry frequently reported on the ‘involuntary interjections, moans of pity, sighs of relief’ coming from the audience. (MWC 29/09/00 p8) All the Army reports are ecstatic, but they would be, wouldn’t they. However even the hard-bitten seen-it-all mainstream press confirmed the affective power of the production. The premiere scored a review from two out of the three of Melbourne papers, and both used the word ‘thrilling’.

The Age said:

To have some of the most tragic episodes of Christian history carried out in all savage but ?should? destroying realism is an accomplishment essentially of today. It was done by the aid of the kinematograph, when Commandant Booth delivered his thrilling lecture last night.

The Argus said:

Opening with the last days of the life of Christ, Commandant Booth dealt with the lives of the disciples [… ] and the thrilling scenes that were enacted in the arena of the Coliseum. Bold as the lecture was in conception, the illustration were even more daring. (MWC 22/9/09)

CONCLUSION

Soldiers of the Cross is extremely important not because it was Australia’s first film, but because it was Australia’s first large scale multimedia production. On at least several occasions it kept close to 2000 people simultaneously enthralled by a production which was experientially integrated over an entire two and a half hour period. It used technology from the nineteenth century, and technology which would to come to dominate the twentieth century, while it weaved together familiar technologically mediated experiences, collective viewing protocols and ritualized audience behaviours that had been developed and inculcated into Australian audiences during the previous decades. The scale and the complexity of the integration of these experiences looked forward to twentieth century media forms. One of those media forms was certainly the cinema, but others include the continuing history of the lantern itself, as well as much later media forms such as broadcast television and even, at a stretch, contemporary digital media platforms. For these reasons it is an extraordinary event in Australian history.

Martyn Jolly

Handmade Media

‘Handmade Media’, Return to Sender, exhibition catalogue, University of Queensland Art Museum, 2012, edited by Michelle Helmrich, pp 61-80, ISBN 978-1-74727-050-0

Only now, when you re-visit this work about twenty years after it first became familiar, do you realise, with something of a shock, that our attitude to images in general, and photographs in particular, has changed profoundly.

It is impossible to think about the art and photography of the late 1980s and early 1990s made in any city in Australia – Brisbane, Melbourne, but most especially Sydney – without also thinking about the pervasive presence of ‘theory’. The semiotic theories of the image, developed by people such as Roland Barthes in the 1960s and 1970s and widely read in Australia in the 1980s, imagined the image as a complex machine. In semiotics, images produce meaning through the interaction of layers of denotation and connotation. They became personally significant through the pricks of a personal punctum that pierced the skin of the image’s public studium. These devices of visual linguistics were linked in with other written texts through further mechanisms of ‘anchorage’ and ‘relay’. Within the psychoanalytic theories that were also widely read at the time, images mainlined larger political power structures directly into our deepest desires via yet more processes of ‘the gaze’ and identification.

By the 1980s, too, theorists such as Paul Virilio or Jean Baudrillard had amped up Marshall McLuhan’s universal theory of the media from the 1960s to an apocalyptic, millenarian fever pitch. Baudrillard’s lectures, which took such grand titles as ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ or ‘The Evil Demon of Images’, were translated into English and published in Australia.1 To Baudrillard, images had ‘a force of seduction in the literal sense of the word, a force of diversion, distortion, capture and ironic fascination’. To him, images contaminated reality, so that the real could no longer exist in and of itself, but was always preceded by the image. This had short-circuited representation as such. Baudrillard declared that the ‘image has taken over and imposed its own immanent ephemeral logic’ on reality.2

In retrospect, the millenarian manifestos of the postmodern media theorists of the 1980s appear shrill in the face of the more recent orders of image exponentiality brought about by social media and the internet. Today it feels slightly absurd to endow the individual images, which congeal themselves out of the mist of pixels we now inhabit with anything like the ‘force’ they once seemingly possessed. We are now less concerned with their ability to compromise our experience of the real itself. But, in the period treated by this exhibition, the hyperbolic language of theory gave images a strange prestige. Such theories endowed the artists who engaged with them a sense of power and centrality that seems, at least to me, quite distant now, when artists appear less concerned with breaking images down, or pulling meanings apart, than turning images to account once more. In retrospect, also, artists from this period seemed relatively untroubled by qualms about engaging head on with the big issues of national identity, historical memory and gender politics. They did this without recourse to autobiography or personal anecdote, which nowadays might be necessary to permit or authorise such an intervention.

Australian art of the late 1980s and early 1990s assumed that the viewer came to the artwork armed with a set of conceptual tools – borrowed from political, psychoanalytic, feminist, semiotic and media theory – with which to discern the mechanisms of representation and simulation that lay dismantled before them for their connoisseurial delectation. What was on display to such an audience member, cum media critic, was the elegance of the artist’s dismemberment, the nicety of their dissection, and the finesse of their excoriation.

In order to dismantle the image it often had to be refabricated as an auratic sculpture. New objects were built from old images in a loving labour that turned visual codes into physical artefacts, semiotic procedures into sculptural events, and human performances into pantomimed tableaus. And what I love about these works is how handmade they often are. Many, while taking the requisite ‘critical stance’ towards our mediatised landscapes, were nonetheless handcrafted in the sense of the word that entails all of its loving, nurturing connotations. Media images appeared to be undergoing a technological apotheosis during this period that gave credence to the millenarian temper of the times. TV had been regularly beaming its glowing images instantaneously around the globe since the 1960s. But, in early 1991, Desert Storm in Kuwait was the first war to be televised instantaneously into our homes, complete with its celebrated ‘slam-cam’ footage transmitted from the nose cones of smart bombs. As well, thick, glossy, art, fashion and lifestyle magazines continued their reign, and in Australia were sliding off the printing presses in slicker and thicker wads at unprecedented numbers. But to the young artists on their subsistence budgets, the resources they had at their disposal remained the conventional ones long used in the twentieth-century atelier. In 1990, Adobe’s Photoshop was still at version 1.0, and years away from becoming the commonplace verb it is now; while readily accessible video compositing software such as After Effects, and photographic-quality digital printing,  let alone the World Wide Web, lay a good five years over a still-distant horizon. So, in this period, even those images targeted at the very hypercentre of the mass-media experience had to be made by hand.

Thus Robyn Stacey made black and white prints, which she hand-coloured using techniques that had been employed for decades in commercial photographic studios before they were re-discovered by the feminist photographers of the 1970s. She then, crucially, copied them onto medium-format transparency film and printed them onto Cibachrome paper. In the pulp-fiction series Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 1985, this extended process of hand application and mechanical reproduction created a generalised sense of the mass media’s generational memory. But when, in the series Redline 7000 1989, the hard metallic surfaces of the Cibachromes are bonded onto acrylic sheeting, the rush of a wide-screen cinematic experience seemed to be literally freeze-framing and materialising in the viewer’s presence.

Cibachromes are now a virtually extinct process, remembered with wry nostalgia by old darkroom hands for their unforgiving optical characteristics and extreme chemical toxicity. Then they were the epitome of mass-media aura made physically manifest. They appear again in Rosemary Laing’s work Untitled 1992, encased in Perspex boxes pierced by a giant steel needle. Works such as these are not concerned with the mise-en-scène of mass-media images, but with the constituent parts of their visual mechanics that have been stilled, re-dimensionalised, and made auratic in a gallery. To be effective, Laing’s works have to look as though they have been technically produced, rather than handmade in a studio, but, nonetheless, they revel in the same artisanal qualities employed in fabricating shop signs or hand-moulding surf boards.

Collage and juxtaposition were other studio techniques aimed at deconstructing the diabolical image. While Robyn Stacey might have materialised a cinematic cross-fade in Cibachrome and Perspex, Fiona MacDonald wove the body of one photograph, sliced into strips, into the body of another, creating a tessellated surface of colonial miscegenation. Tracey Moffatt and Lindy Lee used strategies of seriality and repetition straight out of a conceptual artist’s tool bag. Moffatt resurfaced a historical image of Aboriginality with the sheen of contemporary glamour. Lee revisited the unsolvable modernist conundrum of mobile image versus unique historical artefact by emphasising the auratic facture of the mechanically reproduced image with shifting washes of paint over fused Xerox pigment. In contrast, Jeff Gibson’s cheap and cheerful screenprints mined pop-cultural archives to create semiotic perpetual-motion machines by juxtaposing different, but formally related, images articulated across a double-jointed caption.

The Super 8 film format, originally developed by Kodak for the home movie market, also proved a remarkably versatile medium for the collating and colliding of mass-media sounds and images. Both pre-recorded and live TV could be filmed directly off the domestic television set — along with lashings of electromagnetic snow, colour oversaturation and cathode ray distension — and manually intercut, repeated and layered, either in the camera or through an editing splicer. In the hands of Super 8 filmmakers like Gary Warner the tiny frames of Ektachrome emulsion, each half the size of the fingernail on your little finger, and the film’s thin magnetic sound-stripe, became like a sedimentary repository for the powerful but evanescent electronic images and sounds that encircled the globe. In his Resistance Today of 1987 Australia’s role in the American Alliance was satirized through a mash-up of television footage that mixed the kitsch Hollywood genres beloved by other artists such as Robyn Stacey with contemporary news footage.

This aesthetic was also present in the video work of Mark Titmarsh and Ross Harley where the layering, repetition and juxtaposition produced by video’s phantasmagoric electronic effects once again presumed a contemporary viewer primed to recognise ideological cues and read mass-media codes, rather than psychologically invest in narrative exposition or original mise en scene.

Finally, performance and masquerade were other tactics used by the Davids of the studio to subdue the Goliath of the media image. Stacey’s friends dressed up and enacted historical pop-media typologies for her art-directed scenarios, while John Gillies and the The Sydney Front, again through repetition and juxtaposition, broke down the body’s universal demand to express itself into a disjointed language composed of isolating hysterical gestures.

Using this clever array of studio-based tactics, efficiently applied at an economical scale, these artists plunged into the centre of the maelstrom of mass images that obsessed the late 1980s and early 1990s, and re-fashioned them to address head on the biggest issues of the day: history, identity, and the mechanics of meaning itself.

In the decades that followed, the works produced by emerging Australian artists got bigger, bolder and brassier as newer and cheaper technologies allowed them access to much the same tools as were used in the mainstream media. But as the scale, definition and seamlessness of their works increased, perhaps their focus shortened. In general, it seems to me, younger artists increasingly feel that they need the passport of personal identity or autobiography to enter the territory of images, or that the paraphernalia of  ‘media production’ is needed to reinforce the denotational power of their works, rather than deconstruct it. So when looking at the works of the parvenu artists in this exhibition, produced after their arrival in the metropolises of the south, concentrate not only on their craft, but also on their ambition.

Martyn Jolly

  1. Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Precession of Simulacra,’ trans. Paul Foss and Paul Patton, Art & Text 11 (1983): 3-47; Jean Baudrillard, The Evil Demon of Images, trans. Paul Foss and Paul Patton (Sydney: Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1987).
  2. Baudrillard, The Evil Demon of Images, 14–15, 23.

Introduction to screening of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman

Before we leave the early part of the twentieth century I thought it would be worthwhile to show a sustained work from the period, rather than the short films I have been showing so far. Of the many I could have chosen, I have selected The Camerman. This is a film made at the end of the silent film era in 1928, and it demonstrates how sophisticated this genre had become since the beginning of the cinema industry in the early twentieth century. It was made by an established comedy  ‘star’, Buster Keaton, who had been hugely popular for ten years. The film sustains a conventional love story narrative over a feature length, delaying the romantic pay-off till the very end.  However it takes time out to stop the process of plot development for extended periods of comedy ‘business’, which hark back to Keaton’s origins in early silent comedies. Although they don’t develop the plot, these sections have Keaton’s characteristic balletic fluidity, for which he was famous, as he runs up, down and across the frame, pitting his body against the modern city for the cause of love. It’s a ‘big budget’ film, using many locations, from Coney Island to China Town to Fifth Avenue, that defined the metropolis of New York. It is also a film very much engaged with the present (1928) and modernity. It comments on the emerging mass media landscape of spectacular parades and newsreel companies feeding the audience’s insatiable appetite for spectacle. It even parodies some of the ‘avant-garde’ films we have seen, when Buster accidentally double exposes some film. It is also fascinated with the power of the camera, and its ‘automatic’ purely mechanical presence in people’s lives — in a similar way, in fact, to the stop-frame insect animation we saw from 1913 – The Cameraman’s Revenge. My favourite moment is when we see Keaton in the act of falling in love as he is jostled against his love object, the secretary of a newsreel company, in a crowd — to me this moment is sublime.

Lee Grant’s Belco Pride

‘Belco Pride’, introductory essay for Lee Grant Belco Pride, 2012, pp6-9, ISBN 978-0-98734-950-7

Let’s start with the graffiti Lee Grant photographed, now erased, which gives this book its title. When it was first established in 1966, Canberra’s new town of Belconnen took its name from an original 1837 land grant to the explorer Charles Sturt. The origins of the name are obscure, but its undulating syllables seem to contain aboriginal vowel sounds, while also ringing with hints of English-styled pastoral beauty. As the various suburbs of Belconnen were progressively surveyed and gazetted during the next forty years, the new residents (or ‘first settlers’ as local historians insist on calling them, as though they were heroically following the westward-ho migration of our colonial pioneers) fanned out and made them their own. In typically Australian fashion they began to contract the three syllables of Belconnen down to two. Their affectionate name for the place is now a wry belch that refuses all pretension. The fact that the graffitist should choose to declare their pride in the swathe of suburbs they call home by vandalizing them is also a claiming by refusal. Their act of unruly defiance re-reverses the metaphoric effect of the barbed wire that had been bolted to the top of the wall. The barbed wire had turned this part of Belconnen into a grim parody of a prison, however with the graffiti added the wall becomes part of a local suburb once more. These processes of refusal and reversal are typical of the ways that new suburban ‘settlers’ make a chthonic connection for themselves to the places in which they spend every day, within the larger civic aspirations of the governments, planners, and architects who had initially designed those places, and then moved on.

 

In many ways Belconnen is like so many other outer suburbs around the world: sprawling in the sun across hills and ridges till finally petering out in a farmer’s back paddock; fed by tributaries of Cul-de-sacs, Places, Closes, Circuits, and Streets, which trickle into Roads, Ways and Drives along which a bus will occasionally lumber. It has posher areas — the hilly, breezy, leafy older suburbs closer to the centre of the city and the cycle paths and dog walking tracks of Canberra’s Nature Park; and it has bogan areas — the outer suburbs which are flung a further ten minutes drive away. One of these outer suburbs, Charnwood (or Charny as it know to its residents), has even become a synonym, universally recognized across Canberra with an unspoken micro-twitch of the eyebrow, for the crime and poverty of social disadvantage.

 

Yet if Belconnen shares many of these social dynamics with so many other suburban areas in so many other cities in the world, it is also in many ways unique, because Canberra itself is unique: Canberra, barely one hundred years old, the planned, artificial capital of a new nation, which has only two other comparators — Brasilia and perhaps Washington; Canberra, the repository of the symbolic dreams of generations of bureaucrats and politicians; Canberra, the experimental laboratory for the utopian plans of generations of civic planners and architects, at least until it was forced to govern itself after 1988; Canberra, the seat of parliament from which all those unpopular laws emanate; Canberra, the national byword for middle class, privileged insularity, supposedly permanently out of touch with the ‘real Australia’; and Canberra, two hours from the nearest decent beach. While these caricatures have very little day-to-day reality for those of us who actually live here, they nonetheless persist as a kind of distant horizon, something we occasionally catch an unexpected glimpse of. For example when they aren’t bestowed with Aboriginal names, Belconnen’s suburbs are named after former Prime Ministers — Holt, Scullin, Page and Bruce; or former worthies — Melba and Florey.

 

Canberra was conceived along garden city principles, with semi-autonomous new town satellites such as Belconnen connected to the city centre by freeways. Accordingly, Belconnen has one of everything: one university, one mini-lake, one arts centre, one community centre, one remand centre, one shopping mall, and one Bunnings. Beneath this town level Canberra’s planners designed smaller neighbourhoods, with streets curled around primary schools and sets of shops. These carefully planned neighbourhoods, in this carefully planned new town, connected by long curving freeways to this carefully planned city, have now become just Belco to the people who live there. Yet the legacy of the idea of Canberra remains, in Belconnen’s planning successes, and in its failures. Benjamin Way, the main drive through the ‘town centre’, turns off the main route leading northwest from Canberra’s CBD. It may lead past a familiarly generic Westfield shopping mall, but the lake it is heading towards, Lake Ginninderra, is entirely artificial, made by damming a creek in order to continue the overall plan of making Canberra a landscape city. On the way to the lake the road has passed the remains of the Cameron Offices which, when they were built in the 1970s to provide a centre of government employment for the new town, were at the forefront of architecture. However their brutalist concrete flying buttresses and large interior voids created wind tunnels and an acute sense of isolation, and they were unloved by both the public servants who worked in them and the Belconnen residents who drove past them. They have now been demolished, with only one architecturally representative fragment, protected by the Commonwealth Heritage Register, remaining. Between the benighted Cameron Offices and the mall was once the Belconnen Bus Interchange. In 1980 it was linked to the surrounding civic infrastructure with what was at the time a futuristic innovation, an aerial network of enclosed walkways like plastic tubes running above the street. But unfortunately these, too, turned out to be windy, dangerous, unloved and unmaintained until they were finally demolished in 2009. Recently the ACT government have placed an eight-metre tall sculpture of an Owl at the beginning of Benjamin Way as a new ‘gateway marker’ for the town centre, it remains to be seen whether this bold gesture, which appeared on their streets unbidden, will be embraced by the people of Belconnen or not.

 

Narratives like these, of larger ambitions within bigger historic frameworks, inevitably affect in a unique way the experience of living in what is really a relatively small cluster of suburbs. Although none of these narratives are directly referred to in Grant’s photographs they nonetheless form the distant horizon to the everyday suburban activities which Grant, who herself grew up in Belconnen amongst all of those histories, has documented.

 

Since it became the dominant mode of living in the West in the 1950s, suburbia has been one of documentary photography’s natural homes. Bill Owens’s seminal 1972 book Suburbia set the tone for much of this genre. His wide-angle black and white photographs, with captions written underneath by their subjects, were shot in Livermore California by a photographer who was an outsider. He approached his subjects like an anthropologist might, with a point to make about the new tribe he had discovered. Many other photographers since have shared Owens’s distant fascination with suburbia, its quaint rituals and its kitsch pomposities. Others, who may have grown up in suburbia but then left it for the ‘real world’ of the big city, have returned, but they usually view it with a residual sense of estrangement. The dominant moods of this suburban photography are either Gus van Sant ennui or Stepford Wives satire. Clichés are beginning to emerge. William Eggleston’s picture of a man sitting with a gun on his quilt-covered bed in Mississippi from his 1976 book William Eggleston’s Guide set the paradigm for thousands of other lone figures sitting in enigmatic contrast to the business of the ordinary rooms around them. Thousand of other photographers have photographed suburban houses, often at dusk with glowing, glaucomal windows, barely protected in their manicured quarter-acre patches from the glowering sky above them. Hundreds more have photographed discarded toys and tricycles, shot from low angles tipped over in hallways or driveways, their young owners portentously absent.

 

Australians have carved out their own strong traditions of suburban photography. Some, like Grant, have immersed themselves deeply and very personally into its rituals, such as Ruth Maddison in Christmas holiday with Bob’s Family, Queensland, 1978, or Trent Parke’s more recent The Christmas Tree Bucket, 2008. Others such as Darren Sylvester, Tracey Moffatt or Glenn Sloggett have used suburbia as a way of staging a particular state of mind. Broader Australian culture has a rich tradition going back at least forty years of suburbia being a site where all of its anxieties about national identity were played out, in TV sit-coms from Kingswood Country to Kath & Kim; in films from Don’s Party to The Castle; in painting from Howard Arkley to Reg Mombassa, and in theatre from Patrick White to Dame Edna Everage..

 

But Grant is not a returning nostalgic, nor an anthropologist visiting for a fieldwork project, nor somebody acting out her own psychodramas within a suburban mise en scéne. She lives there, and she has always lived there. And like everybody else in Belconnen she’s more concerned with day-to-day realities Belconnen shares with every other suburb, rather than Canberra’s status as the nation’s capital. The people of Belconnen are front and centre in Grant’s photographs. She uses a square format camera, but not to swirl a vertigo of space around her subjects as, say, Diane Arbus might have, but to catalogue the home ground in which her subjects are located. Thus, the colour of Sophie at Snippets’ eye shadow chromatically rhymes with her shampoo bottles and the beaded curtain to her parlour. Still in Charnwood, the white shirts of Dennis and Lesley team with the white of the faux marble bench top and the kitchen curtains in a confection of pure suburban honesty, which sets off the raw pink of their skin and their kitchen cabinet doors. The colour white is also crucial to her portrait of Aja, Adau, Mary and Nankir, Sudanese refugees now of Dunlop. There the white of the dresses, curtains, and walls contrasts with the warm mahogany of the regal chairs they sit on, the floral patterns on their carpet, clothes and sandals, and also their skin. There is very little arrogance displayed by the people in this book, even the eyes of the Graffhead that Grant has photographed — hands thrust into his hoodie pockets, face hidden behind his protective mask — are slipping sideways. The most tattooed and bearded character in the whole book, Cons, is clearly still a kidult, although a father he still likes to scoot his low riding dragster bike around the streets of Latham before tea time. Grant also avoids condescension. The young stilt walker — standing in front of an irredeemably ugly wall at the Charny Carny, whose red circus jacket rhymes with a transportable ice-cream stall manned by a child and precariously resting on some pallets — still manages to maintain the dignity of her elevation. The most common aspect her subjects show us is a shy cock of the head, and a slightly formal hitched-up stance, from which a clear-eyed gaze at the camera eventually emerges.

 

Many of Grant’s interior portraits rely on an all-over mapping of edge to detail, but many of her exteriors are organised in horizontal bands from ground to sky. In keeping with Canberra’s overall plan, Belconnen is a town set in a landscape, and that landscape is over half a kilometre above sea level where the air is crisp and dry, the sky china-blue and distant edges retain a piercing acutance. The traditional suburban banding, familiar since Eggleston, of horizontal road, inclined driveway, vertical brick wall, and infinite sky, stands out in hyperreal clarity beneath the cool Canberra sun. Refugees from Sudan, the Duot Family, stand in their sandals, runners and suits in front of their new Dunlop home. With its Georgian styled aluminium windows, freshly inserted shrubs and patches of grass, it looks like it could be the hastily built display from a home show. In Pipeline, Ginninderra Creek, the creek that was dammed to form Belconnen’s artificial lake picturesquely winds off below the weir towards an overhead pipeline that cuts across the landscape below a ridge full of houses. In Ginninderra underpass a cold light arrows in, turning the creek into mirror flawlessly reflecting the graffitied walls.

 

Grant has documented the experiences of people in suburbia which are at once specific, belonging to a particular set of suburbs in the ‘new town’ of a planned capital with a particular history, and universal, part of a global experience shared by millions of people around the world, from China to South Africa, who are all adjusting to their new suburbs. The ‘pride’ of these people has nothing to do with the jingoistic huffing of local political demagogues, nor the confected hysteria of the ‘tribal’ allegiances of corporatised sporting competitions. But it has everything to do with confirming a sense of abiding occupation amongst the ridges and valleys, streets and drives, emptinesses and amenities, forgotten histories and unrealized futures, of Belco.

Martyn Jolly