Daguerreotypes and Chromatropes

We’ve just received a few advanced copies of our book Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle: The Global Career of Showman Photographer J. W. Newland in the post. It was wonderful writing it with Elisa deCourcy. And now we’ve got it, it is so great seeing the daguerreotypes and magic lantern shows we discuss reproduced side by side as they should be.

We are going to give it a bit of a launch on 18 February next year, so for those in Canberra put it in your diaries, we are even going to put on a magic lantern show under the trees at PhotoAccess.

You can get the ebook if you forgo a few coffees. Or the hard copy if you save up a bit.

https://www.routledge.com/Empire-Early-Photography-and-Spectacle-The-Global-Career-of-Showman-Daguerreotypist/deCourcy-Jolly/p/book/9781003104780

Reviews

“Driven by some extraordinary research, this fascinating book traces the itinerant career of nineteenth-century photographer and projectionist J.W. Newland as he restlessly traverses the world in search of images and customers. Offering a new way of understanding the early history of photography, deCourcy and Jolly embed Newland’s story in an intricate global network of spectacle and exchange. The end result is a brilliant exposition of one man’s working life that also illuminates the advent of the modernity in which we all still live.”

Professor Geoffrey BatchenUniversity of Oxford  

“This fascinating book turns on its head ideas about Empire, and indeed colonial, visual culture. As it makes clear, many more people encountered images of Empire in theatres, music halls and popular lectures than through fine art. Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle helps address the common over-emphasis on paintings and prints when describing how empires illustrated themselves. The reality, as this book demonstrates, is a much more messy, less linear, often technology-based conflation of images, which are teased out through this eminently readable text. By its focus on someone apparently inconsequential, something of real substance and importance emerges.”

Richard Neville,Mitchell Librarian, State Library of New South Wales 

Original, thoughtful, and remarkably readable, this book presents a fascinating story of international and inter-imperial mobility during the mid-nineteenth century. In tracking the itinerant career of the daguerrotypist J. W. Newland across the margins of global empires, deCourcy and Jolly consider the significance of the showman as a shrewd negotiator of colonial and other networks, finding a mixed media space at work in territories from the United States, to the Pacific Islands, Australia and India. An extraordinary global research project in its own right, this book discovers a diversifying trade in cultural goods in this period, offering enlightening insights not only to media and art historians, but also to observers of contemporary global media spaces.”

Professor Joe Kember,University of Exeter

Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle takes the career of British daguerreotypist and showman J.W. Newland as a central device to explore the volatile world of image production, consumption and transnational cultural exchange in the mid nineteenth century. Exquisitely researched and written with extensive illustrations, this book draws on international archival material, images, historical and biographical data to consider the relationship of one itinerant photographer to the global explosion of image making and visual culture. Through this important and richly illustrated study deCourcy and Jolly reveal both the historical and ongoing relevance of photography as a global visual media.”  

Associate Professor Donna West BrettUniversity of Sydney

A dazzling and dynamic journey through a world on the brink of an enormous expansion in global visuality.  Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle is a major achievement, offering a new way of understanding the intertwined complex of optical technologies, visual experiences, practices, and audiences across multiple sites of empire in the 1840s and 1850s.” 

Associate Professor Jennifer TuckerWesleyan University 

Much more than an episode in the history of photography, Elisa deCourcy and Martyn Jolly’s book is an excavation into the emergence of modern media culture. The biography of photographer and performer James William Newland is turned into a chapter of the wider biography of entertainment media, providing us with a powerful testimony of how the new appetite for mediated entertainments emerged and developed across the globe in the mid nineteenth century.” 

Dr Simone Nataleeditor of Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century 

Won’t You Buy My Pretty Flowers

This video was made for Fiona Hooton  to project on the walls of Verity Lane Canberra, as part of Localjinni’s AlleyHart video walk for Contour 556 2020, Canberra’s public art biennial, and the  Design Canberra 2020 festival. The song was arranged and sung by Jacqui Bradley and Krista Schmeling. In a video studio they stood either side of the screen as I projected the original slides through a pair of magic lanterns, using the bat wing dissolver to dissolve between the slides, and a piece of black cardboard with a hole in it to ‘iris’ in on details. The video was shot and assembled by Amr Tawfik and then projected from a mini projector. The life-model magic lantern slides were made by Bamforth & Co after 1897. The song was written in 1877 by George W. Persley and Arthur W. French.

Won’t You Buy My Pretty Flowers
Projection in Verity Lane, Canberra.

The exhibition ‘Martyn Jolly’s Phantasmagoria of Magic Lanterns’ at the Canberra Museum and Gallery

CMAGJollyINSTALL1CMAGJollyINSTALL7CMAGJollyINSTALL14CMAGJollyINSTALL3

The exhibition was curated by Virginia Rigney, designed by Greer Versteeg, and installed by Gary Smith.

We displayed 560 slides in a large light box.  Grids of 85x85mm square holes, each and 13mm apart, were laser cut into sheets of 4.5mm black acrylic. These were laid on 3mm clear backing acrylic, loaded with slides arranged in groups and sequences, and topped with a cover sheet of clear 2mm acrylic. The sandwiches were then taped around the edges and vertically held by a wooden frame against the inside doors of four bays a large display case. The front of the doors were covered with self-adhesive black vinyl except for the blocks of slides. The slides were lit from the front by ambient LED light, which allowed visitors to see the labels, and they were backlit through UV filtering film by fluorescent light bounced off the back wall of the case.

Interpretative handouts nearby were keyed with thumbnail images to allow visitors to find information and commentary about individual slides and slide sets within the overall grid.

As well as square glass slides, wooden mechanical slides were also displayed on glass shelves. These were lit from the front with LED lights, while the transparent painted glass images were lit from behind with electroluminescent panels trimmed down to size from 100mm x 100m sheets. The colour of each EL panel was corrected with an 81a photographic filter, and UV filtered with film. Each sandwich of EL panel, filter and UV  film was lightly attached to the rear of the slide with conservation tape and individually wired into a low voltage circuit.

These displays were augmented with:

  • Conventional displays of magic lanterns.
  • A circular digital projection on a facing wall introduced visitors to the exhibition, transitioning between text and images.
  • Four video screens showed performance documentation and demonstrating the mechanical slides, chromatropes and panoramic slides.
  • Enlargements of an Australian lantern slide and a Primus slide box.

Interpretive text was included in the digital projection:

WHY I COLLECT

As an artist and a writer I have always been interested in the way the pictures, especially photographs, affect the way people think and feel. Although I love looking at individual ‘great’ pictures, I have also been interested in the day to day work of unexceptional, sometimes overlooked, perhaps anonymous, now forgotten images — the kind that come to us en masse. I have always been interested in modest images assembled into large archives. I think about them as grids, arrays, deployments, matrices, configurations, layouts and databases. Often I delight in discovering small telling details in them, then I think about them as ancient middens, archaeological layers, geological substrata or loamy deposits.

Although I have spent my entire career involved one way for another with large collections, initially I was somewhat disdainful of collectors themselves. I held myself aloof from the covetous passions to which they allowed themselves to be myopically subjected. Then I got interested in magic lantern slides. The magic lantern is the great-great-grandmother of today’s data projector, and the glass slides they once projected onto screens in darkened rooms are the great-great-grandmothers of today’s jpegs or gifs. But the magic lantern show was much more than just the antecedent of the Powerpoint presentation. They were just as ubiquitous, but for their nineteenth and early twentieth-century audiences they could be uncanny experiences of phantasmagoric apparitions, or powerful moments of collective witnessing, or virtual journeys to exotic places, or intellectual revelations of new knowledge, or even prompts for communal praying and singing.

Magic lantern slides are not self evident objects like paintings, they are a media like a computer file, they need to played on a device — projected through a lantern with voice and music — in order for their ‘magic’ to be fully understood. To understand the historical importance of the magic lantern I needed to be able to recreate a magic lantern show, and for that I needed a lantern and slides. Although some lanterns and lots of slides have been preserved in our museums, those can no longer be used, so I was forced to become a collector.

I told myself it was only for my research, but soon the unruly passions of the collector took over and enslaved me. To get enough material to work with to produce creative reenactments I need quantity, so my collecting is more Costco the Cartier, but it is still deadly serious. I am racked with jealousy when I miss out on something at an auction, and subject to bitter self-recrimination as I succumb to the impulse to bid on just one more lot. I am now a member of an international fraternity of like-minded enthusiasts and, although we are friendly enough, we watch each other warily. As I hold them up to the light one by one up, or rearrange them on a light box, I feel that it is I, and I alone, who can properly give the slides I possess the love they deserve.

 

APPARATUS THINKING

Working with actual magic lanterns has raised a whole new set of issues which I find fascinating. The lanterns I use were originally lit with oil lamps and, theoretically at least, I could clean the glass and reflectors, clean the rust off the reservoir and wick housings, source new wicks and fresh paraffin oil, and light them up. Alternatively, I could follow the paths of some researchers in Europe and recreate limelight itself, which was generated by superheating a block of calcium oxide with the flame from a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gas. But, so far I have chosen to follow the more expedient route of using standard LED floodlights. This may be sensible because it reduces the effect of radiant heat on my old slides, and answers some of the inevitable health and safety issues in a modern performance environment, while also removing a level of complexity from the performance. I am aware that it takes the performance further away from an ‘original’. However, while on the one hand LED light is much cooler and more constant that what would have been the warm flickering light of an oil lamp, on the other hand it may have been close to the colour temperature of limelight, which I have not yet had the opportunity to see it myself, but which I understand from reading newspaper reports is very cold in colour temperature.

Despite these inevitable compromises, working directly with lanterns and slides has allowed me to physically ‘connect’ with an interesting series of people — some living, and some dead. I have enjoyed enlisting the expertise of contemporary crafts people from the ANU School of Art and Design. University schools of art and design are potentially very good places to do the kind of historical research I do because colleagues can come together with a diverse range of historical knowledges. In the cases of the artists and craftspeople I have worked with from the Painting, Jewellery and Furniture Workshops some of that historical knowledge is not only conceptual, it is also inscribed into their very muscle memory as they use skills and techniques which have lineages at least as old as the lanterns themselves.  As they have repaired my lanterns and slides before performances, I have been afforded the opportunity to think about the semi-industrial manufacturing process which were the very lineaments of the emerging media industry. When we, literally, break the apparatuses down into their component parts, I am particularly struck by the high level of ‘approximation’, compared to today’s industrial devices. As we separate the brass mechanisms from their wooden armatures, or gently lever the delicate painted glass from its housing, we reveal manual variation continually playing off mechanical repetition. You really get the sense of an industry in an urgent, quite laissez faire competition as designs were copied, corners were cut, and different markets were targeted. The standard three and a quarter inch by three and a quarter inch lantern slide was accepted as a universally interchangeable component from about the 1860s (although it was three and quarter by four and a quarter in the US), but meanwhile the wood framed hand painted and mechanical slides continued to vary widely in size and thickness until the twentieth century. In another example, four inches seems to have become the standard diameter for condenser lenses (which sometimes cracked under the heat of the flame) by the 1890s, but some manufacturers designed in brand loyalty by making their condensers slightly bigger or smaller.

I have also benefitted enormously from collaborating with a series of performers, composers, musicians, actors and singers. Only through performing have I been able to understand the true, integrated multi-dimensionality of all contemporary and historical media forms such as the magic lantern experience. Because they have generously adapted and added their own deep disciplinary knowledges and skills to support my tentative steps into projection performance, I have been able to travel quicker and further towards both rediscovering an historical affective experience and creating a new contemporary re-enactive practice. They have introduced me directly to dimensions of media which I, trained as a photographer, haven’t had to think much about. For instance, throughout my career I have talked about ‘duration’ as an abstract concept, but having to actually deal with images unfolding in a shared collaborative time has been enormously educational.

However, I have found the necessity to encounter the actual apparatus at a very intricate level, which is necessary to stage a performance with it, to be the most challenging, the most fascinating and the most rewarding. I am very glad I have had the opportunity to partner with Elisa deCourcy as a co-lanternist, who has contributed many new ideas as we have to, often quite forcefully, shove our cranky wooden slides into our ancient magic lanterns. Looking at a magic lantern for the first time is a lot like looking at any new device for the first time. There is an impressive array of knobs, levers and slides, ranged around its body, all of which evidently have some function. At first, we admire the designers and manufacturers of the nineteenth century who appear to have thought of everything, and forged a component, or cut a joint to deal with it. Brass flaps can be swung with a fingertip so the interior of the lantern can be discreetly checked though a coloured-glass porthole, wooden flaps can be raised or lowered to regulate airflow, and so on. We feel the kind of workmanlike satisfaction that BBC documentaries on Victorian railways are meant to give you.

But it is only when the contemporary lanternist begins to actually use the apparatus to give entertainments, that they realize that so much just doesn’t work properly, and never worked properly in the first place. Victorian engineering was compromised by retail expediency, the lanterns and slides worked just enough to be saleable. Slides, even the mass-produced ones, never sit in the same focal plane within the carrier and need to be adjusted for each and every slide, but some manufactures saved a few pence by only having the knurled focussing knob on one side of the lantern. There was not much integration between different manufacturers, and retailers would often assemble kits for their customers from different factories which in fact integrated poorly. For instance, because each mechanical wooden-slide or glass-slide carrier was of different size and thickness, the ‘stages’ into which they were inserted in front of the condenser lens and behind the objective lens were designed to have a very large tolerance. Even so, some elaborate slides we have, which are masterpieces of ‘Victorian ingenuity’, are in fact too thick to fit into a lantern. If we can just squeeze them in between the springs of the stage, in practice it is impossible to keep all the different layers of glass in focus at the same time. I found that many of the old slides I was purchasing have extra pieces of wood attached them, probably by a lanternist over a century ago. Now I know why, since I now have to attach my own small pieces of wood to the edges of my slides so their images fall in approximately the same spot on the screen during a show. Even with mass produced glass slides it is impossible to keep all of the image in focus because of the extreme spherical aberration of the magic lantern’s Petzval lenses, which were optically designed originally not for magic lanterns but for early portrait cameras. The fact that they optically traded off edge-to-edge focus for a larger quantity of light wasn’t such a big problem for portrait photography, where the main object of interest was a fidgeting face towards the centre of the image, but it meant that when they were used as projection lenses the images, although brighter, lost definition at the edges. Nonetheless many lantern slide artists, working for companies far removed from the lantern manufacturers, continued for decades to produce slides with important details right at the edges, which were guaranteed to be out of focus on the screen.

Nonetheless, myself and Elisa deCourcy have found this wide ‘tolerance’ in the projected image to not only be evidence of an industrial formation at a particularly undeveloped stage of its historical transformation, but also to be enormously stimulating creatively. Many magic lantern lenses had slots for ‘tinters’ and flaps for ‘faders’, but we have invented several, as far as we know, entirely novel techniques to add even more indeterminacy into our projections, for the pleasure of our audience. The ‘Cardboard Ken Burns’ is a large piece of black cardboard with a hole cut in the middle about the same diameter as the outer lens of our magic lanterns. We move this back and forth in front of our lanterns to ‘iris in to’ and ‘iris out of’ different significant details across the image surface, in a similar way to the rostrum camera technique famously developed by Ken Burns for the seminal TV series The Civil War (1990). ‘Flicker Fingers’ is an instruction on our cue sheets to flick our fingers quickly in front of our lenses which gives the sense of ‘interference’ to a visual ‘signal’ (anachronistically associated with the electromagnetics of the twentieth century not the Newtonian optics of the nineteenth century). These techniques interact wonderfully with our performance collaborators who use loops, electronic distortion and other vocal and instrumental techniques to create an affective response in the audience.

 

WHY WE RE-ENACT

Magic lanterns were pervasively important in Australia for a century. Magic lanterns were machines that were used by various operators, from sophisticated professional showmen to Sunday School teachers. In a range of venues, from theatres to home parlours, they projected multiple types of slides, from ingenious hand painted mechanical slides to high quality hand tinted photographic slides. These were combined with different forms of musical and theatrical accompaniment to entertain and inform a wide variety of audiences, from opening night crowds to gaggles of local kids.

Therefore, any magic lantern slide found in an archive, no matter how humble, is tangible evidence that at some particular time, in some particular place, some Australians had collectively witnessed images, heard music and listened to texts. These had been orchestrated together by some individual or some organisation to give them an experience, persuade them of an opinion, or connect them to others.

Magic lanterns, magic lantern slides and magic lantern scripts were media — ‘apparatus’ and ‘image’, ‘hardware’ and ‘software’, ‘device’ and ‘content’ — simultaneously closely connected to, and very distant from, today’s digital media. The magic lantern apparatus is recognisable within today’s modern data projector, and the different types of magic lantern slide are recognisable within today’s cinema, television, animations, internet memes and public projection events. We have therefore found the overall approach of media archaeology very useful. Rather than seeing media history as a succession of technological improvements and innovations progressing inevitably towards the present, a deep time archaeological approach sees past media formations as heterogeneous layers containing multiple potential futures, and therefore able to connect with the present in new ways.

We undertake traditional historical research into Australian magic lantern culture, but simultaneously we also take a complementary practice-led research approach to investigating the magic lantern experience. Through re-enactment we seek to understand the particular characteristics of a historical audience’s ephemeral experience of the magic lantern, and the particular material conditions and constraints of the technologies that produced that experience. For this reason we have assembled a working collection of over five thousand slides and several different magic lanterns.

We want to give audiences in the present something of the same affective experience audiences had in the past — their emotional responses to witnessing distant events, their collective joy in experiencing music or laughter, their involuntary ‘aaahhh’ at an uncanny special effect — in short, the magic of the magic lantern. We are historians, and our intention is to understand the past. While a straight reenactment, where everything is done as closely as possible to how we think it was done in the past, can replicate the basic historical form of a magic lantern show, it cannot generate a similar frisson in a contemporary audience, one inured to a century and a half of subsequent media thrills. However we are dealing with a media archaeology, where the technologies which produced the laughter, tears and gasps of two hundred years ago still form the technical substrata of the technologies which produce laughter, tears and gasps today.  They are not identical, and they cannot substitute one for the other, but because they share a structural kinship one can touch the other in surprisingly close ways. For this reason the participation of a contemporary audience is very important to our reenactments. We do not want to create ‘historical dioramas’, where the performance is seen as a self-contained curiosity separate from the audience, as though they were looking at a frozen taxidermied tableau through a sheet of glass. Likewise, we are not interested in bringing our magic lantern shows ‘into the present’, turning them into some ‘steam-punk’ event where they simply exist to give a retro flavor to an essentially contemporary mise en scene. Rather, we want our re-enactments to exist for the audience as an ‘experiential object’, an experience in the present which can be reflected upon from an historical point of view.

We could (in fact we do) digitise our slides and make enhanced videos or gifs for easy distribution, the way an old movie might be restored. But seeing a crisply digitised image on a computer display is a very different ‘experiential object’ to that experienced by a historical audience seeing an actual glass slide manually projected through a nineteenth century apparatus by an individual. We could attempt to precisely replicate a magic lantern show down to the last ‘authentic’ detail the way a medieval re-enactor might hand forge his chain mail. But a magic lantern performance is not a single object, it is a multimedia performance where a human operates a machine. We could attempt to perform complete slide sets the way an orchestra might perform a baroque concerto score on period instruments.  But magic lantern performances had no authoritative texts like a music score, rather, each performance was the extemporised product of many different elements  — slides, music, texts, lanterns, instruments, audiences, performers, special occasions and particular architectures — all bricolaged together into unique combinations. Therefore we have found creative re-use an essential ingredient in our re-enactments.

In order to recover the magic lantern as a more historically accurate ‘experiential object’ we have introduced contemporary elements such as music, voice and electronics. Although these elements in themselves come from the present, and would be unrecognizable from the perspective of the past, the way we have incorporated them comes just as assuredly from historic practices when all magic lantern shows were occasions for improvisation and bricolage. We hope our creative re-enactments invite the fleeting manifestation of something like an uncanny delight that our audience can feel they are perhaps sharing with an audience of a hundred and fifty years ago.

We have used creative re-enactment to explore specific historical sites in Australia or particular Australia historical experiences:

  • In a performance at the Bundanon Homestead in 2016 we explored a locally significant drowning tragedy that had had occurred at the site in the 1920s by using techniques derived from ‘verbatim theatre’, young participants from the local area, and a set of roughly contemporaneous magic lantern slides.
  • In a performance in a burnt-out telescope dome at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in 2018 we presented verbatim part of an authentic astronomical lecture from the mid nineteenth century, with some of the mechanical scientific slides which were actually used in popular science lectures of the period.
  • In a performance at the Cell Block Theatre in Sydney we presented some of the imagery from, and recreated some of the experiences of, the pastoral property of Rouse Hill House and Farm, which had used a magic lantern and associated slides within the family from the 1860s.

We have also produced more open-ended performances, experimenting with musicians, actors and students in exploring new possibilities in the form of the projection, music, electronics, voice and interaction:

  • A magic lantern ‘Horror Show’ at the National Portrait Gallery, in association with the exhibition Sideshow Alley, 2016.
  • A magic lantern show ‘Five Scenes for a Modern Prometheus’ at the Australian National University in association with a conference on Frankenstein, 2018.
  • A magic lantern show ‘Raeburn’ at the Australian National University in association with students from the Schools of Art and Design and Music, 2017.

As well, we have directly connected the magic lantern to contemporary technologies and practices.

  • The computer artist Kieran Browne algorithmically coded animations that replicated the formal logic of the clockwork colour kaleidoscopic slides known as a chromatropes. These were then laser cut and reversed engineered directly back in the nineteenth century apparatus.
  • The contemporary painter Waratah Lahy is using the powerful idea of the ‘dissolving view’, where one projected scene is dissolved into another, in her practice. She has painted two images of dusk falling on her childhood home. The transition from day to night is particularly magical when viewers have the opportunity to operate the ‘dissolver’ between the two lanterns themselves.

These experiments — in performance, projection, voice, music, electronics, painting, computer coding and digital fabrication — open up many new avenues through which real, tangible and meaningful links can be forged between the present and the past. Through physically manipulating the same fundamental materials — light, pigment and mechanics — as the media makers of the nineteenth century, a significant new dimension is immediately added to our understanding of the ways the past has constructed the present. The obdurate materiality of all media is revealed. For instance, through actually encountering the fact that it is impossible to keep all part of a mechanical slide in focus at the same time, we have revealed the technological disconnections between different manufacturers who made up the ‘magic lantern industry’, a discovery that could only have been made through practice. Most importantly, this dimension of material and experiential research is only fully activated when a vital third element is added to the experiment — an audience, an audience whose reaction can feed back into the experimental iteration.

However, our creative re-use and creative re-enactment are not ends in themselves. We believe that these performances are as an effective a way of understanding the past, through experience, as an academic paper, through description. We also believe that, if documented by video, our performances can be looped back into the archive from which they were derived to act as a ‘generous interface’ to that archive, through which new users can discover their component archival parts such as images, music, or texts.

 

Martyn Jolly, Canberra 2020

For more information search Heritage in the Limelight

Our book ‘The Magic Lantern at Work’ has been published.

1.1 Jolly Fig

‘The Tri-Unial lantern illuminated with the Oxy-Hydrogen Light, in the Hall of the Balmain School of Arts’, frontispiece, Catalogue of Optical Lanterns and Transparent Views, with the newest forms of Bi-unial and Tri-unial Dissolving View Apparatus (Sydney: William MacDonnell, 1882).

Our book The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting has been published, we’ll be organising a launch at some stage. In the meantime let your librarians know.

https://www.routledge.com/The-Magic-Lantern-at-Work-Witnessing-Persuading-Experiencing-and-Connecting/Jolly-deCourcy/p/book/9780367322564

The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting

Edited by Martyn JollyElisa deCourcy

Routledge Studies in Cultural History

1. The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting

Martyn Jolly

2. The Magic Lantern as a Creative Tool for Understanding the Materiality and Mathematics of Image-Making

Deirdre Feeney

3. Spirits in the Fairgrounds: Métempsycose and Its After-Images

Evelien Jonckheere and Kurt Vanhoutte

4. ‘We Fighters on the Outposts’: Suffragists and Lantern Slides, 1889-1913

Jane Lydon

5. Magical Attractions: Lantern Slide Lectures at British Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meetings, c. 1850-1920

Jennifer Tucker

6. The Missionaries’ Servant: Babel, Funding and the Bible Society in Australia

Nicolas Peterson

7. The Endless Universe and Eternal Life: Clement L. Wragge’s Magic Lantern Lectures

Shaun Higgins

8. Flights of Fancy: The Production, Reception and Implications of Lawrence Hargrave’s Magic Lantern Lecture Lope de Vega

Ursula K. Frederick

9. Anna Mary Longshore Potts and the Anglophone Circuit for Lantern Lecturing in the Late Nineteenth Century

Joe Kember

10. Sidney Dickinson: ‘One of the Most Entertaining Speakers Ever Upon the Melbourne Platform’

Jane Clark

11. The Difficulties of Witnessing: Armin T. Wegner’s Lantern Slide Show on the Armenian Genocide

Vanessa Agnew and Kader Konuk

Torch light on the Opera House

Salvation Army ‘War Cry’, Melbourne 1894

Heritage Council chair Stephen Davies is unable to issue a stop work order against the Opera House advertising projections of Racing NSW because light does not cause physical harm. Instead The Chaser projected Alan Jones’s phone number on the Supreme Court and NSW parliament from a moving car, while citizens disrupted the racing ads with torches. This David and Goliath contestation of public space has a fascinating history. In 1894 the Melbourne Salvation Army was just as aggressive as Racing NSW, but for the cause of Temperance. They used the latest limelight powered magic lantern to obliterate a schnapps ad on the side of a pub with a projection of Jesus and images from ‘The Rock of Ages’, while their band played hymns. 

While light does no physical harm, as anyone who works with projection knows, it completely redefines space, transforms mood, and rewrites meaning. The act of projecting on a building is strangely exhilarating, because a small act is ‘projected’, not just optically by the lens, but semiotically by the stored symbolic power of the building. 

Heritage values are created by lighting. Think of how the warm tungsten lights, which nightly bathe the newly cleaned sandstone facades of the public precincts of virtually all the world’s cities, have reshaped our mental image of those cities. And they can be destroyed by lighting. Fortunately, in the optical arms race, guerrilla action can still outgun the big boys.

What can the magic lantern teach us about today’s ‘right-click culture’

My paper for the panel, The Mobility of Images in the Digital Age, convened by Professor Sue Best and Dr Jess Berry, Art Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, University of Westrn Australia, December 2017.

I have a very untidy computer desktop. It’s littered with PDFs, word files and jpegs. If I right-click on a jpeg, I can choose to open it with one of fifteen different applications, or I can share it on one of eight different online platforms. If I move from my desktop to the internet and right-click on an image, I can perform twelve different operations on it, one of which is saving it back to my desktop.

We are all familiar with the latest statistics, with their proliferating number of zeroes at the end, telling us how many photographs are taken and shared every minute. Much ink has been spilled, some even by me, on the implications of all of this for photography. Usually the talk is of rupture. Even if it is recognized that photography was always a medium of reproducibility, the contemporary theorist usually puts the word ‘exponential’ in his or her sentence to signify some fundamental rupture.

But, guess when the evocatively exponential number of ‘a billion’ was first deployed in relation to photography? It was way back in 1859, when Oliver Wendell Holmes mused that the Coliseum and the Pantheon had, just by existing, been ‘shedding’ their own images, their visual forms, ever since they had first been built. With the invention of photography this ‘image shedding’ could be conceptualized as billions of lost photographs.

 

There is only one Coliseum or Pantheon; but how many millions of potential negatives have they shed,—representatives of billions of pictures,—since they were erected!

Holmes also realized that these captured image-forms were less substantial than the real thing, but the trade off for this decrease in substantiality was an increase in transportability.

Matter in large masses must always be fixed and dear; form is cheap and transportable. [soon] [m]en will hunt all curious, beautiful, grand objects, as they hunt the cattle in South America, for their skins, and leave the carcasses as of little worth. … The consequence of this will soon be such an enormous collection of forms that they will have to be classified and arranged in vast libraries, as books are now.

153 years later Hito Steyerl was making pretty much the same point in her discussion of ‘the wretched of the screen’, those digital ‘poor images’ that are low-resolution derivatives of the original first-level images which Holmes had originally discussed as derivatives of matter itself:

The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates it deteriorates. It is the ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.

Both Holmes and Steyerl saw a technological trade off of decreased materiality for increased motion: for Holmes from matter to image, for Steyerl from high-res image to low-res image. Both also concluded that this trade off of substance for distribution was, in fact, ultimately constituting a new ‘reality’.

I evoke these historical bookends — Oliver Wendell Holmes, the plump nineteenth century Boston doctor, and Hito Steyerl, the glamorous twenty-first century German video artist — because they both squared up to and embraced the realities of reproduction, and I want to argue about ‘the digital’ not from the point of view of its rupture, but its continuity. I don’t want to perform a teleology, but an archaeology

In an essay from the mid 1990s, Foucault described the period of 1860 to 1880 as a ‘frenzy for images’, when all of the emerging reproduction technologies such as chromolithography and photography began to interact with traditional painting.

… there came a new freedom of transposition, displacement, and transformation, of resemblance and dissimulation, of reproduction, duplication and trickery of effect. It engendered a wholesale theft of images, an appropriation still utterly novel, but already dexterous, amused and unscrupulous. …. There emerged a vast field of play where technicians and amateurs, artists and illusionists, unworried about identity, took pleasure in disporting themselves. Perhaps they were less in love with paintings or photographic plates than with the images themselves, with their migration and perversion, their transvestism, their disguised difference. … To them there was nothing more hateful than to remain captive, self-identical, in one painting, one photograph, one engraving, under the aegis of one author. No medium, no language, no stable syntax could contain them; from birth to last resting place, they could always escape through new techniques of transposition.

Foucault’s description could also apply to the practice of the magic lantern, which was blossoming and becoming culturally pervasive during exactly the same period. The apparatus of the magic lantern began in the Netherlands in the mid 1660s and it ends up there, on the ceiling of this seminar room. Traveling entertainers carried magic lanterns on their backs around Europe for over century before the technology became incorporated into a theatrical illusion designed for metropolitan audiences called The Phantasmagoria. Later in the nineteenth century this technology began to be industrially manufactured and marketed directly to the middle classes and the intelligentsia. Photographic magic lantern slides began to be produced after 1850 and by the end of the century audiences around the world were laughing at ingeniously animated hand painted slides, and at hand coloured photographic slides that told moral stories or illustrated sentimental songs. The ARC project I lead, Heritage in the Limelight, has already assembled a database of five and half thousand of these slides.

At this time, at the height of modernity, the strange couplet ‘magic’ and ‘lantern’ was at its most compelling, the word ‘lantern’ projected the rational illumination of knowledge, whereas the word ‘magic’ harked back to the psychological affects of deception, illusion and diabolical darkness. The strange couplet was still in use well into the twentieth century when, after bequeathing its grammar of narrative syntax and visual effects to film, it stayed on as part of the cinematic apparatus showing theatre advertisements and illustrating songs. It also entered the home, the school-room, the church hall and the university, slowly transforming into the 35mm slide and eventually the Powerpoint slide.

The magic lantern was an apparatus of reproduction, distribution and recombination. There was no such thing as an ‘original’ slide, they were copies of illustrations, paintings, prints or other photographs. There is no such thing as a single slide, each slide was produced as part of a set, and stored, distributed and exhibited as multimedia sequences. There are thousands of amateur slides, but millions of mass-produced ones which were retailed in shops around the world. But the consumers at the end of the production chain were also producers. Lantern slides have to be projected to be realized, and it was up to the lanternist to decide which combination the slides were projected in, and with what musical or spoken accompaniment.

The magic lantern was a ubiquitous visual presence, yet the silos of scholarship have all but ignored it. For art historians there are no genius artists to biography, no rare objects to analyse, no conceptual innovations to name, no radical styles to track. For the art market there is nothing to sell, nothing to buy, nothing to appreciate. For film historians the magic lantern is just ‘pre-cinema’, an imperfect version of ‘the movies’, waiting to be superseded. For the photo historian the glass slide disappears behind the primacy of the paper print with its physical relationship to the traditional work of art.

However, even as the traditional historical disciplines were doing their best to to ignore the magic lantern, the lantern itself was at work, secretly transforming them from within. Because of the lantern, the immediate object of art history became not the art-work itself, but the photograph of the art work. After the lantern, all of art history became merely a subcategory of photography. Disguised, but nonetheless crucial dates in the development of the discipline of art history are: 1854, when the British Museum appointed Roger Fenton as their first Official Photographer; 1884 when John Ruskin borrowed a magic lantern from a London theatre to project his watercolours at a lecture (Fawcett 453); and 1909 when the South Kensington Museum started to catalogue its fast-growing glass slide collection (Fawcett 456).

In Berlin, the Professor of Art History, Hermann Grimm, began to use the magic lantern scientifically, like a microscope in reverse, isolating and enlarging the art work so the viewer could apprehend it in its essential totality. In keeping with other scientific demonstration of the period, the lecture room became a kind of laboratory stage, or an experimental theatre. (Karlholm p208).

Grimm’s successor, Heinrich Wölfflin, elaborated on this theatre. A student recalled that Wölfflin removed himself from the lectern to the side of the audience. When a new image appeared on the screen, he would resist the temptation to speak for a while, building audience expectation within a tangible silence. Then, as if listening to the work itself, be would begin to slowly put words and sentences to the image, to converse with it, creating the impression that the art work, literally, spoke to him. (Karlholm 209-210)

Wölfflin further developed his use of the magic lantern by using two lanterns to project two images side-by-side. One projector showed the ‘key note’ throughout a sequence, while the other showed variations, details or exceptions. Other German art historians in the same period, such as Adolph Goldschmidt, were also using double projections to make it easier for students to compare two different art works, both flattened to a equivalent black and white monochrome, without having to retain one in their memory. These magic lantern lectures were thus a side-by-side comparison as well as a one-after-the-other progression. Thus, the students mesmerized in the dark beheld art history manifested not in the museum, but in their imaginations. (Nelson 430).

In 1912, at the Tenth International Congress of Art History, Aby Warburg performed his famous iconographical analysis of a renaissance fresco in a lantern-slide lecture, which he referred to as a ‘cinematographic spotlight’. (Michaud 38). Warburg’s ‘iconology of intervals’ which paid attention to the montaging of multiple images, and his discovery of what he called a ‘pathos formula’ of poses that travelled across history, geography and cultural difference, was entirely dependent on an archive of photographic reproductions, and an apparatus of both narrative and comparative conjunction, provided by the magic lantern.

Recently Georges Didi-Huberman has revived interest in Warburg, and interdisciplinary scholars like Philippe-Alain Michaud have seen Warburg’s famous Mnemosyne Atlas, produced in the late 1920s, as part of an emerging ‘cinematic mode of thought’ (Michaud 278). But they too have forgotten the power of the magic lantern to structure thought. More than just being a proto-film, Warburg’s panels were really a physical materialization of the two-lantern magic lantern lecture. The ideal space of the darkened auditorium is reproduced in the black cloth with which he covered the sixty-three panels to which he stapled his reproductions, and the transport of the lecture is reproduced in their sequential installation. Like the lectures, the pictures on the panels are both side-by-side and one-after-another, both paradigmatic and syntagmatic.

Contrary to the claims of Michaud, the media form which Warburg’s unfinished masterwork prefigured was not only the movies, but also today’s Google Image Search or Pinterest Board. So I would like to conclude with some other examples, not only from the magic lantern’s impact on the exhausted discipline of art history, but from the vernacular practice of the magic lantern itself, to make the archaeological connection between magic lantern practice and the ‘right-click’ culture of contemporary media.

Enter the words ‘Ned Kelly’ into Google image search and you’ll be met with an array of images: nineteenth century photographs of the bearded man himself, woodcut illustrations from 1880 newspapers of Ned in his armour, images of Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger acting in their respective Kelly films, and kitsch souvenirs. If you visit the National Museum of Australia’s online catalogue and enter the same words you will return a not dissimilar grid of images — 77 Ned Kelly magic lantern slides which were purchased as a set in the early 2000s. You won’t find Mick or Heath, but you will find film stills from Australia’s first Ned Kelly film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, as well as images copied from books about Kelly.

The images in the slides themselves aren’t rare, most of them were frequently reproduced as the Kelly myth grew and grew. But what is of interest is the unknown person who assembled them in the 1940s. Whoever they were, this amateur iconologist was obviously a bushranger buff preparing a show, perhaps for a public lecture at an historical society, or perhaps just for their family of friends. They have made the lantern-slides by copying the huge array of bushranger imagery already circulating through contemporary sources. Each slide has been extensively labelled and relabelled, and each has been placed into its own sleeve improvised out of old bank deposit envelopes. Perhaps our lanternist had a personal interest in Kelly’s crimes, perhaps he was a bank teller by day and a bushranger buff by night? In the spidery handwriting of an aged person captions and prompting words for a live commentary have been added to the envelopes, such as RED BLAZE FLAMES, for a slide of Glenrowan pub on fire. This slide has also been hand coloured, so the burning of the Glenrowan pub, tinted red in Australia’s first feature film, is tinted red again in this lantern slide. Other images come straight from the siege. For instance the set contains the famous image by J W Lindt of the body of Joe Byrne strung up an a door. However, this image was copied out of a book, perhaps Julian Ashton’s autobiography published in the 1941.

This obscure collection is significant because it prefigures today’s casual ‘right click culture’. Magic lantern slides were a way of ‘saving as’ existing images, duplicating them, reformatting them, shifting them and recontextualising them. The Museum has preserved here not just a comprehensive databank of bushranger iconography, but a complete individual practice, a new way that had been emerging for decades for everyday people to use popular images to say new things about their history.

Another example is Nothing To Do, a set in the Heritage in the Limelight collection. We are pretty sure this set was assembled in Australia. The slides illustrate a poem written by the Reverend Walter John Mathams who visited Australia between 1879 and 1882, when he was a minister at the South Yarra Baptist Church. The poem warns that those who turn a blind eye to poverty, drunkenness or violence because ‘there is nothing to do’, will be condemned in the afterlife. Nothing To Do was published in Mathams’ book Bristles for Brooms, as well as various Australian newspapers after 1888. In 1943, sixty years after it was written, the socialist writer Mary Gilmore republished it yet again in her column ‘For Worker Women’ in the union newspaper The Australian Worker. This set of slides would have been assembled around the 1890s, and may have been performed in protestant churches or at union events. (Gordon Bull does an excellent performance of the poem on the Heritage in the Limelight website.) The ‘life model’ slides which make up most of the images in Nothing to Do were manufactured overseas by companies who posed models against painted backdrops, photographed them, hand coloured them, and then distributed them, as a multimedia packages along with a printed reading, throughout the Anglophone world. But this set has been bricolaged from other sets. Images that were originally made for other sentimental songs, pious poems, or melodramatic stories have been repurposed. These have been mixed with conventional travel slides to illustrate some of the poem’s more trenchant points.

How do we know that the bricoleur was Australian? Because another set from the same period, which uses the same printed labels, attempts re-territorialize a set of America ‘song slides’ for the Australian market. The song is called He Carved His Mother’s Name Upon the Tree, and the slides were made to ‘illustrate’ a live performance of the song in theatres, therefore increasing sales of the sheet music which is how musical content was distributed before the mass production of gramophone records.

However in the set shown in Australia, tiny rectangles of black tape has been used to modify the opening slide, which is a photographic reproduction of the cover of the sheet music. The identity of the American song illustrators has been erased, and the original Tin Pan Alley music publisher has been replaced with a Melbourne sheet music retailer. In addition, tape has been used to cover the words “A sympathetic song from life” at the top edge of the slide. We see in this example physical evidence of competition between emerging global territories for technologized content, which is so much part of our contemporary media environment.

These three examples may appear minor, but they are just the tip of a very big iceberg. Once the last art historian has been strangled with the entrails of the last film historian, who has been strangled with the entrails of the last photo historian, media archaeologists can begin to look at the totality of our visual culture, including its technological substrata, and gain a richer understanding of the new reality being constituted by the ‘picture forms’ which the things in our lives are continually shedding.

Martyn Jolly

‘Developing the Picture: Wölfflin’s Performance Art’, Dan Karlholm, Photography and Culture, 2010, 3:2 207-215

‘The Slide Lecture, or the Work of Art ‘History’ in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Robert S. Nelson, Critical Enquiry, vol 26, no 3 Spring 300 414-434

‘The Stereograph and the Stereoscope’, Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Atlantic Monthly 1859, June

‘Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion’, Philippe-Alain Michaud, Zone Books, New York, 2004.

‘Visual Facts and the Nineteenth Century Art Lecture, Trevor Fawcett’, Art History, Vol 6, Issue 4, pp442-460

Hito Steyerl, ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’, The Wretched of the Screen

Michel Foucault, Photogenic Painting, 1994

Tragic Drowning Fatality

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‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’, Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter

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‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’, Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter

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‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’, Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter

Tragic Drowning Fatality, Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter

Tragic Drowning Fatality, Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter

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‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’, Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter

Some images taken by Alex Hobba of the magic lantern performance ‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’ performed by Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter at Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, with: thirty original magic lantern slides from the 1880s to the 1920s; two JW Steward magic lanterns from the 1880s dissolving one slide projection into another; members of the ANU Experimental Music Ensemble (Ben Harb, Andrew Ryan, Jack Livingston and Chloe Hobbs) on double bass, guitar and percussion; and actors from the region (Kez and Libby Thompson, Peter Lavelle and Clare Jolly) reading verbatim coronial testimony of an actual double drowning that happened in the Shoalhaven River in 1922.

@heritageinthelimelight

 

Photos of my magic lantern show at Canberra Obscura

The estimable Andrew Sikorski has posted some shots of my magic lantern performance (along with Andromeda is Coming) amongst his documentation of the Canberra Obscura Art Party on his site Life in Canberra.

You can see me using my own latest technological innovation in projection which I call ‘a bit of cardboard with a hole in it’. Derived from the ‘burning in tool’ of the traditional darkroom printer, the ‘bit of cardboard with a hole in it’ held over the lantern lens spotlights details and narrativises the slides like Ken Burns did with his (now infamous) ‘Ken Burns effect’ in such landmark ‘archivally based’ documentary series  as  his The Civil War of 1990. I was also inspired to use the ‘bit of cardboard with a hole in it’ by the author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He came to Australia in 1920 on a magic lantern tour to show people photographic evidence that the dead returned from beyond the veil. In Adelaide, according to Doyle’s account on page 76 of his book Wanderings of a Spiritualist, ghosts literally inhabited the machine and took over the magic lantern to demonstrate the proof of their survival:

I had shown a slide the effect of which depended upon a single spirit face appearing amid a crowd of others. This slide was damp, and as photos under these circumstances always clear from the edges when placed in the lantern, the whole centre was so thickly fogged that I was compelled to admit that I could not myself see the spirit face. Suddenly, as I turned away, rather abashed by my failure, I heard cries of “There it is”, and looking up again I saw this single face shining out from the general darkness with so bright and vivid an effect that I never doubted for a moment that the operator was throwing  a spotlight upon it. … [N]ext morning Mr Thomas, the operator, who is not a Spiritualist, came in in great excitement to say that a palpable miracle had been wrought, and that in his great experience of thirty years he had never known a photo dry from the centre, nor, as I understood him, become illuminated in such a fashion.

 

Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with 'Andromeda is Coming'

Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

 

 

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’

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Andrew Sikorski, Canberra Obscura, Martyn Jolly with ‘Andromeda is Coming’