Thoughts On: Man Walking Around A Corner (1887)
A man, as the title suggest, walks around a corner.
One of the most poorly documented figures in all of cinematic history is arguably the most significant: Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince. Le Prince was an inventor, born in France, who grew up around his father’s friend’s studio. That friend was Louis Daguerre, a man we have mentioned before in the series. He was a pioneer in early photography who invented the first publicly available kind of photographic equipment.
This was known as daguerreotypy, and involved metal plates treated with chemicals – material which Janssen would use in his photographic revolver to capture the earliest known pre-film, The Passage Of Venus. Le Prince, growing up in and around Daguerre’s studio, was taught about chemistry and photography, and would go on to study both painting and chemistry later on in university. Specialising in the painting and firing of pottery, Le Prince would later be hired by a brass founding firm in Leeds, England: The Whitley Partners of Hunslet. Here he would marry the sister of the man that invited him, an old college friend whose sister was Elizabeth Whitley, in 1869.
After serving in the Franco-Prussian War (or, The Franco-German War of 1870) as an officer of volunteers, Le Prince returned to England where he and his wife set up the Leeds Technical School Of Art in 1871. It’s here where he gained notoriety for his work with colour photography and metal pottery. This lead to him being commissioned to construct portraits of Queen Victoria and William Ewart Gladstone (at the time, Prime Minister of England) which would be placed in a time capsule in the foundation stone of Cleopatra’s Needle.
Taking a side-note, the depicted Cleopatra’s Needle is in Westminster and is one of three Egyptian obelisks – the other two can be found in New York and Paris. This monument has very little to do with Queen Cleopatra as it was constructed over 1000 years before her reign. The statue was given to the British by the then ruler of Egypt in 1819, Muhammad Ali (not the boxer) – but was delivered much later (in 1877) just because the British didn’t want to pay for transportation. This welcomed (though initially declined) gift was eventually given in commemoration of the Battle of Alexandria that was fought between the French and the British in 1801. As mentioned, when this was erected in 1878, a time capsule was hidden in the foundation. Contained within are said to be the following…
12 photos of English Beauties
A box of hairpins
A box of cigars and several tobacco pipes
A baby’s bottle
Some children’s toys
A shilling razor
A hydraulic jack and some samples of the cable used in the erection
A 3 inch bronze model of the monument
A complete set of British coins
A written history of the strange tale of the transport of the monument
A translation of the inscriptions
Copies of the bible in several languages
A map of London
Copies of 10 daily newspapers
Included in this was also Le Prince’s portraits, presumably, photographs fixed onto metal or pottery. So, following this, Le Prince moved to America with his family to become a manger of a group of artists that produced panoramas, later, he would work on moving picture machines in the New York Institute For The Deaf. It’s here where he constructed and patented a camera with 16 lenses.
This was the Le Prince Cine Camera Type 16 (LPCC Type 16). Le Prince would refer to this as his “receiver” and it would work in a very similar way to Muybridge’s system – just in a more condensed manner. As we’ve discussed previously, Eadweard Muybridge constructed some of the first ‘films’ using multiple cameras being tripped electronically…
Le Prince’s camera would take exposures from 16 lenses in one device – all tripped 1/16th of a second apart. These exposures would be captured on paper film within the device and could be brought together to produce the illusion of movement. One of the only surviving experiments that Le Prince shot with this camera in Leeds during 1887 is our subject today.
There is, however, quite a bit more to be said about Louis Le Prince. We will do this in the next post though. For now, we’ll conclude on this note. So, just before I leave you with Le Prince’s earliest surviving film, pay careful attention to the manner in which the frame jumps to different angles – which is a signal that this was not shot with a single lens camera. Moreover, whilst the precise date of this picture isn’t known, a letter dated 18 August 1887 was sent from Le Prince to his wife in America, giving us a good estimate of when it was made. Beyond that, I’ll let the earliest experiment, and the closest example to what we have technologically come to know as film so far, speak for itself…
Forbidden Bath/The Sand Bath/Games Of Youth/A Funny Story At The Window – Early Spectacle Cinema And Its Attractions
Every Year In Film #9 – Roundhay Garden Scene
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