Past Projections: The Cinematograph

Auguste and Louis Lumière are the French brothers widely regarded as the creators of the moving image. Born two years apart, the brothers worked for their father’s photographic firm, developing still photography using the dry-plate process and then film perforations, which helped to move film through the camera and the projector.

In March 1895 the Cinematograph – a machine which could film, develop and project moving images – recorded its first footage, showing workers leaving the Lumière (which means light in French) factory. One of the first Lumière films to have a big impact was L’Arrivee d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat. Known in English simply as Train Pulling into a Station, its first screening in 1896 made the audience jump. As they watched one continuous real-time shot of a train coming towards them through the station some claim that members of the audience scrambled from their seats and ran to the back of the room. For those who had never seen motion photography before, this was both alarming and mesmerizing.

The 50 second film was recorded on the Cinematograph using a 35 mm format but the Lumières were already trying to achieve a 3-D motion picture. In 1935 the brothers re-shot L’Arrivee d’un Train using a stereoscopic film camera, which was then exhibited at the French Academy of Science. It would be another twenty years before this became part of movie culture.

But whilst the Lumière brothers were big names in the early days of commercial cinema there were others who had helped bring this new technology and art form to life. Eadweard Muybridge’s projection of motion pictures using stop-action photos during the 1880s; Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope in 1891 and French pioneers Emile Reynaud and Louis Le Prince.

It was Auguste and Louis Lumière who brought cinematography to a mass audience, turning it from a science experiment into a cultural phenomenon. And the performance and screening of films in theaters or ‘cinemas’ became possible using one machine, their patented Cinematographe. For anyone who could afford to purchase one of these incredible machines, the world was there for them to capture and charge people a fee to see things they had never seen before.