Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video Early photography and film: Before editing, part of The History of Film and Video Editing.
- View Offline
- In the late 1800's the motion picture was born and for quite a few years that's all there was. The raw, unedited projection of moving images, and people were enamored with this. For minutes at a time audiences viewed everything imaginable. Things as simple as city streets or trains, rarer sightings like Sioux Indian dancing, also boxing matches between men, and between women. And even, good old-fashioned kissing. The unencumbered moving image delighted audiences all on its own.
But, let's drop back a bit and talk about how we got here, because the 70 or so years leading up to motion pictures were really quite revolutionary. Beginning in 1826, when French inventor Joseph Niepce took the very first black and white photograph. It was a rudimentary composition of some farm buildings in the sky and he called it a heliograph, or sun drawing, and it had an exposure time of eight hours or more, and involved some pretty complex processing. Niepce's collegue, Louis Daguerre, continued to improve the process over the next decade.
In 1837, he invented the daguerreotype process which was really quite the process. Requiring lots of equipment and chemicals, and required a polished copper plate coated with silver and resulted in a positive single image chemically etched on to the plate. This still life taken by Daguerre in 1837 is the earliest dated known daguerrotype photograph. The best thing is, the exposure time was reduced from many hours to just several minutes.
And this is interesting, this 1838 photograph of a Parisian street taken by Daguerre shows the world's very first photographed person. Now, in actuality, there were many, many people in this scene walking throughout the busy street, but because of the exposure time, because it did require several minutes, none of them actually showed up in this photo. Nobody except this guy right here, who stood still enough while he was getting his boots polished. Now, the next year, 1839, the daguerrotype process was commercially introduced, so 1839 is generally recognized as the birth of still photography.
Another important photography pioneer during this time was John Herschel, who was a great chemist and figured out many of the chemical reactions necessary for making fixing agents in the photographic process. He even brought the word photography into the main stream vocabulary in 1839, and was the first one to use words like, positive, negative, emulsion, and snapshot, in terms of the photographic process. In addition to developing and improving many photographic processes that Niepce and Daguerre later built upon, he introduced the idea of using glass negatives.
Also around this time, the inventor Henry Fox Talbot came up with several paper-based photographic processes, which certainly provided competition for the metal-based daguerrotype process. One of these processes was called calotype, and he expanded upon the idea of using a negative to produce positive prints. Also, unlike daguerrotype, where you could only copy an image by rephotographing it with a camera, with calotype, you could make many positive prints. Now, photography continued to advance a lot over the next 20 years, and eventually the exposure time became reduced from minutes to seconds, and later even a fraction of a second.
And by the 1880's, George Eastman really brought the medium to the masses when he invented dry gel on paper, which we of course know as film. This ultimately replaced the photographic plate so that photographers didn't need to carry around boxes of plates and tons of chemicals with them. Which is the sentiment expressed in this early advertisement. So, once Eastman came out with Kodak camera and film rolls, photography was officially brought to the masses.
It came with the slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest." And thus, 60-some years after Niepce's first successful experiments with photography, the medium was finally accessible to the world. But these images were still, well, still. But actually, very early advancements in motion pictures were already underway, beginning around 1878 when English photographer Eadweard Muybridge photographed moving animals from multiple cameras. The first experiment involved taking photos of a horse to determine if it had all four legs off the ground at once when it galloped.
Again, because one camera couldn't take consecutive photos fast enough at that time, he arranged many cameras in a line parallel to the edge of the track and spaced them each 27 inches apart. Each camera shutter was triggered by a thread as the horse passed, and each exposure was 1/1000ths of a second. The next year, he invented the zoopraxiscope to display the series of photographs, which he copied as silhouettes as a sort of movie. It was made up of a rotating glass disc in rapid succession to give the impression of motion.
Essentially, the zoopraxiscope can be thought of as the precursor to the movie projector. He actually ended up photographing all types of subjects and thanks to the zoopraxiscope, people were able to see these images displayed as moving pictures. Now, a couple of years later in 1882, Etienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotographic gun, which could take 12 consecutive frames a second. This is actually where the term, "shooting a film" originates from. Also, more early projectors, akin to the zoopraxiscope, were invented, such as the electrotachyscope.
And, this was a large, rapidly rotating disc containing fewer than 100 images, in which the viewer or viewers watch the animation at eye-level. So, a whole lot was going on at this time, in terms of figuring out how to work with multiple images and the persistence of vision. In the late 1880's, Louis Le Prince was inspired by Muybridge's experiments and when about trying to make the very first motion picture camera. After a lot of trial and error, he successfully developed the first single lens motion picture camera in 1888.
This two second test movie of a garden scene, filmed at 12 frames per second, is the world's very first motion picture on film. Now, there were several other pioneers that took a shot at developing a motion picture camera, but it wasn't until Thomas Edison came out with his motion picture camera, the Kinetograph in 1891, that things really started to take shape. A few years later he invented the Kinetoscope, which was basically a peephole viewer only accessible by one person at a time to watch the short movies.
To accommodate multiple people in viewing the movies, Edison came out with Kinetoscope parlors in major cities, which contained many Kinetoscope machines, each one screening a different movie clip which you could play by inserting coins into the machine. Edison used all sorts of subjects in these early Kinetoscope short films and absolutely nothing was edited. Now, Edison experimented a lot with the medium and in addition to many other types of recorded public entertainment, Kinetoscope parlors became very popular means of screening events.
Like, prize fighting, where each Kinetoscope machine played a different round of the fight. So, if you put a dime in each machine, you could watch the entire fight, one round at a time. This age was indeed the birth of the moving picture as a form of public entertainment. Edison's studio had a go at making a Kinetoscope with sound, which was called a Kinetophone. This was not a sync sound machine, it was simply a Kinetoscope with a phonograph that you listen to with earphones, and it turned on when the movie began and it turned off when the movie stopped.
It wasn't very popular. Rather, the much bigger advancement that was on the horizon was the projection of movies on to a screen so that more than one person could watch the movies at once. In the later part of the 1890's, quite a few inventors began developing projection systems. One of these projectors, the Cinematograph was actually a motion picture camera as well, so really, a very versatile all in one device. It was invented by the Lumiere brothers and in 1895, they used it to screen their documentary, La Sortie de I'Usine Lumiere a Lyon, which translated is, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory.
It was 46 seconds long, unedited, and is considered the world's first projected film. Later that year, they screened a 49 second short comedy called, L'Arroseur Arrose, which translated is, The Waterer Watered, again, unedited. Remarkably, it is the first example of a fictional story on film. Let's just take a moment to watch it here.
OK, so audiences loved this. Films up to this point had been relatively ordinary filmings of everyday events, so the funny, scripted nature of this film surprised and delighted audiences, and they wanted more. And it was then, around 1895, that we can really nail down as the birth of the movie theater, and the birth of the public movie-going experience, and the birth of the storytelling experience in cinema which soon called for the important art of editing to help craft the stories.
And so, we'll learn about the early days of editing in the next movie.