The lecture was only given once in the ArtsHouse, following the AGM

Thursday 15 February 2018
Optical Entertainments before the Movies
Speaker: Andrew Gill


Members of Stradfas were laughing and giggling throughout Andrew Gill’s fascinating talk on February 15 which showed how the magic lantern played a significant role in bringing about social change in the Victorian era through slide shows with moral stories and “travel” slides that enabled the Victorians to see the world in other continents.

With great enthusiasm he traced the history of optical illusions from Cave paintings such as those found in Lascaux Cave in the Dordogne which showed movement and perspective through running horses. Andrew’s vast knowledge was illustrated when he commented on Shadow Shows in Java, China, Egypt and Indonesia where stick puppets were used behind a translucent screen. This technique was even used in 2013 by Attraction who won Britain’s Got Talent!

Using anecdotes he took us through the world of weird looking mechanics which transformed flat pictures into ones with perspective and eventually to moving images. Some were toys such as the Phenakistiscope which created the illusion of movement through a mouse disappearing over the edge. Others were the forerunners of our present day video such as the Praxinoscope which uses a strip of pictures inside a drum shape where there was also a candle and a shade so that when the drum was turned the image appeared to be jumping over a bucket. Another amazing piece of equipment was the double slipping slide which involved a fixed piece of glass with a painting on it and then 2 separate slipping slides so that more complicated movements could be shown, such as a dentist extracting a tooth! Ghosts came alive through the use of strategically placed glass invented by Pepper.

By the 18880’s there was a vast industry in slides recording constructions such as the Forth Road Bridge and even street lights. Slide projections told stories such as one where a signalman, who worked hard, fell asleep with the potential to cause tragedy. A Kinora showed slides which could be used to make   photographs of the family. We saw one of the first examples of 3D with a stereoscope shown at The Great Exhibition with a beautiful and realistic portrayal of the building and its contents. This was a unique presentation which gave us a glimpse of the world of entertainment before the advent of cinema through the use of Andrew’s great depth of knowledge and brilliant storytelling.