An opportunity to join us for an interactive experience of pre-cinema optical implements, instruments and kinetic toys, illusions and moving pictures…
Demonstration or workshop?
While almost all our implements are suitable for hands-on enjoyment – by all ages – you may also wish to consider some of the workshop ideas that are given at the foot of this page for students and special interest groups …
Our presentation can be tied to a specific historical era – including our wearing appropriate costume and accessories (as shown in our Picture Gallery) and working from period tentage (see under FAQs) – in order to link with your venue or the theme of your event.
Alternatively we trace the development of a variety of optical and kinetic curiosities from the Renaissance onward, which works best by dividing the presentation into three segments: static images, persistence of vision and photographics. (We do always make sure we have plenty going on…)
We can, in any case, offer ideas and suggestions for web applications or family holiday fun (with a leaflet currently in production)
The Amazing Travelling Camera Obscura has arrived!
We have added a broader range of specific period pictures with ourselves in appropriate costume – click on the link if you would like to SEE THESE
If you would like to KNOW MORE about the construction of our Camera Obscura select this second link and go to the foot of the page.
Like Topsy, our Camera Obscura ‘just growed’… Originally envisaged as a table-top instrument this has now evolved to become a full size walk in installation accommodating the operator plus 9 to 12 visitors – depending on the adult/child mix – and now suitable for venues with either soft or hard standing.
The rack and pinion driven Lantern revolves through a ful 360 degrees and reflects its moving image onto the metre square viewing table.
To see the footprint required and other dimensions please go to FAQs for further details.
Though the pinhole effect was certainly known to the Romans, our camera obscura is based on a portable tented or prefabricated type used by artists as a drawing aid – certainly during the 16th century and possibly earlier:
Written about in principle by Roger Bacon before 1400 and more practically by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, we have pictorial evidence from 1544 so are happy to offer a full range of presentations from the Renaissance onward:
We continue through Stuart, Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian periods to later 20th century – particularly offering Votes for Women and Home Front fund raising scenarios (See the foot of the relevant page in each case).
We can dovetail with your venue whether a period house, garden or museum – and your event whether historically based or a community or corporate day.
Once far more widespread as a public entertainment, particularly at the seaside and tourist spots, the camera obscura was rather scuppered by cinema – a bright day provides the best result.
Children particularly enjoy the opportunity to ‘pick up and drop’ people and objects on the viewing table (theft of dogs and icecreams most popular…)
Distorted Anamorphic Images as revealed by viewing from a specific point (often in a painting to be seen obliquely on climbing stairs) were understood from the 15th century – by Leonardo at least. Probably the most famous painted example is the skull in Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’ of 1533.
Our catoptric anamorphosis(!) uses replica cylinder or cone mirrors to focus sixteenth and seventeenth century images in an amusing ‘Can you guess what it is yet?’ demonstration.
Travelling Peep-box (or raree) shows grew in popularity through both the Stuart & Georgian periods and featured exotic scenes, patriotic events or best sellers: Our gabled oak box currently features hand coloured panes showing ‘The History of Robinson Crusoe’ (we intend to add the sinking ship by use of gallery wires). Here, right, the box set up, a stack of panes and the view through an eye-hole.
We do also have further ‘shows in production’…
This box is also designed to exhibit punched and tissue lined Night Panes by candle light – though given the frequency with which the original panes and boxes smouldered we have sensibly opted to go for LED candles…
Although this folding cardboard Tunnel Book is our replica of a much later Victorian souvenir – from The Great Exhibition of 1851- it feels neatest to also put it here. It’s still surprisingly effective.
Though beginning as an elegant hand-drawn passtime for genteel society, printed Myriorama romantic panorama cards quickly became commercially available: In whichever order you lay the panels down, the view continues to make perfect sense in spite of offering many thousands (millions?) of combinations.
These still provide a considerable amount of amusement – and ready inspiration to create one’s own version.
A presentation that works especially well for Georgian and Regency periods – and particularly as a timed set piece.
Street and fairground entertainers encouraged those who claimed more elevated tastes to enjoy the Zograscope or ‘diagonal mirror’ – a rising scale of fees would take you further afield…
As a more genteel entertainment for the middling sort a Diagonalist could be engaged to provide a theoretical tour as likely to be taken by their betters.
If you had the time and sufficient funds you might even ask for a show to decide an actual route for your real proposed Grand Tour.
One of our prints is seen here through our zograscope lens – just as the edges of the perspective print begin to curve the best three dimensional effect is seen.
Regardless of your station in life, we present you with an opportunity to undertake A ‘Voyage Imaginaire’ Grand Tour through viewing a series of specially produced perspective prints.
For a brief ‘staycation’ you can enjoy the attractions of London, Oxford and Edinburgh; if feeling bolder, cross the Channel to visit France.
A full tour of temperate Northern climes is available, or you could choose the warm South – then even travel as far as Constantinople…
Whatever your selection there is always the comfort of avoiding the costs and rigours of physical travel with the trauma of meeting alarming foreigners – or worrying about drinking the water! Why not journey with us – neither courier nor luggage required?
The Kaleidoscope was patented by Brewster in 1816 (but allegedly relied on earlier work ‘adopted’ from a colleague…) The earliest mirrored tubes and platform instruments contained borrowed beads, jewels, buttons or curios solicited from viewers as part of a shared entertainment.
On the left a replica of a Regency gentleman’s enamelled miniature kaleidoscope (with its case) – it’s loaded with crystal beads.
Propped behind is an early chromotropic handle turned magic lantern slide – a different sort of kaleidoscope with overlaid slipping painted glass discs..
We do also have some 20th century kaleidoscopes.
The first half of 19th century brought a rash of optical and scientific novelties, several relying on the phenomenon called persistence of vision (PoV) whereby a succession of pictures is presented at such speed that the eye is unable to perceive seperate images:
Dr John Ayton Parys presented his Thaumatrope to The Royal Society ten years later and marketed it as a scientific curiosity for adults. When a disc with carefully placed pictures on both sides is spun PoV means we see both images at once – thus putting the bird in the cage or the flowers in the vase.
Around 1832 both the Belgian Plateau and the Austrian Stampfer simultaneously invented the Phenakistoscope, a whirling disc of images – polite dancers, louche acrobats, creepy reptiles or scarey monsters – that appear to move when viewed with the appropriate apparatus. Though all consuming the craze lasted barely a couple of years, handicapped by the capicity to amuse just one or two viewers at a time.
So, next the mathematician Horner presented his Daedelum, then Plateau and Stamper their own PoV apparatus for communal viewing – yet somehow it took another twenty years or so for the identical American Zoetrope to become widely popular.
Surprisingly the Kineograph (or Kinetograph) – probably far more familiar as the flick book – is only generally acknowledged rather late – possibly because many were self-made and crude, rude or even a bit saucy:
Our politically incorrect Victorian original depicts a schoolboy being cruelly walloped – we have also created modern replicas to hand around!
Beyond mid century a series of inventions follow in quick succesion to enhance the wider enjoyment of the new photography:
While first invented by Wheatstone it was again Brewster (now Sir David) who developed the Stereoscope to become the must-have parlour amusement. While the truly refined might prefer biblical and moral subjects, images of national events were most widely popular: our stereoviews of The Great Exhibition fit a contemporary viewer (so, apparently, will the equally widely available erotic ones)
The Graphoscope is even more an ornament to grace a table: ebonised and painted, ready to provide wholesome family entertainment: As well as a stereoviewer function this 1860s instrument allows the detailed inspection of cabinet card photographs, whether received from relatives or of the celebrity cards which were avidly collected.
These late Victorian and Edwardian ‘Underwood’ type Stereoscopes were produced in such vaste numbers that many are still found in the loft today.
As well as travelogue views, scenes from conflicts such as the Boer War – often restaged for the camera – were also extremely popular.
This folding enamelled viewer is a bit later and is the type available to accompany collected Edwardian and interwar cigarette cards. (Quite expensive, too – it cost 5/- plus postage with each set of cards a further shilling) The views are of Empire and Foreign Parts.
For the First World War our huge range of original stereoscopic cards offer inspiring and patriotic 3-D views of Blighty or of Empire.
We also have a good set of contemporary – though largely staged! – views of trench warfare including early tanks and aircraft. (For the more sophisticated we even have something Utterly Risqué – & French…)
The Stanhope is the ultimate Victorian/Edwardian novelty souvenir item: Though the super-magnifying Stanhope lens was developed for a real commercial purpose – to count the threads in fine linen cloth – it became the ultimate gimmick when used to view micro photographs incorporated into tourist tat.
We have ‘em all – and more…
A Victorian Album
My real Victorian phtograph album has gradually filled with both familiar and forgotten lives from the middle of the 19th century: Her Majesty appears, as does her friend the Queen of Hawaii and also the royal ward Sally, The African Princess. While all have heard of Florence Nightingale – and many of Mary Seacole – fewer recall Dr James Barry’s life-long deception. Brunel, Bazalgette, Stephenson and Darwin feature as do a selection of literati (followed by Mrs Dickens and Nel Ternan who face each other – oblivious – across a page…)
To see a little more follow this link to visit ‘The best of times, the worst of times‘ in my Storytelling section.
A Magic Lantern
The Metamorphoser Magic Lantern is a very recent acquisition – its renovation and the skill of making moving ediotrope and chromotrope slides future tasks we intend to attempt…
Activities & Workshops:
As well as offering all or any of the above as part of a hands-on have a go experience we are happy to run more formal workshops in period or modern dress.
‘Making a Thaumatrope’, in particular, can be linked with science or art topics, focused for WWI or WWII history projects for schools or variously themed for seasonal events such as Hallowe’en and Christmas.
We do also have stereoviewers and stereo photographs covering 20th century topics.
Otherwise you might also enjoy making a ‘Philosophical Whizgig’, creating your own anamorphic images electronically or exploring sliding pictures; a more ambitious or longer term project for a larger group might be the creation of a Myriorama…