Behind the Scenes – the Lumiere Cinematographe

Colleagues in the QM Cultures and Histories program have been researching  information about some of the oldest cameras in the museum collection, held in storage ‘behind the scenes’. This prompted me to write about a fascinating piece of early technology: the Lumiere Cinematographe.

The Lumiere Cinematographe in the Queensland Museum collection was purchased by the Queensland Department of Agriculture to film Queensland life and landscapes. The official government photographer Frederick Charles Wills and his assistant, Henry William Mobsby traveled the state in order to capture life in the colony. The film was then displayed at the 1899 British Expo in London to encourage people to migrate to Queensland for a better life and to boost the population. By purchasing the camera the Queensland Government was the first government to use this new motion picture technology. You could even say it was the forbear to the present day Tourism Queensland.

The Lumiere brothers worked in their father’s photography business during the late 1800s.  At the time the business focused on still image film and cameras.  When their father retired in 1892 the brothers began to work on creating a movie camera. They patented their invention, the Cinématographe in February 1895, and displayed their first films to the public shortly after.  The first recorded images were three versions of the workers leaving the Lumiere factory. These movies are known as one horse, two horses and no horses due to the horse and carriage seen in the first two films.

Lumiere Cinematographe – Queensland Museum Collection

The camera not only took the images but was also able to process the film and be converted to a projector to display the processed film in a cinema. Each roll of film was 17 meters long and would contain 800 slides which allowed the camera to record between 40 and 50  seconds of moving images depending on the speed that the handle was cranked.  The ideal speed for the camera was 16 frames per second.  Currently movies are shown at 24 to 30 frames per second.

Lumiere Cinematographe, rear view with case open – Queenland Museum Collection

The movie camera was not a new invention in 1895, however the Lumiere brothers were the first to patent film perforations.  A film perforation is a punched hole on each side of the slide.  This allowed the camera to roll the film with much greater consistency and accuracy.  This technology is still used today, commonly with four rectangle holes next to each slide which creates the iconic image of film stock.

The films are able to be viewed through the National Film and Sound Archive website. Although all the films on this site are not of Queensland, it does contain many of the Queensland films produced using the camera in the museum collection.

In 1901 the Salvation Army’s Limelight Department, use several of the Lumiere Cinématographe cameras to film the Australian Federation parade and ceremony in Sydney.  The New South Wales government hoped that the movie would form a permanent record of the event, however only a small amount of footage has survived during the last century. Footage of The Parade and the Oath and Signing can now be seen on YouTube.

Unfortunately for the Lumiere Brothers they thought that “cinema was an invention without a future”. However, they turned their attention to the development of coloured film for still images and become a major producer of photographic equipment and supplies in Europe.