Life in motion
The invention of film as a medium was the result of a series of experiments, performances and techniques centred on the illusion of movement. In the course of the 19th century, various technological apparatuses were patented and released that could be used for viewing moving images, including the Phenakistoscope, Zoetrope and Praxinoscope. Attempts to capture motion on film can be traced back to the first experiments with sequential photography and chronophotography, including the famous locomotion studies of Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey.
Reproduction of a Zoetrope, invented by William Ensign Lincoln in 1865.
Five wooden discs, meant for viewing in a Phenakistoscope, invented by Joseph Plateau and Simon Stampfer in 1832.
Practices of (moving) image projection were already common in 17th- and 18th-century magic lantern shows, phantasmagoria, and (moving) panoramas. Experiments that combined photography with the art of projection led to the emergence of the moving image. 19th-century motion picture viewing devices include the Kinetoscope, Mutoscope and, last but not least, the Cinématographe.
The birth of cinema
The Cinématographe was a hand-cranked 35mm motion picture projection device that functioned as a camera, projector and developer. It was invented by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895. Unlike the Kinetoscope, which allowed for the individual viewing of motion pictures through a peephole viewer at the top of the device, the Cinématographe could be used to project motion pictures to a large audience.
The Lumière Cinématographe, 1895.
Its first public display was on March 22, 1895, in Lyon, followed by the first commercial show at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895. The screening programme in Paris consisted of a compilation of ten short films made by the Lumières, including the films Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory ('La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon') and The Gardener ('Le Jardinier').
The poster advertising the Lumière brothers Cinématographe, showing a famous comedy (L'Arroseur Arrosé, 1895).
Lumière’s cinematographic screening is often regarded as the 'birth of cinema'. However, motion pictures were recorded and screened before. In 1893, the American inventor Thomas Edison, for instance, used the Kinetoscope to show moving photographs to the public while the French film pioneer Louis Le Prince recorded a movie on paper film in 1888.
In October 1888, the French inventor Louis Le Prince recorded The Roundhay Garden Scene, often considered the first film ever made. Source: Internet Archive
First home movie
Part of the Lumière screening program in Paris was the short film Baby’s Breakfast ('Le Repas de Bébé'), which shows Auguste Lumière, his wife and their baby daughter Andrée Lumière having breakfast together as a family.
Although the term 'home movie' was not in use at the time, this short film is often regarded as the 'first home movie' ever made and screened. Aside from the personal relationship between the filmmaker and his subject, the domestic setting and atmosphere of the film would prove to be an important characteristic of home movies in the future.
Lumière's film Le Repas de Bébé from 1895.
Early amateur filmmaking
Anticipating the emergence of amateur cinematography, various manufacturers produced film recording and screening equipment designed for amateur and domestic use. In order to cut costs and make equipment smaller, the first amateur film devices often narrowed the width of the film.
The Birtac, for instance, made use of a double-sided perforated 17.5mm film – half the size of Lumière's 35mm film width. The British film pioneer and photographer Birt Acres (1854-1918) invented the Birtac in 1898, only a few years after the release of the Lumière Cinématographe. Similar to the Cinématographe, it was made of wood and featured a hand-cranked operation mechanism. Other 'kino' devices specifically designed for amateur and domestic use include the Motorgraph (1897), Biokam (1899), La Petite (1900), and the Ernemann Kino (1902).
The Birtac 17.5mm film camera when converted into a film projector. Source: Internet Archive
A 35mm Ernemann camera, model A, from ca. 1908.
Most likely, a 35mm Ernemann Kino camera was used by the Dutch documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens (1898-1989) for recording his first film, Wigwam, a family film that he made at the age of thirteen. At the time, the Ernemann camera was showcased in the local photography store of Joris Ivens' father Kees (C.A.P.) Ivens (1871-1941). The 10 minutes 32 seconds-long film was recorded in the summer of 1912 near Nijmegen, the city where Joris Ivens was born. It features all members of the Ivens family: Joris's grandfather, father, mother, brothers and sisters, and Joris himself. In the film's opening scene, the family members pose in front of the camera as a way to introduce themselves to the audience.
Joris Ivens' family film Wigwam from 1912.
Making use of in-camera montage, the family members appear on the screen one by one. When the group is complete, the family bows to the audience, after which each family member walks out of the frame in reverse order of appearance. The playful performance reminds us of a photographed family portrait, with all family members looking directly into the camera. At the same time, the scene exemplifies the fascination with a new cultural practice that had only just developed: the recording of the family in so-called 'living pictures'.