In the year 2000, a team of specialists in Film and Photographydecided to tell the story of the earliest film makers - by recreating replicas of the very first motion picture cameras. This project of over 12 years duration is now complete and we would like to introduce you to “The Race to Cinema” collection, covering the years from 1886 to 1895, when the first commercially successful movie camera became available. This is cinema archaeology!
It was not easy for the pioneers; at first, only paper-based photographic roll films could be obtained. From 1889, with celluloid film it became possible to take a sequence of photographs and reproduce them in motion.
Our aim was to bring the story to life in chronological order. Most of the original cameras are lost or are locked in institutions. Our experts have travelled the world to measure and photograph the surviving machines to allow our engineers to construct exact, working copies. Where the cameras do not exist we have had to work from patent drawings – which were often somewhat obscure, in order to confuse and deter any competition. Some surviving cameras have inaccessible parts. In those cases we have had to find the solution to mechanical puzzles ourselves, guided by the patents, so that the results match the technical particulars of the surviving films. All these very different, beautifully constructed replicas have been tested and found to work as originally intended. Indeed we have acquired a growing respect for the pioneers!
The 14th and final camera however is not a replica but an original Lumière Cinematographe, this camera was designed and owned by that great pioneer of cinema Louis Lumiere and then given to his daughter Yvonne. She passed it on to Henri Lumiere and it was obtained from him by a private Lumiere museum at Uzes in the south of France. When this museum collection was dispersed early in the 21st century, the camera was acquired by me for the “Race to Cinema” collection.
It had long been mankind’s dream to record movement and sound that could be passed down for future generations to view. This past century has been the first in history to achieve this; we can see and hear people long dead walking and talking. What magic! I sometimes wonder how the pioneers would feel if they could watch, in movement and High Definition, the earth as seen from space, or strange creatures from the bottom of the sea, all in glorious colour. What would they think of television and thermal infrared cameras, computer visuals, smartphones and cameras that can be inserted into the human body to aid diagnosis and treatment? All of them stem from the work done by these brave pioneers of the moving image, many of whom persevered despite ridicule, technical struggles and financial hardship.