Moving Image: Seeing Things

In modern times there is no art form as influential, powerful or as widely accessed as that of the moving image. From cinema to television to web streaming; it reaches and affects more people from all walks of life like no medium before it. It can entertain us, educate us and be used as an advertising tool and by doing so affects every aspect of our day to day life. When was the last time that we spent a day without watching or talking about that film or documentary that we saw the previous night? When was the last time that we did the weekly shopping without buying at least one item that we saw advertised on our television sets?  

Films and television programming are unique to all other art forms in that they make use of all the others: theatre, visual art, music etc. It is a media which challenges the creativity and engages the imagination of its creators and its audience alike. It influences our emotions like no other art form; it can make us sad, happy, even angry. What is more it is probably the only medium that every one of us can access from our living rooms with the touch of a button.

The Captured Image 

Of course before the moving image there was the 'captured image'. Photography comes from the Greek words 'phos' meaning light and 'graphis' meaning stylus or paintbrush. It is the process of creating pictures by capturing light on a light-sensitive medium or 'drawing with light'. Patterns of light reflected from objects are recorded onto mediums such as film or memory chips through timed exposure. This process is carried out through a mechanical, chemical or digital device: the camera. 

Modern photography can be traced back to the early years of the 19th century with the first permanent photograph being produced in France in 1826. 

Museums, like this one, use photographic collections as a window into the past, from these records we can piece together a picture of social and industrial history long forgotten. Without thinking we too are documenting our own lives and times in the same way with every holiday or family snap we take. 

The Magic Lantern 

The Magic Lantern was the predecessor to the slide projector and goes back as far as 2nd century China and was well known in Europe by the mid-17th century. By simply using an oil lamp or candle, images hand painted on glass could be projected onto a screen. By the Victorian era there was an army of travelling projectionists taking their shows to towns and villages across the country. Many of these 'lanternists' used animation techniques and special effects to enhance their shows and usually played an accompanying soundtrack on a musical instrument 

The invention of photography increased the repertoire of available images and soon the travelling lanternists were joined by amateur photographers who instead of showing the usual comic or moral tales, would show eager audiences images of far-off lands and famous people and places hitherto inaccessible. 

Sadly after the advent of the moving picture in the 19th century these lantern shows became redundant, and the lanterns themselves became no more than collector's curiosities. The glass slides however remain a record of the times in which they were taken and an invaluable resource for researchers. 


Television gets its name from a mixture of latin and greek and means 'far sight'. It was not the invention by a single person, but an end result of a string of innovations by many individuals starting with Willoughby Smith in 1873 who discovered the photoconductivity of the element selenium. It wasn't until 1926 that the first public demonstration of a device which would become what we now know as a television was given by Scotsman, John Logie Baird. 

By the 1940s, televisions were switching on in households across Europe and North America, however the real upsurge in sales in the UK happened because of one event - people not content to sit around the radio listening to commentators describe the scene, wanted to see for themselves the pomp and ceremony surrounding the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. 

By the 1960s, the golden age of television, more families had television than ever before allowing people to be influenced by the wider world like never before, the horrors of the war in Vietnam were brought into peoples living rooms on a daily basis, the criticism of Government policy which followed was unprecedented and could never have happened without television. The spectacle of the momentous events unfolding in space exploration influenced an entire generation of young boys who would grow up dreaming of becoming astronauts. In the modern era these new horizons opened up to us by television have stimulated our collective imaginations and demonstrated that there are no limits on what we can achieve with our lives. 

The Big Screen 

On October 4th, 1888, a Frenchman, Louis Le Prince, presented 'Roundhay Garden Scene' the world's first motion picture to a stunned audience in Leeds, Yorkshire. The first paying venue opened in 1895 at Le Grand Café in Paris and this event is now referred to as 'The Birth of Cinema', and Paris became the motion picture capital of the world. 

The rise of cinema in Europe was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 leaving the industry to flourish in the United States, leaving Hollywood as the new home of cinema. 

By the 1920s, filmmakers were attaching soundtracks to their movies and the 'talkie' was born. The next advancement in technology, movies in colour, took longer to catch on with the public but as the processes improved, more and more films were made in this media. By the end of World War 2, Hollywood viewed colour as essential to attracting audiences in its competition with home television which was still black and white. 

With the introduction of home video in the late 20th century, many wondered if the local cinema could survive, the industry needn't have worried, with the advancement of modern digital technology and improved movie houses offering a wider choice of film in comfortable modern surroundings, cinema has never been as popular as it is today, with many cinemas recording record attendances. 

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