Magic Lantern is Magic

The British Museum have an exhibition on now about the beginnings of photography in the 19th century called Points of View.  Along with the (free!) exhibition there’s all sorts of talks and events.  A few weeks ago I went to a fantastic talk about revealing the truth behind ‘Spirit Photography’, which was rather popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Today was more Victorian entertainments in the form of a magic lantern show.

The Show Begins

The lantern used by Professor Heard, the chap doing the talk/show, was pretty neat looking.  Upon seeing it the first thing that popped in my head was steampunk. It was half traditional magic lantern magic show while discussing the techniques used in the presentation and its history. The slides can be rather intricate, both mechanically and artistically. Each one is hand painted or in the case of photographic slides, hand tinted. Some later Victorian slides were even a mixture of photographic and hand drawn elements. Pretty neat.

Magic Lantern and slides

I think I recall that the lantern used today was from 1860 and was purchased at a shop in the Strand. It’s been refitted to work with electric lights and modern dimming switches. The original ones ran from gas light that required bags of oxygen and hydrogen to be set up beneath the lanterns. Needless to say, magic lanterns caused the odd fire or three.

Like a double mini-canon

He ended off the show with what was the most popular magic lantern slide produced; The Rat Swollower –

The Rat Swoller lantern slide

It had two moving parts: one that moved the man’s mouth open and shut which was a simple lever and another than was turned to make rats run up the side of the bed and into his open/snoring mouth. All done with three plates of glass.

There are a few more photos over on Flickr for those inclinded.

Author: andrea

A Londoner from eastern Canada. City of London Guide, fixer of Macs, collector of old video games, appreciative of synths.

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