By Bill Dobbins
Thomas Edison was a highly influential early pioneer in the film industry and did a lot to help create the movie business as we know it today. But when it comes to inventing the technology of motion pictures, there is no overlooking the contribution of Auguste & Louis Lumiere.
Early Edison movies were viewed on a kinetoscope, a “peepshow” device that permitted one person at a time to view the film. The Lumière brothers (UK: /ˈluːmiɛər/, US: /ˌluːmiˈɛər/; French: [lymjɛːʁ]), Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas ([oɡyst maʁi lwi nikɔla]; 19 October 1862 – 10 April 1954) and Louis Jean([lwi ʒɑ̃]; 5 October 1864 – 7 June 1948), were among the first filmmakers in history. They patented an improved cinematograph, which in contrast to Thomas Edison‘s “peepshow” kinetoscope allowed simultaneous viewing by multiple parties. allowed simultaneous viewing by multiple parties.
By Kyerstin Hill, Marquette University, for IPHF
As sons of a photographic equipment manufacturer and supplier, Auguste and Louis were constantly surrounded by photography and art and developed intelligence for technology at an early age. Born in Besançon, France, Auguste (born October 19, 1862) and Louis (born October 5, 1864) moved to Lyon, France in 1870 and attended La Martiniere, the largest technical school in the city. Both brothers also worked in their father’s photographic firm, Auguste as a manager and Louis as a physicist.
While working with his father, Claude-Antoine Lumiére, Louis began experimenting with the equipment and discovered a new ‘dry plate’ process in 1881, which largely assisted the development of photography. Because of the new photography process, the Lumiéres became well-known businessmen and Auguste was invited to a demonstration of Thomas Edison’s Peephole Kinetoscope in Paris. Auguste reported the device and its functions to the family, and they quickly went to work on ways to improve the instrument. The brothers identified the two main problems with Edison’s Kinetoscope as its bulk and the issue of only one viewer being able to observe the scene at a time. Solving the problems Edison encountered, the brothers invented the cinématographe, a device combining the camera with a printer and projection as well as the function to produce intermittent movement in order to display motion pictures for an audience. The device was lightweight, operated by a hand crank, and available for multiple viewers to watch at one time. The cinématographe was patented in February of 1895 and a month later, they screened their first short film, La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lemiére, which depicted workers leaving a factory and was considered the first motion picture.
In the following years, the brothers began creating more motion pictures and patented several film processes, including film perforations, which served as a means for advancing film through the projector and by the 1890s, Lumiére and Sons was the second leading photographic company in the world (Eastman Kodak was the first). During 1896, they created more than 40 films that significantly influenced pop culture, including the documentation of common French life, comedy shorts, the first newsreel, and the first documentaries. In addition to their films, they also trained a team of cameramen to travel around the world to show their films and capture new material. They opened cinématographe theaters in London, Brussels, Belgium, and New York and their film catalogs continued to grow, reaching over 2,000 films in the 1900s.
After all of their film development and success, the brothers decided to return their focus to photography, as they believed “the cinema is an invention without any future”. By 1907, they produced the first practical color photography process, known as the “Autochrome Lumiere”. The Lumiére Company continued to be a major supplier of photographic products throughout Europe during the 20th century. Following their photographic inventions and productions, Louis focused his interest in stereoscopy, or 3-D imaging, and stereoscopic films throughout the 1930s, while Auguste focused on medical research including studies on tuberculosis and cancer. After leading lives filled with radical inventions and accomplishments, Louis passed away on June 6, 1948, and Auguste followed on April 10, 1954. Today the Musee Lumiere at the Institut Lumiere, a museum exhibiting the accomplishments of the brothers, is housed on the site of the Lumiére factories in Lyon, France.
Although they were not the first and only inventors to make progress towards motion pictures, the Lumiére brothers’ understanding of the technology and skill needed provided them with the ability to make astounding advances in the cinematography and photography worlds.
Bill Dobbins is a professional photographer, videographer and writer based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited as fine art in two museums, a number of galleries, and he has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Taschen)
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