"Various Imitation of Natural Phenomena, represented by Moving Pictures"
November 11, 2013 10:26 AM   Subscribe

The Eidophusikon, an early form of motion picture, is a theatrical technology developed by fine art painter and theatrical set designer Philip de Loutherbourg using sound, colored filters, mechanical works, light from newly invented Argand lamps, mirrors and more . It was first exhibited at his home in 1781, featuring five scenes of land and seascape. In recent years, recognition of this as an early chapter in cinema history has prompted several institutions to recreate the experience. Among the most successful is the 2005 storm at sea depicted in Eidophusikon Reimagined by the Australian National University.
posted by Miko (4 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Cool! I've just been reading about Louise Daguerre's Diorama theater, which was a flatter take on the multi-sensory landscape show. It's fun to speculate about an alternate history in which photography and cinema kept progressing along these lines, resulting, perhaps, in massive single theaters crammed with lamps and odor synthesizers and automata of infinite intricacy.

(I've just described Disneyland. Maybe Disney was a Slider from that other dimension?)
posted by Iridic at 11:36 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've just described Disneyland.

Yeah, exactly — the technology of representation here isn't actually dead, it's just a form of spectacle that we no longer see as an obvious part of what a "moving image" is. This is why it strikes me as so weird that the EDM Studio piles on the anachronisms when they describe the "Wreck of the Halsewell" as "simultaneously a disaster movie, newsreel, multi-media experience and experiment in virtual reality": it was not any of those things at the time. To view it only as a forerunner, embedded in an undifferentiated pile of later media history, just obscures what makes it so interesting, which is precisely what makes it not fit into those categories. There's a weird flattening of the idea of the image attendant on the development of photography — and just think how differently we'd conceptualize images if we lived in an Eidophusikon-centric world. Images would not be flat planes with perspective and focus arranged around the single viewing eye or the single lens; they'd be conglomerations of moving parts, assemblages yoked together by complicated mechanisms.
posted by RogerB at 1:16 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a weird flattening of the idea of the image attendant on the development of photography...

Interesting point. Two-dimensional representation isn't natural or inevitable: the Greeks honored their sculptors and painters equally, Michelangelo loved the chisel better than the brush, Leonardo spent much of his time on masques and automata, and linear perspective is a convention with well-reasoned alternatives. But then along came print, photography, cinema, computer screens...economics and technology constrict our possibilities, and then our conceptions.

But 3D film has made a kinda-sorta comeback; maybe 3D printing and augmented reality could spark an Eidophusikonic renaissance?
posted by Iridic at 2:08 PM on November 11, 2013

Images would not be flat planes with perspective and focus arranged around the single viewing eye

I'd say that painting began that 2D trajectory long before photography, so we would have it anyway and already had by this time (I read elsewhere that de Loutherbourg's goal was to do something even more visceral than painting, of which he was a master) but your points are good ones. I personally find some of these theatrical techniques far more immersive, moving, and magical than just ever-increasing fealty to the visually precise.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on November 11, 2013

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