Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Magic Lantern Convention

On May 20-23 the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada held its bi-annual convention in Bloomington at Indiana University. The theme for the convention was the magic lantern and Victorian culture. It was a wonderful meeting full of shows and discussions. The first day began with one of the most intriguing discussions: digitization of lantern material. For some, digitization is primarily a way to share material held in private and public collections in an increasingly web-based society. Digitization will allow for the online study of primary material. It also provides showmen and artists the opportunity to use material to either recreate Victorian entertainment or to adapt material to new forms of visual entertainment.

The papers ranged from a discussion of the use of the magic lantern by missionaries to trying to track the location (and current use) of a series of nineteenth century English pubs illustrated with lantern slides. We learned about the work of two American showmen who toured the country with panoramas and the career of late 19th century lanternist, George Reed Cromwell, billed by the presenter as, “America’s most famous forgotten Magic Lantern lecturer”.

There were practical talks like what is required to put on a lantern show, and new links established, for example, between the magic lantern and moveable books. There was a terrific exhibit of lantern material at the Lilly Library. There were also a number of lantern shows. For me the highlight of the gathering was a rollicking variety show staged in one of downtown Bloomington’s theatres. More than 500 people attended, and were treated to a series of eight eight-minute shows.

There was singing, the reenactment of the Serpetine Dance with lantern light effects, slides from America’s most famous lantern artist, Joseph Boggs Beale, a showing of La Lanterne Magique, an early movie by Georges Melies , and temperance slides warning of the evils of drink. It was a delightful way to introduce people to different forms of Victorian visual entertainment.

The event made me think I should again put the link to The Magic Lantern Society for those who might be curious, to learn more and possibly join the society:


I also thought it would be a good time to put some more of my magic lantern material on my site. I am going to upload in the flash galleries some examples of dissolving slides- a technique first introduced in 1839 by Henry Langdon Childe at the Royal Polytechnic in London and used by lanternists for the rest of the century. Dissolves (fades) would be a technique later employed by filmmakers.

I am also going to put up a selection of additional slides used in the lantern. I hope you will enjoy them.