Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Last part of the journey includes a fast train (Europe has fast trains that make you mad that stimulus money isn’t being spent to really upgrade the trains in America).

I arrive in Stuttgart to be met by my friend, and web site designer, Georg Fuesslin. We spend a couple of days looking at his collection, and going to two book fairs. Lots to see, much of it ridiculously overpriced, but luckily a couple of finds. One find was a 1881 print of Peppers Ghost (a ghost projection used by magicians and lantern showman based first demonstrated by Professor Henry Pepper at London’s Royal Polytechnic.)

More important than what I found is what I overlooked. Collectors are anxious to rush around fairs trying to find something, something either special or underpriced, or best both. When you walk a fair with another collector you need to have an understanding in case you both see an item. For me it has always been who ever sees it first gets first chance at it. The night before the fair Georg and I talked about a lot of things and one of them was a rare print from 1720 of a dwarf with a peepshow on his back. I have been looking for the print for twenty years.

The fair opened and there was a mad dash by the throng of people to get started. I didn’t want to lose Georg but I was ahead of him and paused at the first table scanning the room. He came up behind me, and said looking over my shoulder, did you see that pile, pointing to a pile of dwarf prints in front of me. And yes, buried in that pile was the very print I have been looking for, and now that the print belongs to Georg, I will have to keep looking .

Oh well, still quite a week.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Off to Paris. Main event is a visit to the Cinémathèque française and a meeting with its director of the collection, Laurent Mannoni. Mannoni is a prolific writer and although he now sees one of his earliest efforts, the book , The Great Art of Light and Shadow as “containing some mistakes”, it is an excellent book for anyone interested in the history of pre-cinema.

Mannoni surprises me after a lovely lunch by inviting me back to see his office. His office is a series of desks in the midst of the storerooms that contain much of the Cinematheque’s collection that is not currently exhibited. He asks whether I would like to look around. Would I? Yes, but I have no time, other meetings. Still, he is kind enough to say we can organize a longer visit some other time. I rearrange some things for the following day and ask if I could spend a couple of hours taking a look.

And it is a great two hours I spend, looking at some of the remarkable material they have. Mannoni seems surprised by how excited I am, saying all this material is contained in their catalogue. It is, but it is different to see an image of the material and to hold the material. Yet again l am reminded of the limitations of my website. It is one reason I keep adding animation. If you can’t touch the material at least you can experience the power of the animation moment.

One day of wandering around the Marais, the Luxembourg Gardens and visiting dealers and book stores. Not much to find but I did pick up one nice little print.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Just landed at Heathrow. Like old times. Grey cold skies, threatening rain but all is well. It’s a long way in to central London from Heathrow, even longer from terminal 5. I’m on my way to the AGM of the Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain. The meeting is held in a building tucked away in a small side street near Euston Station. We are meeting in the headquarters of the Magic Circle, the magician’s society of Great Britain. It is a wonderful building. There are magic posters running up and down the stairs. Our meeting is held mostly in the auditorium.

I have known many of the people in attendance for thirty years and they share my passion for collecting magic lanterns. The highlight of the day was a talk on Etienne Robertson and his Phantasmagoria show. Robertson was a great showman who not only projected images, but also employed a bag full of magic tricks to create the atmosphere of anxiety and fear which heightened the show’s power. After the talk we were treated to the projection of a number of phantasmagoria slides. If you want to learn more about Roberstson and the phantasmagoria you can read Mervyn Heard’s excellent book, Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern or you can visit the web site Early Visual Media and see some original phantasmagoria material.

Another treat of the meeting were the sales/trade tables. One of the nice things I came away with was this Japanese illustration of two peepshows.

click thumbnail to see the whole piece

We also got to see some friends and go to a great jazz club, Club 606. Tucked away in the basement on Lots Road (near the Chelsea Harbour Hotel), this club offers wonderful music and decent food.