Thursday, 14 May 2015

mobsters and magic lanterns

Years before Thomas Edison was able to secure the credit of popular memory, an inventor from Metz working in a studio in Leeds by the name of Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince created cinematography in 1888 with the filming of two short outdoor sequences, developed on strips of photographic paper and then projected.

Struggling to win a patent for his suite of devices and techniques, La Prince resolved to undertake a promotional tour in the United States, where competition over proprietary rights was particularly stiff and Le Prince feared losing out on any royalties to the likes of Edison’s Kinetoscope empire—which is tragically exactly what happened though what help or hindrances fate had is pretty mysterious. After a visit home (the pioneering inventor was helped by the wealthy family of a college buddy whose sister he ended up marrying), La Prince made arrangements to begin a series of public demonstrations of his moving pictures in America but vanished without a trace after boarding the express-train from Dijon to Paris, the first leg of his journey. Neither Le Prince nor his luggage was ever seen again, and while there is nothing to suggest foul-play outright, many theorise that the forgotten founder was a casualty of the patent-wars in the early days of photography and film-making. Indeed, Thomas Edison, after Le Prince’s tour never materialised, rather callously claimed that all the missing Le Prince’s ideas were Edison’s own. Le Prince’s widow and son fought desperately to defend his discoveries but their hopes were dashed. La Prince’s son was found dead himself just two years later while duck-hunting on Fire Island in New York. Their name was later vilified by history as more and more come to acknowledge La Prince’s contributions.