1800 – 1920 12 decades

Paul Philipdor + Etienne-Gaspard Robert: Phantasmagoria 1801


Inspiritorium sample: Each graphic/audio-visual plaque in Inspiritorium integrates where possible a portrait of the inventor/artist/author, and a brief description of what it is, and why it is important. The main text (between plaques) provides commentary, context and opinion…

We start our chronofile of media-art innovations with a form of theatrical audio-visual presentation that invited the audience to immerse themselves in a suspension of disbelief less cerebral than a dramatic play or opera – much more visceral in fact – Etienne-Gaspard Robert boasted that he wanted to really frighten his audience. The Phantasmagoria perhaps had more in common with a modern theme-ride than a conventional theatrical experience. Right at the beginning of the 19th century then, we have the first modern iteration of a theme that artists will turn to again and again over the next 200 years – the idea of a multi-media, immersive art form that evoked a primitive, collaborative, participation in an experience that was quasi-religeous, exhortative, physical and transporting. In recent times we have had Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, the Living Theatre, the  Happening, the ‘Technicolor Dream’, the Pop Festival, the Rave, – often an amalgum of media forms related to the same kind of religeous-mystical experience that was once the preserve of orthodox and occult religeon.

See Marina Warner: Phantasmagoria (2012)
Emily Edwards: Metaphysical Media – The Occult Experience in Popular Culture (2005)

Thomas Wedgwood: Copying Paintings upon Glass 1802


The transformative promise of photography emerges from the late 18th century experiments of Wedgwood, but the desire to somehow capture the illusive mirror-image or pin-hole projection goes back to antiquity (Plato’s Allegory of the Cave). It is not surprising that the scientific method allied to the entrepreneurial experimentation that characterises the first Industrial Revolution should begin to resolve this issue during this period. There is a kind of resolution or materialisation of magic embodied in this activity – of the sciences of optics and chemistry wrenching the secrets of magic from antiquity – that punctuates the invention of modern media in the 19th century – the invention of photography,  the  action-at-a-distance of the electric telegraph and the telephone, the magic of the movies… Photography was to become the most catalytic medium of the century, transforming our idea of ourselves and others, providing a new range of personal mementos, a new way of communicating who we are, and of course a new way of recording, classifying and identifying us to the State and to each other…

Richard Buckley Litchfield: Tom Wedgwood, the First PhotographerAn Account of His Life, His Discovery and His Friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Including the Letters of Coleridge to the Wedgwoods and an Examination of Accounts of Alleged Earlier Photographic Discoveries 1903 (reprint by Forgotten Books 2015)

Utamaro Kitigawa: Laughing Tippler Volume 3 1803


Colour printing originated in 17th century China, where the art of wood-block printing had been practised since at least 1346 (the earliest two-colour woodblock print). The woodblock technique typically meant cutting a master block for the black elements of the print, then cutting separate blocks for overlay colours that were printed in precise register. This form reached its height in 17th century China. When they began to infiltrate into Europe in the mid-19th century, the Japanese  Floating World colour prints – mostly reproduced on cheap paper – were perhaps the first multi-coloured popular graphic art in Europe – definitely a step-change from the hand-coloured bill-posts, Saint-cards, and Tarot/Playing cards (woodcuts and engravings) of previous times. The Japanese prints were brightly coloured, mass-printed, popular art, and like the popular art of comics and adverts introduced into Europe by US soldiers in the 1940s, had a profound effect on the visual culture of the time. It was the radically different perspectives and depiction of space, as well as the sublime colour, that impacted most.

This print by Utamaro (part of the Laughing Tippler series) only just hints at the eroticism of others in the set. The exceptionally beautiful quasi-isometric perspective, the disposition of objects in space, the fine curvilinearity of his figure drawing, the rich colour inks, the sense of the theatre of the Floating World – all these aspects influenced and inspired European artists.

See also

Gina Collia-Suzuki: The Complete Woodblock Prints of Kitagawa Utamaro: A Descriptive Catalogue (2009)
Tadashi Kobayashi: Utamaro: Portraits from the Floating World (1995)
Centre Culturel du Marais: Hokusai et son Temps (1981)
Jack Hillier: Utamaro – Colour Prints and Paintings 1961

William Blake: Jerusalem – The Emanation of the Giant Albion 1804


Blake called his hand-coloured, relief-etched books ‘illuminated books’ or ‘illuminated printing’ in direct reference to the Medieval  illuminated manuscripts that inspired him.In commercial printing at this time images and type-set text could only be integrated on the page by means of relief plates – woodcuts, wood or metal engravings that are mounted ‘type-high’ so that they could be  assembled with the metal type and printed together. This was fine for formal layouts – clearly separated text and image areas, but would not suffice to reproduce Blake’s intricately intermingled images, decorations, and calligraphic texts – his expressive visual poems. So Blake invented the medium of relief etching, which allowed for his own hand-colouring, much as 21st century designers use a multiplicity of imaging and graphic tools (like the Adobe Creative Suite) to make a composite graphic or video. The spiritual essence of Blake’s illuminated books is of course the glue that binds the synaesthetic meaning of picture, decoration, calligraphy, ideas and imagery together in a composite whole. A century later than Blake, the Futurists and Dadaists use photomontage and half-tone reprographics to integrate images, text, and graphics together. Later in the 20th century advertisers co-opt these methods to create iconic commercial images combining photography+text+hand-drawn lettering+ illustration…

Philip Meggs: Megg’s History of Graphic Design 2011

Benjamin West : Improved Camera Obscura 1819 + William Hyde Wollaston: Camera Lucida 1807


Coincident with the emergence of the art-science of photography is the modernisation of some archaic optical tools – drawing aids – like the camera obscura (pinhole camera), and the development of new tools like Wollaston’s Camera Lucida – a pocket-size prismatic device that artists could use to check the precision of their drawing. The idea of a personal aide to capture aspects of visual reality (starting with the humble pencil and paper) of course eventually resulted in the development of Kodak’s Brownie Box Camera by 1900, the Leica and other 35mm cameras by the 1930s, digital camcorders like the Flip (2007) and of course the ubiquitous camera-equipped smart-phones that we use now. Projecting forward, we must assume that soon we will all have numerous minuscule wearable pin-head cameras, tracking and recording reality in 2d – and in 3d and across the electromagnetic spectrum. Making movies and other art-works with these kind of resources will be the challenge of the next few decades.

David Hockney: Secret Knowledge Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters 2006

Wilhelm and Johann Grimm: Grimm’s Fairy Tales 1812-1857


The idea that our primordial narrative culture – our myths, folk stories, legends, and ancient poems – survived in oral traditions well into the 20th century was appraised by several authors in the last 100 years or so – the keynote ones for me being Vladimir Propp: The Morphology of the Folk Tale (1928); Robert Graves: The White Goddess (1948); and Albert Lord in his important The Singer of Tales (1960), on the more general survival of myth and religion, the best collection is by the mythographer Joseph Campbell in his tetralogy The Masks of God (from 1962). It was Albert Lord who followed Milman Parry’s journeys in Yugoslavia in the 1930s, recording poets who still recited (and reformulated) the ancient verses according to what Parry called the Oral Formulaic Hypothesis – essentially that the transliterations (the written forms of ancient oral verse) took only one ‘snapshot’ of the surviving original, and that each time these stories and verses were reiterated, the living poet transformed them by means of not just oral performance, but oral composition too.

Back in the 19th century, if you count the impact of Thomas Malory’s collection of Arthurian lore and legend (Le Morte d’Arthur constantly reprinted from 1485), and Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Victorian Fairy Painters, and the success of Grimm’s and Anderson’s collected fairy stories, and on to the 20th century remediation of European folk tales into highly successful animations by Disney, and Stan Lee’s remediation of Myth – and invention of new myth – for Marvel Comics and films,  it seems that our primordial narrative culture is still alive and well, and essentially follows the Lord-Parry hypothesis of continual re-intepretation and remediation.

see also:

Marina Warner: Once Upon A Time – a Short History of Fairy-Tale 2014
James George Frazer: The Illustrated Golden Bough 1996
J.R.R. Tolkien: On Fairy-Stories 1947
Jay David Bolter: Remediation 1999
Christopher Booker: The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories 2004
Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey from The Hero with a Thousand Faces 1949

David Brewster: Kaleidoscope 1816


Brewster was an early example of a polymathic researcher/engineer/entrepreneur. And like his contemporaries, Davey, Daguerre and Wedgwood, Brewster was a product of the wonderful intellectual ‘gene pool’ of this period of the post-Napoleonic Industrial Revolution. This cultural ferment was visible in the wholly interdisciplinary mix of the Salon – where guests might be artists, writers, scientists, engineers, dandies, wits, industrialists – whoever might contribute to the lively discourse. A hundred and fifty years later CP Snow would bemoan the ‘Two Cultures’ (of science and the humanities) that appeared to be permanently separated:

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?  I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.” (CP Snow: The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (in New Scientist 1956)

But in the early 19th century, this just wasn’t the case – their was no intellectual-literary snobbery or elitism bifurcating cultural society. In fact polite society still echoed the mix established by the Royal Society of Arts (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, founded in 1660), and encouraged the healthy inter-disciplinary discourse of this time. Take the pioneer creative photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whose mid-century salon guests included Charles Dodgson (photographer and author of Alice in Wonderland), the poet (and later Laureate) Alfred Tennyson, the comic writer Edward Lear, the scientist Sir John Herschel – a polymath, who also coined the words photography and snap-shot, and invented the cyanotype process – the famous artist G.F. Watts, the actress and feminist Ellen Terry, and the Pre-Raphaelite painter Marie Spartali.

The writer and researcher Scott Bukatman in Matters of Gravity (2003) roots the Western developing taste for spectacle in the late 18th and early 19th centuries – in the Phantasmagoria, the Diorama and Panorama – and in the huge popular craze following the invention of the Kaleidoscope: “What links these episodes, attractions, and genres is a phenomenological excess that alludes the reality beyond the ordinary – ‘a world of endless, enchanting metamorphosis’…” (Bukatman: Matters of Gravity 2003, p119). Several researchers (Bukatman, Scharf, Gunning, Meggs) would add that the splintering of vision, the glorious coloured patterns and symmetries produced by a shake of the kaleidoscope – and of course the huge commercial potential of adult ‘toys’ like this not only kick-started a string of other optical toys – the thaumatrope, the Anorthoscope, Stereoscope, Anaglyphic 3d, the Flip-book, the Grimatiscope, the Zoopraxiscope, the Mutoscope and Kinetoscope, etc – but psychologically and cognitively prepared us for the dissection of movement by Muybridge and Marey, the perspectival revolutions of Cubism, Fauvism, and Abstraction, and for the invention and instant success of the cinematic image from the 1890s onwards.

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein 1818


Wollstonecraft Shelley is one of the great ‘content creators’ of the 19th century. Her inspired invention of Frankenstein and his creature ranks alongside Conan Doyle’s invention of Sherlock Holmes, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and Long John Silver, Thackeray’s Becky Sharp, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Kipling’s Mowgli – and so on. Mary Shelley is the first to grapple with vitalism and the idea of surgically experimenting with the creation of life – a notion further explored by H.G. Wells in his terrifying The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) – and a topic we are currently scientifically exploring since Crick and Watson’s analytic study of DNA in the 1950s. The ideas of cloning, of splicing genes, of the creation of hybrid creatures emerges during the same period (1950s) that Turing is suggesting the idea of intelligent machines or ‘artificial intelligence’. And since then, the idea of mankind developing an ultra-intelligent, self replicating and self-modifying machine has fuelled both philosophical and science-fictional speculation, from Kurzweil and Vinge’s Technological Singularity to Cameron’s Terminator, and from Hans Moravec (Mind Children 1988) to the Wachowsky’s Matrix, and has grown hand-in-hand with the tools for creating what Steven Levy calls Artificial Life – it’s getting interesting…

Percy Byshe Shelley: The Masque of Anarchy – Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester + England in 1819 + George Cruikshank: The Peterloo Massacre 1819


Thomas de Quincey: Confessions of an English Opium Eater 1821


The writings of de Quincey were re-discovered by my generation in the (you guessed!)  1960s, when we read Huxley’s Doors of Perception (1954 – Huxley’s exploration of hallucinogenic drugs), Claude Farrere’s Black Opium (1931 – a wonderful collection of opium-vision stories), and of course, the writings of William S. Burroughs (Junky 1953) and Tim Leary. Books, and reviews and excerpts from these and other seminal volumes – such as Huysmans’ A Rebours (1884), Crowley’s The Book of the Law (1904), Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (1949)  and Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Grey (1890) seemed to feature regularly  in my own reading and in the counter culture periodicals  OZ and IT. This of course coincided with our own explorations of marijuana, hashish, nitrous oxide and ampthetamine sulphate (etc), providing the intellectual and literary context for this activity. Much of this reading, perhaps especially of Ouspensky, seemed to go hand-in-hand with the discovery of the graphic works of Mauritz Escher, the contemporary art of Abdul Mati Klarwein (cf the cover art for Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (1970), and other exciting stuff that lay outside the canon of Modernist art history (as then conceived).

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre: Diorama 1822


First the Phantasmagoria, then the Panorama and Diorama, and on to Reynaud’s Theatre Optique (1887), and the wrap-around audio-visual experiments of the 1900 Paris Exposition (the Photorama, Cineorama, Mare-orama etc) – the 19th century sees the emergence of immersive, multimedia, large-audience art forms that attempt to evince a synaesthetic effect. Richard Wagner attempts to formulate this aspiration in his Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (Artwork of the Future) paper of 1849 and of course to materialise the idea of the gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) in his grand opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876). But it falls to Daguerre to invent a new commercial model for his Dioramas – a chain of Diorama theatres in cities throughout Europe and the USA – circular buildings with a large 360-degree internal hall the walls of which could be hung with canvas panoramas (paintings). These paintings provided the backdrop for each diorama, and after the performances, the canvases were rolled up and transported to another Diorama Theatre in another city – just like Movies were distributed in the 20th century.

Juliet Hacking (ed): The Experimental Period  1826-55 from  Photography  The Whole Story 2012


Edward Calvert: The Cyder Feast (1828) + Bacchante 1825




Edward Calvert: The Primitive City 1822 – The same subject, even more mythic in watercolour…



Laurence Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman 1832 (George Cruikshank illustrated edition)

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Among the wealth of fictional characters invented by novelists in the 19th century (see Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 1818), the 1832 republication of Laurence Sterne’s famous novel (originally published 1759-1767) reminds us that novelists can truly be novel and invent new forms of fiction too. This doesn’t happen very often – content is usually king – but an interest in concrete poetry and other typographic-mixed media experiments led me to assemble some of them in this chronofile of inspirational media. The formal experiments include examples from the work of Lewis Carroll (mouses tail typographic illustration in Alice in Wonderland (1856), Guillaume Apollinaire (Calligrams 1918), John Heartfield Optophonetic Poetry, Christian Morgenstern’s Fisches Nachtgesang (1920), James Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake (1939), De Campo’s Concrete poetry (1950s-60s), novels by Kathy Acker and Alfred Bester (1960s), and the artist’s books that characterise the second half of last century – such as Tom Philips’ brilliant A Humument (1970), and of course the imagined impossible books of Jorge Luiz Borges (Labyrinths 1962), and the wave of graphic novels in the last thirty years – from Art Speigelman’s Maus (1984) to Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986) and V for Vendetta (2005). Finally the new hypertext creative writing documented by Katherine Hayles in her Writing Machines (2002)…

Various Publishers: The Penny Dreadfuls (from 1830)


Publishing changed through the 19th century – from almost exclusively serious high-brow works (Gibbons, Carlisle, Walter Scott etc) and novels as literary art intended for the middle and upper-middle classes (Austin, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens etc) – to a vast new publishing industry catering for the newly literate – largely the working classes and lower-middle classes in Britain’s still strictly segmented but rapidly growing population. The reasons for this include  increasing literacy (national education acts, education for younger children, increased leisure time, railway and tram-car commuting times, the steam-powered letterpresses, cheap woodpulp paper (giving rise to pulp fiction around the turn of the century, and the yellow press), etc.  The content of these ‘dreadfuls’ were sensationalist, serialised versions of adventure classics, re-written versions of Gothic horror stories, detective and crime fiction, popularised versions of adventure classics like The Three Musketeers, and a range of freshly written stories originated just for this new marketplace: tales of highwaymen, pirates, smugglers, cowboys, explorers, deep-sea divers, frontiersmen, gold-prospectors, cat-burglars, and of course vampires, zombies and other fantasia. Popular culture was being invented as early as the 1830s …


Rosalind Crone: Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in 19th century London 2012

Katsushika Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa (from Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji c1831)


The impact of work by Hokusai, and his other talented artist-contemporaries, must have been spectacular. Artists including Van Gogh, Gauguin, James McNeill Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley and many others avidly collected these ‘cheap and cheerful’ prints (often they were used for wrapping precious ceramics) – often the first Japanese art they had seen. They had an equally spectacular effect on how western artists began to perceive space and the two-dimensionality of the canvas or paper they were creating upon. And conversely, the impact of western art (especially vanishing-point perspective) on Japan can be seen in this Mount Fuji series – the mountain is seen, diminished in perspective, in the centre of this composition, its solidity and stability contrasted with the wildly breaking waves almost engulfing the two light double-ender fish-delivery boats in the foreground.

““From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”  (Hokusai Katsushika)

Simon von Stampfer: Stroboscope (aka Stampfer Disc, Zoetrope, etc) 1832

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The graphic design historian Philip Meggs describes the importance of entertaining artefacts like this: “Playing cards were the first printed pieces to move into an illiterate culture, making them the earliest manifestation of print’s democratising ability. The games of kings could now become the games of peasants and craftsmen. Because these cards introduced the masses to symbol recognition, sequencing, and logical deduction, their intrinsic value transcended idle entertainment.” (Meggs: Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (1983 p65). Toys like the Stroboscope therefor were a gentle introduction to the mysteries of moving pictures, and to the idea – the empowerment – of having motion-picture technologies in the home for our private entertainment. This powerful idea eventually drove the adoption of the Magic Lantern (mass produced from 1880s), stereo slides (from 1838), the Diableries (1861), Remington’s Colour Organ (1911), Thomas Wilfred’s Clavilux (1921), development of 8mm home movie equipment (1932), the television (from 1936), home video systems (from 1975), and of course the iPad, digital projectors and the OLED screens of today. The still-increasing miniaturisation and personalisation of motion-picture technology might conceivably result in very very personal movie technology like augmented-reality monoscopic displays, or even virtual retinal displays – that project a raster image directly onto the retina in our eyes – or (as in The Matrix) direct cranial implants into our central nervous system.

Stuart Moss: The Entertainment Industry An Introduction 2009

Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau: Phenakistoscope + Anorthoscopic Discs 1832


While there is a logical interpretation of the Phenakistoscope disc on the left above (you can see the progressive drawings of a harlequin dancing), look at the central four images above – these are typical examples of Plateau’s ingenious Anorthoscopic Discs – apparently purely abstract patterns that when spun in the right conditions, reconstitute a recognisable image.

The Anorthoscope depends upon two conditions – the patterned disc is spun counter-clockwise in Plateau’s brass Phenakistoscope viewer, and a second, slotted disc is mounted over it spinning clockwise. Amazingly this produces a reconstituted image in the viewer. For detailed explanations and simulations of this Anorthoscope effect, see Plateau’s entry at the Museum for the History of Sciences, Ghent at http://www.mhsgent.ugent.be/engl-plat4.html

Stuart Moss: The Entertainment Industry An Introduction 2009

Charles Dickens: The Pickwick Papers 1836 Dickens_Pickwick_1836_c

The advantages of content serialisation, firmly established by writers like Dickens in the 19th century – would be leveraged using the new media of the 20th century – the radio, the cinema, the television – and yes, the Web. The sensational success of the Penny Dreadful novella of the 1830s (1 penny a time), Dickens own successful serial novels, Alexandre Dumas’ serials of The Count of Monte Cristo; film serials like Feuillade’s Fantomas, Les Vampires and Judex, radio serials like the BBC’s Dick Barton-Special Agent (1946-51); and MGM’s Doctor Kildare (film series from 1938, radio from 1938, television from 1953). On the web, numerous serialisations in the Victorian style have emerged as electronic publishing exploded in the last decade or so. Recently we have seen several experiments on networked media in serialisation, pay per installment and serial payments for fictional content and other publishing models. In the IOS and Android /ebook world, in-app purchases support serialisation of content. The potential of these new digital publishing tools is obvious, and the hybridisation of interactive fiction, hypertext-fiction, webnovels (etc) with e-books and other media continues to explore the likely amorphous territory of 21st century publishing – a vision we first glimpsed in the early 1990s with Voyager’s Expanded Books (Bob Stein 1991).

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre: Daguerreotype 1938


Although the Daguerreotype was ultimately an historical cul-de-sac, it was the technology that introduced photography to the world, and it was a highly successful artistic medium – as works by Camille Silvy, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, Antoine François Jean Claudet and Daguerre himself indicate. Unlike the paper-reproduction model of Fox Talbot’s Calotype, the Daguerreotype was a precious, silvery one-off – a photograph as a jewel embodied upon a shiny, tiny,  metal plate, and importantly in the very early days of photography, it produced a very sharp, crystalline image. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out in Understanding Media, when a medium is superseded by innovation, the older medium becomes an art form. So for most of the 19th and into the 20th century, the daguerreotype is another of the older forms of photography, (like the cyanotype, tintype, silver-print, carbon-print, etc) that has become a medium favoured by craft-artist-experimenters entranced with the intrinsic qualities of this medium.

William Henry Fox Talbot: Calotype Photogenic Drawing 1839


So Fox Talbot’s process, significantly improved by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, became the dominant photographic medium until the invention of film-substrates and ready-packaged roll-film in the 1890s (the famous Kodak box (from 1888) and Brownie cameras (from 1900). Like the Daguerreotype and other earlier, now superseded, forms of photography the calotype principle, embodied in the wet-collodion process is now the preserve of art-photographers and enthusiasts. And as the first modern mass medium, the Daguerreotype has set a precedent of redundancy that has been followed by many more ‘new media’ since then. In 1995, the sci-fi author and cyberpunk chronicler Bruce Sterling proposed a Dead Media Handbook, which would be about “the failures, collapses and hideous mistakes of media” – his idea was taken up by Tom Jennings in http://www.deadmedia.org a short-lived web archive. The essential point here is that in our era of rapid technological change, we can no longer expect a stable, long-lasting media-platform (such as 35mm movie film – lasting nearly a century) and content-makers and publishers must design for continuous change.This is what makes our role so interesting and exciting…it combines technological and aesthetic innovation – seeking the magic of mixed media fusion in both form and content.


Roger Watson + Helen Rapaport: Capturing the Light – A True Story of Genius, Rivalry and the Birth of Photography 2013
Randall Webb and Martin Reed: Spirits of Salts – A Working Guide to Old Photographic Processes 1999

John Benjamin Dancer: Microphotography 1839


J.B. Dancer could not have fully appreciated the fact that he had invented an information-compression schema that would have great ramifications in the 20th century, and just before and just after the invention of digital computing (with its promise of arithmetic compression) micro-film became for a while the dominant information storage medium of the time. From the early days of 20th century, through to the 1930s and 1940s, European and American information-scientists used microfilm in both practical and theoretical models of the future of information-storage, world-libraries, a global university (cf Vannevar Bush and microfilm-readers for Kodak, Paul Otlet and his Mundunaeum idea, H.G. Wells and his World Brain proposals (all in the 1920s – 1930s). Indeed microfilm and microfiche were still in wide use in archives, automobile-spares suppliers, libraries, newspaper publishers, and museums well into the 1970s.

Edgar Allen Poe: The Murders in the Rue Morgue 1841


The huge surge of literacy that characterises the 19th century catalysed an entirely new publishing phenomenon – responding to rapidly growing markets in the ‘lower middle’ and ‘working’ classes – a stratum of society in the UK previously not considered as a viable market for literature. And of course the literature itself changed and fragmented into a variety of forms and content genres to address this new ‘mass’ market. Crime fiction grew to become – in the 1920s and 1930s, possibly the largest literary genre, but others – like the Western, Science Fiction, Adventure, Horror, Romance and Period Dramas – emerged over this same period, and as Jay David Bolter and others have pointed out, were adopted and remediated through the newly emerging mass media of the 20th century – the radio, the comics, animated cartoons, magazines, television and film. So, beginning with the penny dreadfuls and dime novels of the mid-19th century, we move on to the pulp fiction boom, lasting well into the second half of the 20th century. Alongside content remediation and genre innovation, came the innovations – and remediations – of formal structures – of how the content is published. Rue Morgue’s detective, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, began a process that was developed by Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and a huge wave of 20th century crime-fiction writers.

see: Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin: Remediation- Understanding New Media 1999

Franz Xavier Winterhalter: Queen Victoria and the Duchess de Nemours 1843


While many historians and critics have commented on the impact of photography on the art of portraiture – not least the threat perceived by jobbing portrait artists whose painterly skills could not match the verisimilitude of the daguerreotype or wet-collodion print – portraitists of the calibre of Winterhalter (and later, John Singer Sergeant, Jacques-Émile Blanche, James Tissot etc) not only survived photography, but excelled in their subtle stylisations and embellishments on nature. Although not a portraitist, in his paintings that incorporate Jane Burden/Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rosetti illustrates the difference between the mundane photographic recording and the painting infiltrated with a loving eye. Later, in the Belle Epoque (c1890-1910) portrait artists like the society favourite Giovanni Baldini became exagerratedly expressionist or rather mannerist in style, just as the pictorialist photographers of the Photo Secession group and other contemporaries were discovering the number of ways that photographs could be manipulated after exposure (in ‘post-production’ as it were) – see Robert Demachy, Frank Eugene, Gertrude Kasebier et al. As McLuhan observed, new media alter the extant media environment – changing the overall media ecology as it were – cross-fertilising techniques and ideas…

Gustave Dehme: Three Girls 1843 + Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre: François Jules Collignon 1843


Charles Babbage: The Difference Engine + The Analytical Engine 1833 – 1837


Although Babbage’s technology had no direct influence on the electro-mechanical, electronic and digital computer technology of the 20th century, the fact that he had envisioned the usefulness of sophisticated calculators (and later, programmable machines like the Analytical Engine), that he had invented a ‘stored program’ mechanism – the punch-card, and foresaw (with Lovelace) the importance of meticulous algorithmic programming (software), meant he had an approximate working model of the future – of the importance of computation to a nation whose success lay in colonisation, trade and therefor navigation, charts, navigation tables – information for successful mercantile and naval operations. The irony is that his machines relied upon a level of manufacturing precision that was only to be obtained by the applicability of computation to machine tools…

see: Ada Lovelace at computerhistory.org
Jon Palfreman + Doron Swade: The Dream Machine: Exploring the Computer Age 1993

Samuel Morse + Charles Wheatstone: Morse Code + Electric Telegraph (1836-47)


Thus began the building of Britain’s central nervous system – the electronic messaging service that at last replaced the mechanical semaphores and beacon-fires of yore with a high-speed network of electric pulses. Wheatstone’s pulse-code translated as analogs of the alphabet; Morse’s system was a code relatively simple to learn – you handed your message written in block capitals to the telegraphist and he tapped away, converting your alphabetical message into the dots and dashes of Morse Code. By 1879, with the first telephone exchange, voice telephony was gradually added to telegraphy, and by the end of the century the first wireless telegraphy messaging experiments began.

Ada, Countess Lovelace: The First Program 1843


What is intriguing about Ada Lovelace is her poetical appreciation of the possibilities she glimpsed for the Analytical Engine: “[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, where objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine… Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” The contemporary writer Walter Isaacson describes: ““When she saw some mechanical looms that used punchcards to direct the weaving of beautiful patterns, it reminded her of how Babbage’s engine used punched cards to make calculations.”. Babbage had borrowed the idea of punch-cards from Joseph Marie Jacquard, whose textile loom of 1801 used large cards punched with holes to control the mechanised weaving of complex patterns. Furthermore these cards could be strung together to create different patterns or parts of patterns on every row in the fabric. Developing the Analytical Engine, Babbage and Lovelace realised the idea of a ‘stored’ program .

A remarkable pre-Modern woman, Lovelace is celebrated as the first computer-programmer, and thus as the patron saint of hackers, coders, scriptors, developers – and all those who work in digital media, who are tinkering and inventing in that fusion of narrative, computation, 3d-modelling, simulation, image, sound and motion where everything consists of binaries. Coming from an artist’s education, I was late in discovering the joy of telling a machine what to do (watching my mate Chris Brisco programming a PDP-11 in the basement at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1980s), then discovering the joy of writing code myself in the later 1980s (helping code a hyper-magazine,  High Bandwidth Panning in 1988), the ecstasy of realising how digital media worked and glimpsing at least some of its potential.

This is James Gleick on Ada Lovelace: “She pondered her growing powers of mind. They were not strictly mathematical as she saw it. She saw mathematics as  merely a part of a greater imaginative world. Mathematical transformations reminded her ‘of certain sprites and fairies one reads of, who are at one’s elbow in one shape now, and next minute in a form most dissimilar; and uncommonly deceptive,  troublesome and tantalising are the mathematical sprites and fairies sometimes; like the types I have found for them in the field of fiction.’ Imagination – the cherished quality. She mused on it; it was her legacy from her never-present father.” James Gleick: The Information (2011)p112.

see also:

Jon Palfreman + Doron Swade: The Dream Machine: Exploring the Computer Age 1993
Jean-Luc Chabert + J-C. Martzioff: A History of Algorithms – From the Pebble to the Microchip  2013
James Essinger: Ada’s Algorithm – How Lord Byron’s Daughter AdaLovelace launched the Digital Age 2013

William Henry Fox Talbot: The Pencil of Nature 1844


Of course, illustrated books had been around a long, long time: from Egyptian scrolls with their intricate marriage of heiroglyphs and illustrations to Medieval illuminated manuscripts, through to the invention of print and the combination of wood-cut illustrations and ornament and moveable metal typefaces in the 15th century, but here, with Babbage, we have the latest 19th century imaging technology serving as ready-made image plates to be hand-glued (tipped-in) into a letterpress-printed book. Considering the importance photography was to assume, especially after the invention of the half-tone process, this is a significant publication, and it is entirely appropriate that the writer is really the inventor of modern photography. Talbot was anxious that his readers fully realised the significance of his invention – that you didn’t need to be an artist anymore to make realistic images, portraits and scenes from nature: “The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.” (Talbot: The Pencil of Nature 1846). Now, cameras are ubiquitous and we are so used to having this power in our pocket, that it is hard to understand the stupendous  impact of photography – in both of its early forms – on the psyche of the 1840s. It was the first of the modern new media, and it was coeval with the central medium of recent times – the computer. Indeed Talbot and Babbage knew each other. That the electric telegraph was also invented at this time makes makes it a very significant period in the development of modern media.

see: Roger Watson + Helen Rapaport: Capturing the Light – A True Story of Genius, Rivalry and the Birth of Photography 2013

Joseph Faber: Euphonia – the talking automaton or ‘mechanical synthesiser’ 1846


Faber’s Euphonia was ‘played’ with a piano-style keyboard – much like a music synthesiser – such as the Mogue or the Fairlight CMI – whereas most modern speech synthesisers are driven by text – and in a very interesting way: text to speech engines are built of a front-end system that first normalises the text (coverts the raw text (often containing heteronyms, numbers and abbreviations) into their equivalent of written words; and then assigning phonetic transcriptions or phonemes (using grapheme-to-phoneme conversion), finally this string of information is converted to prosodic units – the phrases, clauses and sentences necessary to make sense of the speech. This prosodic data and  these phonemes are finally converted into appropriate sounds by the back-end using a variety of mathematical techniques, and/or digital dictionaries (containing all words in a language together with their correct pronunciation).

Friedrich Engels + Karl Marx: The Communist Manifesto 1848


The attempt to find practical and sustainable  alternatives to global free-market Capitalism is now of course, even more important than it was in 1848. The world is a finite space and obviously has finite resources. Capitalism depends upon continuous growth, ergo we have to find an alternative economic system, or modify Capitalism to fit these inevitable conditions. In the 1960s, Richard Buckminster Fuller reminded us that while our physical resources were limited, mankind’s intellect was unlimited, and that we could ‘do ever more with ever less’ – citing as an example the invention of the communications satellite – several kilograms of technology, out-performing the several thousand tonnes of the Trans-Atlantic cables. And since the 1960s our awareness of the fragile ecosystem and climate of our small planet has grown in leaps and bounds, reinforced by books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), movements like Friends of the Earth (1969) and Greenpeace (1969), numerous local Green parties. Perhaps some kind of balanced State economics (Keynesian?) with sustainable capitalism ‘doing ever more with ever less’, a Green planetary-management philosophy along the lines of Caroline Lucas: Green Alternatives to Globalisation: A Manifesto (2004). But one thing is clear – we really can’t go on like this.

see also:

Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate 2015

Joseph Paxton: The Crystal Palace 1851


The dominant style of architecture in the early 19th century was neo-Classicism – borrowing the tropes of Imperial power and stability from the classical buildings of Greece and Rome – the geometries of the Golden Section, columns in the classical orders – little surface decoration. The Victorian aesthetes wanted their burgeoning nation – and nascent Empire – to echo the glories of times past. Another emerging style through the mid-century and beyond was to borrow ideas from the Gothic renaissance of the 10th and 11th centuries (the era of great cathedrals), and so we have the hyper-decorated neo-Gothic architecture of Westminster Palace, so applauded by John Ruskin. Both these forms – and the later more elegant Palladian style so beloved by Prince Albert – were backward looking. So despite having a name straight out of Le Morte d’Arthur, Paxton’s beautifully austere Crystal Palace is a radical, forward-looking, conception of what new forms the new materials of industrial cast-iron and plate-glass (and later of course steel and glass) could assume. Paxton became a most unlikely Modernist hero.

Kate Colquhoun: A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton 2009

Anne Atkins: Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions 1853


The discovery – by Herschel, Fox Talbot, Atkins and others, that camera-less photography could be a perfect illustration medium for scientists is really embodied in this early photographic book by Atkins, which consists of letterpress-printed pages with ‘tipped-in’ (glued upon one edge) original cyanotype prints by Atkins, made by arranging her specimens over a sensitised paper, under a glass plate, and exposing to direct sunlight. One of the real inventors of photography, Thomas Wedgwood, had used camera-less techniques to explore the medium in th 1790s. These early  examples, held implications for art too – look at the spate of camera-less art produced in the early 20th century (Man Ray: Rayograms, László Moholy-Nagy, – photograms, etc).

In 1932, Moholy-Nagy wrote: ” The photogram, or camera-less record of forms produced by light, which embodies the unique nature of the photographic process, is the real key to photography. It allows us to capture the patterned interplay of light on a sheet of sensitised paper without recourse to any apparatus. The photogram opens up perspectives of a wholly unknown morphosis governed by optical laws peculiar to itself. It is the most completely dematerialised medium which the new vision commands.

(from  Moholy-Nagy: A New Instrument of Vision (1932) quoted in Martin Barnes: Shadow Catchers – Camera-less Photography 2010)

Gustave Courbet:The Bathers 1853


It was Aaron Scharf’s observation that photography of nude models provided a ‘comprehensive alternative’ to the canon of nude forms embodied in the classical tradition (ie surviving as sculpture, in statues, relief friezes, on ceramics etc). For countless  art students and teachers, this antique canon was embodied in engravings, in plaster-casts and in carefully drawn copies of originals. This was how artists learned their business. Now suddenly there is a new, adaptable, and virtually instant alternative to the antique canon. Photography allowed artists to pose their own real-life models, in whatever stance they needed, and the black and white print itself would transmute the shivering mottled flesh of the model into an image akin to the monochrome alabaster reproductions of the classical. Later in the century entrepreneurial photographers like Louis Jean-Baptiste Igout, would make thousands of nude photographs, and package these as portfolios or catalogues for artists (from around 1870) – and of course for bourgeois voyeurs – to use in their art or peruse for entertainment. Eadweard Muybridge was to produce the same kind of reference works, enhanced by his own serial-temporal sequential images, in the 1880s. By the 20th century, Emile Bayard published his extensive pictorial study ‘Le Nu Esthetique’ in 1903, and the painter Walter Sickert would write his critical essay ‘The Naked and the Nude’ (1910).

see Aaron Scharf: Art and Photography (1974)
Walter Sickert: The Naked and the Nude (1910)
Emile Bayard: Le Nu Esthetique 1903

George Boole: An Investigation into the Laws of Thought (Boolean Logic) 1854


It is uncontroversial to say that George Boole probably had more influence on 20th century computing than Charles Babbage. While Babbage’s steam-driven calculators and his unfinished Analytical Engine are great grist to the Steam-Punk novelists – Gibson and Sterling, proposing in The Difference Engine (1990) their alternative history that Babbage’s computers had become a nation-changing industry, alongside the telegraph, called their imaginary programmers ‘clackers’ because of the noise the Jacquard punch-cards make when they drive the mechanical computers – but Babbage’s innovations weighed little in the development of the electric-powered digital computing that marks the beginning of our digital age in the 1940s. Claude Shannon’s rediscovery and incorporation of Boole’s work however, with his paper The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948) has had a profound and lasting effect on telecommunications and computer science – the very bedrock of our 21st century globally networked world. I first came across Boolean operators in the early paintboxes (like the Spaceward Supernova c1985), and authoring software (like Macromedia Director and Apple’s Hypercard), where Boolean logic underpinned the range of colours and colour mixing-effects (inks)  offered by these digital tools.

Desmond MacHale: The Life and Work of George Boole: A Prelude to the Digital Age 2014
William Gibson + Bruce Sterling: The Difference Engine 1990

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: Cliche Verre prints c1854


Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South 1855


It’s interesting that it takes until the middle of the 19th century for the impact of ultra-rapid industrialisation and its concomitant urbanisation to come to the attention of artists (it was only in 1869 that the artist Gustave Dore and the French journalist Blanchard Jerrold produced their wonderful London A Pilgrimage – an illustrated documentary account of the squalor of the London slums), and not until 1890 that Jacob Riis publishes his photographic essay ‘How the Other Half Lives‘ – the ‘objective’ camera-witness of Riis’s flash photography in the murky multi-tenant brownstones and urban shanty-towns of New York. Of course there are earlier examples of social commentary – the writings of Henry Fielding (especially Amelia (1751), and those of the anarchist William Godwin (Things as They Are 1794) and of Thomas Carlyle. And Benjamin Disraeli write Sybil, or The Two Nations  in 1845 – the year following Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England – this study of the worker’s lives in Manchester (the actual location of Dickens’ fictional Coketown and Gaskell’s fictional Milton). And William Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’ (from Milton, A Poem) was written in 1804.

Louis Alfred Habert + Pierre Adolph Hennetier, + Louis Edmond Cougny (sculptors): Les Diableries stereoscopic pictures 1860s.


What’s interesting to me about the Diableries, is their semi-anonymous, rather covert ‘underground’ nature. They seem to be a precursor of the soft pornography of the Edwardian period ‘filthy postcard’, and their kind of alternative, occult cosmology a precursor to the wave of ‘underground’ anarchistic and idealistic literature that characterised the 1960s – the comics like those of Bob Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, the magazines like OZ and the International Times and the album sleeves and posters of Peter Max, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin, the rediscovery of Alistair Crowley, George Gurdjieff and the Pataphysics of Alfred Jarry. These ideas and publications were anarchically unofficial, subversive, alternative. And so it is with the Diableries, which were published in France from around 1860-1900. The London Stereoscopic Company describes them: “The cards, called ‘Diableries’ (which translates roughly as ‘Devilments’) depict a whole imaginary underworld, populated by devils, satyrs and skeletons which are very much alive and, for the most part, having fun.  The cards are works of art in themselves, and are known as FRENCH TISSUES, constructed in a special way to enable them to be viewed (in a stereoscope) illuminated from the front, for a normal ‘day’ appearance in monochrome, or illuminated from the back, transforming the view into a ‘night’ scene, in which hidden colours magically appear, and the eyes of the skeletons leap out in red, in a most macabre way!”

Many authors have commented upon the lasting appeal of the occult in media content, and the success of Les Diableries seem to confirm that this was certainly true in Paris in the latter half of the 29th century. For more on the Occult and its lasting impact, see Kurt Seligman: Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion (1971); Rollo Ahmed: The Black Art (1936), and Colin Wilson: The Occult (1984).

see Brian May, Paula Richardson + Denis Pellerin: Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell 2013

Benjamin Pollock: Pollock’s Toy Theatres (from 1856)


Not only were these paper-printed cut-outs beautiful (with a coarse mis-registered wood-cut quality), but back in the early 1970s (when I first visited the shop in Covent Garden) they were original 19th or early 20th century prints. The idea of toy theatres emerges in the early 19th century. What a wonderful idea – originally perhaps these were printed replicas of real plays – replay Shakespeare at home! – but however they began, toy theatres became a source of endless fascination for a pre-mass-media generation of children. Think of these as theatrical simulation devices – simple cartoon-style portrayals of the cast, the stage-sets, even the costumes and different backdrops and sets for each scene in the play. Once you had this kit of parts, obviously you could write your own plays, make-up and colour your own characters and players, and perform the plays with your own ventriloquism providing the voices, and your recorder or violin providing the theme music. What fun! Of course those Victorian generations of children already had the war-game derivatives of toy soldiers – and later toy farms, toy railways – so they were perhaps more used to the idea of games that were simulations of actual life, as well as fantasies and fairytales.

Elizabeth Rigby, Lady Eastlake: Photography 1857 + Hill and Adamson: portraits of Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake c1845



Virginia Oldoini + Pierre-Louis Pierson: Countess Castiglione-Self portraits from 1860


There is a subtle distinction between the self revelation of the repeatedly painted self portrait (as practised famously by Rembrandt, but also by Vincent van Gogh), and the consuming, perhaps narcissistic, fascination with the mirror-images and continual versioning of the self that we re-package for public consumption. Lacan suggests that this self-absorption follows the mirror stage (stade du miroir) and results in aperception – the turning of the self into an object that can be viewed ‘objectively’ by the artist. Of course, the artist’s environment and tools change from the 19th century -artists have access to a new mirroring tool – the camera, and Virginia Oldoini adopts the camera – through Pierson, her technical assistant, to become the tool and the medium by which she promotes the semi-autobiographical and semi-fantastic images of her persona. In this, she becomes a precedent for a strand of portraiture whereby artists use their own modulated images often as conceptual portraits – examples of this in the 20th century include the agender surrealist Claude Cahun, the conceptual portraitist Cindy Sherman, and much of the work of Gilbert and George. The revelation of having a tool and a medium by which to publish and propagate art is of course a feature of the present – the WWW and social media provide a multiplicity of means to examine oneself, one’s public image, and self-revelation.

Pierre Apraxine + Xavier Demange + ‎Françoise Heilbrun: La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess Castiglione 2000

James Clerk Maxwell: Trichromatic Theory of Colour Vision 1861


The history of modern new media is rooted in scientific discoveries, from Herschel, Niepce, and Wedgwood’s contribution to Photography, through to Babbage’s desire to automate the computation of astronomic tables and logarithms, – to Thomas Young, Hermann Helmhotz and Clerk Maxwell’s theory of trichromatic vision and on to the quantum discoveries of Bohr and others which underpin modern microprocessor design. That the Trichromatic Theory gave us so much reflects the importance of visual media in our culture – from revolutions in painting, in colour photography, to modern four-colour (CMYK) printing, to RGB monitors and televisions, digital cinema, ipads and smart-phones. Later in the 19th century Friedrich Reinitzer and Otto Lehmann made fundamental discoveries in liquid crystals – science that eventually resulted in the RCA Laboratories and the UK Ministry of Defence developing the science of liquid crystal displays. LEDs and OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) screens have a similar long back-story of fundamental science underpinning the modern technological application. In future the technologies of bendable and foldable screens, digital inks and direct retinal displays will further enhance the range of options for viewing data and digital content.

Basil Mahon: The Man Who Changed Everything – The Life of James Clerk Maxwell 2015

John Jabez Edwin Mayall: Royal Album of Carte de Visite 1862


The carte de visite was of course only one of a spate of innovations that extended the art of photography into fields as diverse as collectible souvenirs, criminal records, charity archives, scientific evidence, cabinet cards, cigarette cards, photographically illustrated books, daguerreotype lockets, post-cards, and the elaborate biometrical systems that appeared at the end of the century (the Bertillonage photo-card system, 1890). The earliest surviving family photo albums in the Smithsonian are from the 1850s – so around the time of the Royale Cartes, people were collecting and mounting their own photographs. The casual photos were christened ‘snap-shots’ by Julia Margaret Cameron’s friend Sir John Herschel in 1860. Typically ornately bound books, the Victorian photo-album was made up of card pages, each printed with  gothic, geometric or floral designs, with window-mounts or printed rectangles left in which to mount the photos. Of course, these became precious personal and family mementos, and were certainly in widespread use until the advent of digital sadly made them redundant. Mayall is showing great foresight in adopting the album format. His were luxoriously-bound- “French calf leather album by Maquet, with silver gilt clasps and green watered silk board lining, each leaf having four embossed paper windows, containing 100 albumen cartes-de-visite (Royal Collection Trust see:

And the Royal Album  reputedly sold 60,000 copies at 4 guineas (£4.20p) each. – a quarter of a million pounds sterling in 1860!
(John Plunkett: Celebrity and Community: The Poetics of the Carte de Visite (nd))

Henry Peach Robinson: Bringing Home the May 1862


Peach Robinson and Oscar Rejlander were the first to explore the potential of making multiple individual negatives of a scene and then reconstructing it by compositing each printing together in one final positive print. In this case, and in Rejlander’s spectacular The Two Ways of Life (1857), the artist-photographers were composing an imaginary image, casting, styling and setting the component poses before making the final artwork. David Octavius Hill, the Scottish pioneer (also a painter before he discovered photography) had made individual photographic portraits of the 474 sitters in his gigantic First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (1843), but had then composited them using traditional oil-painting techniques. Rejlander and Peach Robinson then were the first to realise the true advantages of photography as a compositing medium – some 130 years before such compositing became commonplace in tools like Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator (and of course in digital video compositing tools like After Effects). Even before these brilliant software apps, this kind of digital compositing was available in early industrial reprographic paintboxes and electronic page-make-up and compositing machines like the Crosfield (Crosfield Lasergravure Electronic Page Composition system c1979) and Scitex (Scitex Response300 1979) – very expensive mini-computer based systems. Back in the 1860s Rejlander and Peach Robinson were making exposures on glass plates (using the wet-collodion process) then presumedly making prints on paper, assembling these into their intended composition by careful cutting and pasting, then re-photographing the resulting image to make a final print. Armed with this experience – and his most successful composite Bringing Home the May – Peach Robinson went on to write The Pictorial Effect in Photography (1867), his manifesto for the Pictorialist movement that he founded. This was a reasoned argument to allow photographers the same freedom as painters to adjust and manipulate their images after exposure, much as a painter could retouch and revise an oil-painting over several months.

see also Leopold Emile Reutlinger: Portrait Post-cards 1893-1910
see Aaron Scharf: Art and Photography (1974)

Julia Margaret Cameron +George Frederic Watts: Sadness (Ellen Terry)Choosing (Ellen Terry) 1864


The beautiful Ellen Terry was just 16 years old when she posed for these two leading artists of the 19th century: George Frederick Watts, the 47 year old famous painter, and his contemporary, Julia Margaret Cameron – the wildly eccentric saloniere, who was just discovering the joys of the art and technics of photography – she had been given a sliding-box camera for Christmas the previous year.  The tender insights that both artists bring to their subject accentuate Ellen’s youth – the almost child-like Terry of the painted portrait and the very feminine empathy that Cameron brings to her photographic portrait of a young bride. Although she didn’t have her own camera until 1864, Julia Margaret Cameron is one of the earliest female practitioners – and she was no stranger to the new art. En route to India aged 15, she had met and become life-long friends with John Herschel – the polymathic scientist – and it was Herschel who not only discovered the solution to ‘fixing’ a photographic image, and in 1839 he actually coined the portmanteau ‘photography’. Cameron had had lessons in composition, the wet-collodion process and albumen printing from David Wilkie Wynfield and Oscar Gustave Rejlander – perhaps even collaborating with Rejlander on a portrait of Tennyson and his family made in the grounds of Farringford in 1862. Cameron went on to establish herself as an important artistic-photographer, famous for her soft-focus pictorialism.

see also:

Victoria Olsen: From Life – Julia Margaret Cameron and Victorian Photography 2003
Colin Ford: The Cameron Collection 1975
Sylvia Wolf: Julia Margaret Cameron’s Women 1999
Brian Hill: Julia Margaret CameronA Victorian Family Portrait 1973
Bob Cotton: https://juliamargaretcameronsecession.wordpress.com

Richard Dadd: The Fairy Fellers Master Stroke + Port Stragglin 1864


As Marina Warner asks in her recent book Phantasmagoria (2012) why in a scientifically rational age are so many of us still preoccupied with ideas of spirit, soul and the supernatural? Warner’s book contains several important essays on aspects of’supernatural’ or occult art emerging in the 19th century, many of them permeated by the Victorian’s apparent obsession with death. So Dadd’s intricate and obsessively detailed fairy paintings are in a tradition that includes Henry Fuseli, William Blake, Richard Doyle, John Anstor Fitzgerald and others and sit alongside a renewed popular interest in fairy tales and mythologies, catalysed by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Fairy Tales – published almost continuously from 1812 until well into the 1920s; and Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (from 1836), and refreshed by the work of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood (from 1848), Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, illustrated by Gustave Dore (1859), Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the 1894 edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Towards the fin de siecle this tradition is further reinforced with the emergence of Spirit or Ghost Photography, seances and ouija boards, the hoax of the Cottingly Fairies photographs, and the formation of the Society for Psychical Research (1882).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti + John Robert Parsons: Jane Burden Morris + The Blue Silk Dress 1865


Rossetti’s influence on the changing idea of feminine beauty in the mid-19th century should not be under-estimated. At this time, the first indications of revolt against the ‘strait-laced’ (tight corsets, acheiving 12″ waistlines!) and crinolined absurdities of Victorian high fashion were being challenged by the girls and young women that Rossetti and his artist friends knew and painted. They began to wear clothes that were looser, not underpinned with corsets (they were called ‘loose women’ because of this), and were as a consequence much more comfortable and ‘natural’ in the sense that they did not restrict the female body. Their bohemian clothes inspired what became known as the Rational Dress movement (1881) – a movement founded by another painter, Fairlie Harmer, Viscountess Harberton. But what Rossetti is doing here is, I guess, what all painters of people have done since the Renaissance – effectively a painter is traditionally working from two sources – the actual appearance of the subject, and an internal mental construct of the person. In most cases we have no other visual evidence of the sitter. But the invention of photography gave us another quasi ‘objective’ resource – another way of gauging the painter’s work. And we know that  Rossetti employed John Robert Parsons to photograph his beloved Jane Burden-Morris in many, many poses. And we have the results of Rossetti’s idealised synthesis of Jane in the Blue Silk rational dress, and in turn a new type of beauty emerges in the mid-Victorian age.


William Michael Rossetti: The Pre-Raphaelites and Their World – A Personal View 1869

Princess Alexandra: Design with Flowers 1865


The Album of Designs, incorporating photographs is an album consisting of 29 hand-coloured pages, each 26.4 x 36.2 cm and hand-coloured, with cut-out photographs glued into each design. It is part of the Royal Collection, and one of two albums that Alexandra made in the 1860s. I like the similarity between this image and the infamous Cottingly Fairy photographs of 60 years later. There is a ‘fairy-painting’ quality about this – the images are of babies and young children, and it is during this time of life that the magic and dreamlike potential of the world has not yet been rationalised into mundanity. But Alexandra’s work, as mentioned above, is an important precedent of 20th century commercial art (or graphic design as it became known in the 1960s). By the 1930s  adverts that combined illustrations, photographed ‘pack-shots’ or products in miniature, typography (typeset copy), and hand-drawn lettering, combined with a logotype or other matter, were commonplace in magazines, and on posters. In commercial (mass produced) work, it is Leopold Reutlinger’s ornate postcards incorporating these graphic components that follow Alexandra’s innovation (Reutlinger: Postcard Portraits c1900-1910).

Asa Briggs: A Victorian Portrait – Victorian Life and Values as seen through the Works of Studio Photographers 1989
Frances Dimond: Developing the Picture – Queen Alexandra and the Art of Photography 2004

Victor Hugo: Les Miserables 1862


William Morris: textile-designs from c1865


Philip Owen Jones: The Grammar of Ornament 1868


For me this was the most inspirational book on pattern until the arrival of Ernst Gombrich’s The Sense of Order in 1979, which contains his lectures on ornament and pattern, and quotes Jones: “Owen Jones’ conclusion is memorable, as a portent of things to come: ‘The ornament of a savage tribe, being the result of a natural instinct, is necessarily always true to its purpose; whilst in much of the ornament go civilised nations, the first impulse which generated received forms being enfeebled by constant repetition, the ornament is oftentimes misapplied, and instead of first seeking the most convenient form and adding beauty, all beauty is destroyed, because all fitness, by superadding ornament to ill-contrived form. If we would return to a more healthy condition, we must even be as little children or as savages; we must get rid of the acquired and artificial, and return to and develop natural instincts.'” (Gombrich: The Sense of Order, 1979)

John Barnes Linnett: the Kineograph flip-book 1869


Linnett patents and commodifies the flip-book, providing fascinating motion-picture media technology that’s still around now. That our cognitive perceptual system (our eyes and brain) has been duped by simple mechanisms like this over the last two hundred years is the root of why Movies are an enduring and beloved aspect of our culture all over the world. Even the most scientifically satisfactory explanation of this sensory illusion of motion (Max Wertheimer’s  Phi Phenomenon (1912), and Hugo Munsterberg’s theory of film 1916) still leave a lot to be desired (one feels that this issue could be as illusory as the idea of self-consciousness), but we are gradually – and fairly rapidly – discovering more about how the brain and central nervous system – and even consciousness itself – works…


Max Wertheimer: Experimental Studies in Motion (1912)
Hugo Munsterberg: The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916)
Jeffrey Zacks: Flicker – Your Brain on Movies (2015)

Edward William Godwin: Anglo-Japanese style Sideboard 1870


Godwin was a remarkable architect and designer – influenced at first by Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites, by the 1860s he was responding to the aesthetic insurgency of Japanese arts and crafts from the 1850s onwards (following the opening of Japan’s foreign trade after 1851). The clean (and to a mid-Victorian mind) completely undecorated form, the unconventional explorations of spatial conformation and representation – were recognised by Godwin (and a few contemporaries, like Walter Crane, Owen Jones, William Morris, Christopher Dresser, and later, younger designers like Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, Charles Voysey, Charles Rennie Macintosh and Charles Robert Ashbee) all of whom contributed to the design and craft revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the Arts and Crafts movement, Jugendstijl, Weiner Werkstradt, Art Nouveau, and influenced the emergence of modern industrial design at the Bauhaus. It is worth noting that Godwin, though a vain and rather fickle man, was surprisingly unconventional in his personal life – beginning with his very public and at the time shocking affair with the young actress Ellen Terry (who bore two of his children out of wedlock, and was herself a proto-Modern, emancipated woman).

(see Susan Weber: E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer 1999)

Gaspard-Felix Tournachon (Nadar): Aerial Photographs of Paris 1870


At this time, the American James Wallace Black was also making images from a hot-air balloon, and it is his ‘Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It’ (1860) that is the earliest surviving aerial photograph. Nadar was absolutely correct in his predictions of the military uses of aerial photography. By 1918, the British Royal Flying Corps had made nearly half a million reconnaissance photographs, and developed both high-resolution cameras (images taken at 15,000 feet could be enlarged to resolve a footprint on the ground); and the means to interpret these images – including by 1917-1918, stereoscopic cameras and stereo viewers (used for optical comparison). Appropriately for Nadar, it was the French with their Aéronautique Militaire (air-force) who were the first to establish a reconnaissance squadron, flying Farman biplanes with vertically mounted cameras attached to the crew and engine nacelle just forward of the lower wing. The open-plan grid construction of the plane provided a good all-round observation perspective for human reconnaissance, or eg using modified Graflex camera, taking half-plate and roughly quarter-frame (6 × 9 cm) film negatives. Aerial surveillance photography by the RAF played a major part in the identification of the V1 and V2 rocket-launch sites in WW2, helping save Britain from rocket bombardment.

Jules Duboscq: Grimatiscope Stereo Image Processing 1870


The public fascination for toys like the Grimatiscope, the Phenakistoscope, Thaumatrope, Zoetrope, Stereoscope,  the Magic Lantern, (etc, etc) – toys and devices  that used lenses or mechanical means to move or distort images, grew during the 19th century, reflecting both the increasing leisure time enjoyed by almost everyone, and a way of processing the vast amount of imaging (photography and engraving) that increasingly permeated our culture. These devices catalysed and reflected a growing public desire for home entertainments…

Emile Zola: La Fortune des Rougon (The Fortune of Rougon) 1871


There is of course a growing tradition in the 19th century of grand family sagas – epic stories told through many episodes and books, tracing a family or group of people through a period of time. John Galsworthy had a literary hit with his 9-part The Forsyte Saga (1906-1921) and Trollope’s The Chronicles of Barchester (1855-1867) is another example. The public taste for serialisations was as strong in France as it was in Britain and America, where serialised novels were a standard in publishing after the success of Charles Dickens’  Pickwick Papers (1836-37), released in 20 parts over 19 monthly installments. In America, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a literary succès d’estime – the best-selling novel of the century – over 300,000 sales in USA, around 1.5 million in Britain. It was an anti-slavery book. Its success built the background case for the American Civil War of the 1860s, and it was sold in both hardback and serial form, in magazines and supplements,  and in the 20th century, in comic-book versions too.  The paradigm of serialisation was inherited in the digital world – both for content and for data – the essential data-flow of the internet is by ‘packet-switching’ (Baran/Davies 1964)- the serialisation of data into small packets, tagged with an address of recipient and sender.

Claude Monet: Impression, Sunrise 1872


This was a definitive shift in thinking. It marked a further move beyond a realism of subject matter (pioneered by Courbet, Millais etc) towards realism of form – painting what we actually see and construct from our senses and our memory. So attuned was Monet to this aim of expressing his aesthetic responses by painting direct from nature (en plein air), that he adopted the practice of making serial paintings – of the same scene again and again, in order to capture the subtle seasonal gradations and the more minute and transient modulations of light and of weather that permeate a painter’s experience. From the age of 5, Monet lived in Le Havre (the location of Impression, Sunrise), and this is where he learned his basic drawing technique and oil-painting methods and outdoor painting (from Jacques-François Ochard and Eugene Boudin). So he knew his subject matter intimately, painting Impression Sunrise would have been what Gauguin later called an ‘abstraction’ – painting from memory – or at least an amalgam of what he saw and what he knew.

Gustave Doré + Blanchard Jerrold: London: A Pilgrimage 1872


Doré’s massive work – 180 engravings, mostly from life, requiring 4 years of research and preparation, travelling all over the rapidly expanding city-scape of London – was published in 1872 – it was a masterpiece of narrative engraving (text-comics) and one of the earliest illustrated social-realist documents, predating the photo-essays produced by Jacob Riis in the New York slums (1890) . Ironically it was probably the last of the great engraved works of illustration. Doré had produced magnificent and critically acclaimed engraved illustrations for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, for Coleridge: Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Milton: Paradise Lost, and led the way in hand-crafted printmaking. Engraving suited the gravitas of these epic works. But the technologies that were to soon replace the manual engraving of images were on the horizon, or were already in use – the photo-gravure process, the halftone letterpress plate, the photo-litho plate – all the illustration reprographic media of the 20th century, were hot on his heels. The technologies that enabled the ‘golden age’ of children’s illustrated and colour books did not include engraving.

Frederick Ives + George Meisenbach: Half-tone printing process c1873-1882


Like many of the major media innovations of this time, there were several different inventors engaged in the invention of this core technology – the means of automatically converting continuous-tone images (like photographs and paintings) into half-tones –  ‘line-images’ (images made up of just black and white areas – like the enlarged half-tone middle-right above). This was a key process in the development of modern media because before the invention of the half-tone screen, the only way of reproducing photographs in letterpress, the dominant printing process of the time – was for a professional engraver to hand-copy the photo, making a line-block engraving. So the automation of this process using half-tone screens freed editors to use photographs in their publications – this technology introduced photographs into new media like post-cards, baseball-ball cards, cigarette cards, newspapers (e.g. the Daily Graphic), litho posters, and mass-produced photographically illustrated books.

John Neville Maskelyne + David Devant + George Alfred Cooke: Mysteries at Egyptian Hall, London (from 1873 – 1904)


Magic shows weren’t just another of the many genres spawned by the Victorian Music-Hall or the American Burlesque Show – shows like Maskelyne and Cooks Mysteries in the UK, and Robert Houdin’s performances in France, directly inspired some of the great innovators of modern media – the French film-maker-magician George Melies, and the showman-film-maker George Albert Smith based in Sussex, England. These early film-makers devised cinematic techniques to replicate the legerdemain of stage  magicians…

Christopher Dresser: Studies in Design (1874) + Teapot (1879)


The range of influences that provided the context for the emergence of modern ideas of Design and Architecture included Japanese architecture, interiors, arts and crafts, the lessons derived from the ornamental excesses of early mechanisation, as witnessed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the emergence of new materials (steel, industrial glass, early plastics – Parkeszine, 1856), new industrial methods (steam-engine-power, machining, die-stamping, interchangeable parts – standardisation, injection-moulding, chemical dyeing, power-loom, etc), and the work of Dresser’s contemporaries – most importantly: John Ruskin, William Morris, Augustus Pugin, Henry Cole, Emery Walker, Owen Jones, William Edward Godwin. To be a principle agent of change in the emerging Machine ethos of Design is no small achievement, and Christopher Dresser ranks among the formative Modernist designers. Dresser’s geometric forms  – as evidenced in his famous Teapot (above) indicated the potential of a new canon of form that in the 20th century was to become part of the ‘form follows function’ ethos of Modernist design.

see: Wider Halen: Christopher Dresser – A Pioneer of Modern Design 1994

William Morris: The Earthly Paradise 1875


Not many commentators on book design get rave reviews from the likes of Oscar Wilde, but Emery Walker – a printer, photographer and engraver – and an early lecturer on book design, received a fullsome, enthusiastic, review – in the prestigious Pall Mall Gazette no less, from the celebrated Mr Wilde (Wilde: Printing and Printers, Pall Mall Gazette, November 1888). In his review Wilde gives us a glimpse of a state-of-the-art design lecture – Emery Walker illustrating his talk with projected images of samples of book and manuscript design: “A series of most interesting specimens of old printed books and manuscripts was displayed on the screen by means of the magic-lantern, and Mr. Walker’s explanations were as clear and simple as his suggestions were admirable.” Walker talks about the evolving practise of type-design, its relationship with hand-writing and calligraphy, the evolution of type-design from Black Letter to the Roman faces designed by Baskerville and used by Aldus Manutius, and  significantly, the importance of the integration of type (text) and image. With his experience as an engraver, photographer and printer (Walker co-founded the famous Dove private press in 1900 with T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, the skilled bookbinder), Walker brings practical experience and acquired heuristics on aspects of design practice together with a broad historical perspective – and the latest projection technology – in a talk that impressed William Morris as much as it did Oscar Wilde (an interesting scope!). Morris based much of his Kelmscott Press (1891) practice on Walker’s ideas.

William Crookes: Crookes’ Tube 1875


Considering the impact of the cathode-ray-tube (offspring of Crooke’s Tube) – through Television and the Computer Screen in the 20th century, Crooke’s invention may be the most important of the media innovations created in the 19th century.

Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll: Xie Kitchen 1876


Attitudes concerning children and their suitability as photographic models were very different in the 19th century from what they are now. There are several child-related photographic genres that emerged during this time, including post-mortem portraits (mourning or memorial portraits of deceased infants); portraits of children used as part of institutional record-archives (such as the Dr Barnado’s collection from 1874); family portraits – precious when disease was rife and infant mortality common; And individual portraits tracking the growth and maturity of a child. Then there were the likes of Charles Dodgson and Julia Margaret Cameron – artist-photographers who used children as vehicles for ideas about purity, about states of grace, about stainless pre-pubertal innocence, about angels, cherubs and putti. Dodgson photographed several young girls partly draped or nude – (Portrait of Alice Liddell as a Beggar Maid 1858, The Beatrice Nude and Evelyn Hatch 1879 – but also made many portraits of parents with their children (eg Reverend Childe Barker and his daughter Theramina 1864, and all his work was deemed ethically normal at the time. However it is easy to understand the moral dissonance as we look back from the 21st century with our new sensibility to these issues.

Alexander Graham Bell: Telephone 1877


Thomas Alvar Edison: Phonograph 1877


It’s impossible to over-egg the importance of Edison’s phonograph – this was the beginning of the age of recorded music – music you could listen to at home, anytime you wanted. It revolutionised home entertainment… (TBC)

Edgar Degas: use and impact of photography + The Blue Dancers 1877


The actuality of the effect of lens aberrations on photographs had been highlighted by Jules Duboscq’s experimental Grimatiscope (1870) – a device with mechanically adjustable lenses designed to exaggerate distortions in the photograph. But of course, here Degas is obviously attracted to the chance nature of the framing of an image that results from what John Herschel christened the ‘snap shot’. Concentrating on capturing an image, we point and click often without considering the background or the viewfinder framing of the subject – such is the focussed nature of our attention. The resulting image often reveals the at first un-noticed in our attention – the random way someone on the periphery of our photograph is dissected, the asymmetry of our composition, etc). And there is no doubt that for a painter, this ability to jump into the modern (respond to the snap-shot zeitgeist) is very attractive – indeed as Aaron Scharf points out, the camera introduces a new, non-canonical set of compositional possibilities. Later in the 20th century other artists – especially those working in comics, began to adopt and remediate camera-lens effects in their drawings – for example Winsor McCay in Little Nemo in Slumberland (1907), and Jack Kirby in Thor and Silver Surfer (1960s).

see Aaron Scharf: Art and Photography 1968

Alphonse Bertillon: Bertillon Photographic Identification cards 1879


The father of criminological forensics and crime-scene investigation, Bertillon had a global impact on the emergence of modern policing. His multiple-attribute anthropometrical system – including facial and bodily measurements, a written portrait of body and face, the mug-shot and inventory of body markings – required Bertillon to invent his own card-index double filing system, applying his Bertillonage improvements to the National Police records (“sommiers judiciaires”). As Pierre Piazza explains: “The central repository was radically reshaped in all its dimensions, from the architectural layout of the premises to the definition of writing, checking and research procedures, the introduction of a filing system based on colors, acronyms and abbreviations, and the harmonization of report cards.”

(Piazza: Alphonse Bertillon and the Identification of Persons (1880-1914) at criminocorpus.org.

This Database in all but name, was another significant contribution of Bertillon.

Alfred Sisley: Small Meadows in Spring 1881


Daniel Vierge Urrabieta: Illustrations and photo-engraving reprographic innovations  1882


The automation of reprographics for line drawings was a fundamental break-through in printing techniques. From the early 1880s, it was no longer necessary to have a line drawing laboriously copied and hand-engraved onto a wood block or metal plate in order to print multiple copies (as in a magazine or illustrated book). Vierge and Gillot developed a photo-engraving technique that automated this process, preserving the artist’s original drawing, and allowing the artist to create drawings twice the size of the required plate, so that when photographed, the finest detail could be captured. This process was still in use well into the 1970s, when letterpress printing was gradually replaced by photo-litho. In the last two decades of the 19th century, these line-block reprographics revolutionised illustrated publishing, enabling the precise reproduction of artist’s and illustrators drawings, and providing the technology that fuelled the golden age of children’s book illustration.

George Demenÿ + Etienne-Jules Marey: Demenÿ saying: ‘Je vous aime’ to Marey’s Chrono-Photographic Gun 1882


The first lip-synch serial-motion images were made using Marey’s chrono-photographic gun in 1882! Of course, this was a purely visual experiment – capturing the facial and lip movements (but not the sound) associated with the hirsute Demeny’s  pronunciation of ‘I love you’. Nevertheless a breakthrough for Marey, whose scientific analysis of movement went further and was much more rigorous than the work of Muybridge. And during this very exciting period – Louis le Prince had already made (1878) his first sequences of motion pictures in Leeds, Great Britain – the components of a viable motion-picture system were rapidly being acquired. Designers, photographers, inventors and entrepreneurs all over the Western world were accumulating the technology, and an insight into the science and biometrics of motion-vision, and a gauge of public desire for this emerging art-form…

Frederick Ives + George Meisenbach: Halftone Printing Process 1882


This was the big-breakthrough for the modern age – the ability to automatically produce printing-plates for  continuous-tone (contone) images – like photographs and paintings – changed the media from  ‘hand-illustrated’ to photo-mechanically illustrated – over the next 20 years, newspapers, advertisements, books, magazines, postcards, – all the photo-print media we’re now so used to, came into prominence because of the half-tone process. It was essential to the invention of modern mass media.

see also Daniel Vierge Urrabieta: Illustrations and photo-engraving reprographic innovations 1882

Gilbert Dalziel + Charles Ross + Marie Duvall (Emilie de Tessier): Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday (from 1884)


Like the Diableries (from 1860s), and the Penny Dreadfuls (from 1830s), the comics were part of that class of media intended to entertain the working classes (that 80% of Britain’s population – growing from c10 million in 1800 to c30 million in 1900), and of course the children of the working classes.

William LeBaron Jenney: Home Insurance Building, Chicago 1885 (first steel-frame ‘skyscraper’) + Elisha Otis: Otis Safety Elevator 1852


Joris Karl Huysmans: Against Nature aka Against the Grain, aka A Rebours 1884


I was introduced to this book by the photographer Roger Stowell, then a student at Portsmouth College of Art (c1967-68) and a keen evangelist of the Aesthetic Movement. We thrilled to Huysman’s idea of  the ‘Perfume Organ’, of Huysmans protagonist Des Essientes lecturing his tradesmen on the rudiments of style and taste, or his all-black dinner parties, and other virtual eccenticities. Huysmans was creating the idea of the new urban alternative reality signalled by Charles Baudelaire a few decades earlier.

Thomas Eakins: Boy Jumping the Right 1884


Edwin Abbott: Flatland – A Novel of Many Dimensions 1884


The problem-space inhabited by hypermedia designers, games developers and other ‘interactive’ designers in the mid 1980s was an intriguing one – designing with hyperlinks or branching sequences on a CDROM, Hypercard stack or Laserdisc presented many problems that had  no clear precedent in design (That’s why Richard Oliver and I wrote Understanding Hypermedia in 1993). So we discovered game-play-design, ‘teaching-machines’, hypertext fiction, non-linear narratives, (etc) and delved into older philosophies that dealt with these issues, albeit mostly by metaphor – so I got into Bruce Chetwynd’s The Songlines; Tristram Shandy; William  Gibson’s cyberspace-related sci-fi (Neuromancer etc);  Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour;  Medieval mysticism, and much else – including this fascinating book on one-dimensional life by Edwin Abbott. This led on to mathematical definitions of hyper-space, hypercubes etc – and to the cyberpunk fiction and factual books of the mathematicians Vernor Vinge (True Names) Rudy Rucker (the Ware tetralogy; The Fourth Dimension; Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension etc) – and the beautiful hypercube-extrapolation prints of Manfred Mohr. This was interesting territory…

see N. Katherine Hayles: Writing Machines 2002
Lyn Pemberton + Simon Shurville: Words on the Web – Computer Mediated Communication 2000.
Nick Soussanis: Unflattening 2015

George Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte 1884.


The fusion of science, perception and fine-art (Maxwell’s Trichromatic Theory of colour vision, and Impressionism), here demonstrated for the first time ever? or do you include all those Renaissance artists (Perugino Christ Giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter 1483, Massacio The Tribute Money c1485, Crivelli Annunciation with Saint Emidius 1486, Botticelli The Tragedy of Lucretia c1500, etc.) struggling with vanishing-point perspective? Even if you do, these exercises where artists consciously use a new set of theoretical tools derived from deep (scientific/rational/logical) observation of nature, are rare, so Seurat’s large pointillist experiment is to be celebrated.

Richard Francis Burton: The Thousand Nights and One Night (The Arabian Nights) 18851885_Burton_Arabian-Nights_c

As Marina Warner points out: “The confluence of the European fairy tale with the Orientalizing tale was crucial; many of the defining features of the genre crystallized in the process.” While Burton was only the latest in a string of translators of these famous stories (first published in the 15th century), his became famous or infamous during this period because of the peculiar rigidity (or hypocrisy) of Victorian culture regarding matters of sex.

In his fascinating essay on this collection of stories, Jorge Luis Borges has this to say:

“The Thousand and One Nights has not died. The infinite time of the thousand and one nights continues its course. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the book was translated; at the beginning of the nineteenth (or end of the eighteenth) De Quincey remembered it another way. The Nights will have other translators, and each translator will create a different version of the book. We may almost speak of the many books titled The Thousand and One Nights: two in French, by Galland and Mardrus; three in English, by Burton, Lane, and Paine; three in German, by Henning, Littmann, and Weil; one in Spanish by Cansinos-Asséns. Each of these books is different, because The Thousand and One Nights keeps growing or recreating itself. Robert Louis Stevenson’s admirable New Arabian Nights takes up the subject of the disguised prince who walks through the city accompanied by his vizier and who has curious adventures. But Stevenson invented his prince, Florizel of Bohemia, and his aide-de-camp, Colonel Geraldine, and he had them walk through London. Not a real London, but a London similar to Baghdad; not the Baghdad of reality, but the Baghdad of The Thousand and One Nights.”

Borges: The Thousand and One Nights 1980

see also Marina Warner: Once Upon A Time – A Short History of Fairy Tale 2014

The impact of the fairy-tale, the Arabian Nights and folklore in general upon Western culture – and further around the world, has of course been pervasive, with  versions of the Tales remediated through opera, comics, computer Games, board games, role-playing adventures, film, television and radio – think of Sinbad the Sailor – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – with animatronics by Ray Harryhausen; Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade (1888); The Ballets Russes: Scheherazade (1910); George Barbier’s wonderfully stylised drawings of Scheherazade (1911)… and so on!


Edmund Dulac: Princess Derybar 1907


George Barbier: Scheherazade 1913


Leon Carre: Arabian Nights – Scheherazade .


Ray Harryhausen: Golden Voyage of Sinbad 1973

Eadweard Muybridge: Dancer (Fancy) plate 188 from Animal Locomotion 1887




These beautiful images of a young woman performing in Muybridge’s ‘motion-capture’ studio in 1886-7, became an essential marker in the quest for a viable motion picture system. Muybridge was thoroughly aware of this potential aspect of his work – “Muybridge made zoopraxiscope discs from what he considered to be his best images, particularly of wild animals and birds on the wing (which he had finally succeeded in photographing at the zoo in August and September 1885); For his Zoopraxographic Hall at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he published fifty images on paper discs that purchasers could colour and animate at home.” The entrepreneurial Muybridge was selling motion pictures on disc by 1893!

Marta Braun: Animal Locomotion (p282) from Philip Brookman (ed) Eadweard Muybridge, Tate Publishing 2010.
Philip Brookman ((ed): Eadweard Muybridge (Tate Catalogue 2010)

Charles-Émile Reynaud: Theatre Optique 1887


Innovations in motion-picture media come thick and fast as we enter the fin de siecle.  Reynaud was the inventor of the Praxinoscope (1877), and developed his Théâtre Optique a decade later, to showcase this and other innovations involving magic lanterns and animated images. He showed Pauvre Pierrot – what is purportedly the first animated film  at the Musée Grevin in 1892, and ran a regular show there, called the Théâtre Optique until 1900. But – in parallel to George Melies – his luck ran out, audiences forsook his Théâtre and took up the cinema – and by 1910 he dejectedly threw all his equipment and stage props into the Seine, dieing in a hospice there in 1918.


Charles-Emile Reynaud: Praxinoscope used inThéâtre Optique 1890

Etienne-Jules Marey: Pole Vault 1887


The main differences between Marey and his contemporary Edward Muybridge – although they produced apparently similar work – is that Muybridge was a photographer-entrepreneur, while Marey was a scientist using photography to analyse the physiology of movement. Superficially of course, Marey’s images are mostly superimposed, while Muybridge’s are serial – and this gave Muybridge a bigger claim as an innovator peripherally involved in the invention of the motion picture. Marey though, also has a claim on the future of Art – his beautiful superimposed images of movement directly influenced the Futurists in their quest to add dynamism to photography (see Bragaglia: Fotodynamism 1911-12), and certainly inspired Duchamp in his famous Nude Descending A Staircase (1912), and the several Dynamism paintings of Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni (c1912-1913) – see Dynamism of a Dog by Balla (1912).

Louis le Prince: Roundhay Garden Scene 1888


The first inventor to actually demonstrate his motion-picture system – several years before the Lumieres and Edison – was the Frenchman Le Prince, living in Yorkshire, England at the time. What an adventure in the fusion of technology and aesthetics! That this was a clumsy (16 lens. paper-substrate) system with considerable registration problems – resulting in a shaky projected image – is less important than its claim of precedence.

William Friese Green: Moving magic-lantern pictures 1889


Rudolph Dirks + Harold Knerr: The Katzenjammer Kids (1889 – 2015) + The Captain and the Kids (1912-1979)


The more or less coeval emergence of mass-media comics and animated film was remarked upon as early as 1920 – Edwin George Lutz introduces his Animated Cartoons: How they are Made, their Origin and Development with a summary history of the serial picture, its important educational aspects, as well as its dominant entertainment value. He explains the use of the word cartoon in art (as a preliminary sketch), and says “nothing seemed more natural than that the word ‘animated’ should be prefixed to the term describing their products, and so bringing into usage the expression ‘animated cartoons'” (Lutz 1920 pps IX).

The fact is that from the mass publication of comics – beginning in the late 1880s – it is only a decade or so before the first widely recognised animated cartoons – Reynaud’s Theatre-Optique demonstrations in 1892 (with Pouvre Pierrot – the sole surviving film); Emile Cohl (Fantasmagorie 1908); Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland 1911). In 1917 Max Fleischer invented rotoscoping – an apparatus for tracing live-action film – and made several mixed live-action/cartoons (Mechanical Doll 1922). By 1926, Lottie Reiniger had produced the first animated feature film (Die Abenteur des Prinzen Achmed); Walt Disney produced the first short sound-cartoons in 1928 (Ub Iwerks: Steamboat Willy 1928), and the first sound-cartoon feature (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 1937). So the emergence of the animated cartoon closely maps the emergence of the film and the cinema, and the popularisation of printed comic strips and comic-books, the latter internationally significant by that year, with syndicated strips like Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy (1931); George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (1925), Herge’s TinTin (to name but a few); and Bob Kane’s Batman (1940), Shuster and Siegel’s Superman (1938), and Will Eisner’s Spirit (1940) soon to come.

For some original perspectives on the evolution of comic art and its remediation in other media, see Scott McCloud’s graphic novel/textbooks: Understanding Comics (1993) and Reinventing Comics (2000). And see Scott Bukatman: The Poetics of Slumberland – Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit (2011) – a wonderful set of essays on comics and animation.

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel: Eiffel Tower 1889


Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portraits + The Starry Night 1889-1890


Vincent van Gogh was learning voraciously throughout his life, teaching himself to draw, learning how to paint, to adopt and adapt impressionist painterly technique,  and of course how to integrate his religious and personal psychological insights and feelings into his technique and his out-pouring of work during his short life. Recently several photographs of Vincent have emerged – a carte-size image by Victor Morin (detail above right, discovered in the early 1990s); an 1887 melanotype of a group including Gauguin, Emile Bernard, van Gogh and others; – and other portraits of a van Gogh (perhaps Vincent, perhaps Theo), so at last we have some photographic (‘objective’) evidence of what Vincent ‘really’ looked like. I have chosen the 1889 self-portrait (above left) to contrast with the photographic portrait. Starry Night is the image (perhaps with Wheatfield with Crows, 1890) that epitomises his lifelong task – trying to learn how to express himself perfectly, and to exorcise his inner demons and capture on canvas the beauty and horror of his world.

William James: Principles of Psychology + Stream of Consciousness 1890-1892


Henry James – William’s brother – was perhaps unsurprisingly – known as the father of the psychological novel, though it was Willam’s insight into the nature of consciousness that impacted most on 20th century ‘modernist’ writing. For example, Henry Miller makes several references to his writing as a stream of consciousness, including one passage that I can remember but cannot find – it might be in Sexus – describing his act of writing in the same way that Surrealists defined automatic writing, and here he gives a flavour of the power of this autonomic force: ““I didn’t lack thoughts nor words nor the power of expression— I lacked something much more important: the lever which would shut off the juice. The bloody machine wouldn’t stop, that was the difficulty. I was not only in the middle of the current but the current was running through me and I had no control over it whatever.”
― Henry MillerHenry Miller on Writing

Napoleon Sarony: self portraits (1890) and Portrait of Oscar Wilde 1882


Alphonse Mucha: graphic processes c1890


Henri de Toulouse Lautrec: Dancer adjusting her Tights (1890) + Marcelle Lander (1895), double-portrait of Lautrec by Maurice Guilbert 1890


Jacob Riis: How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890) + Bandit’s Roost, Hell’s Kitchen + Gotham Court Slums + other social-documentary images c1880s.


Martin Scorsese recreate Five Points very successfully in his Gangs of New York (2002), though his film was set in the 1860s – 20 years before Riis began documenting the area. Nevertheless Scorsese’s film gives some indication – in a series of brilliant cinematic illustrations, of the anarchy, poverty and lawlessness of this area. Indeed Riis’ photographs must have been an invaluable reference-source for the scenographer.

Excerpt from Jacob Riis:  How the Other Half Lives (1890):


“Six months have not passed since at a great public meeting in this city, the Working Women’s Society reported: “It is a known fact that men’s wages cannot fall below a limit upon which they can exist, but woman’s wages have no limit, since the paths of shame are always open to her. It is simply impossible for any woman to live without assistance on the low salary a saleswoman earns, without depriving herself of real necessities. . . It is inevitable that they must in many instances resort to evil.” It was only a few brief weeks before that verdict was uttered, that the community was shocked by the story of a gentle and refined woman who, left in direst poverty to earn her own living alone among strangers threw herself from her attic window, preferring death to dishonor. “I would have done any honest work, even to scrubbing,” she wrote, drenched and starving, after a vain search for work in a driving storm. She had tramped the streets for weeks on her weary errand, and the only living wages that were offered her were the wages of sin. The ink was not dry upon her letter before a woman in an East Side tenement wrote down her reason for self-murder: “Weakness, sleeplessness, and yet obliged to work. My strength fails me. Sing at my coffin: ‘Where does the soul find a home and rest?'” Her story may be found as one of two typical “cases of despair” in one little church community, in the City Mission Society’s Monthly  for last February. It is a story that has many parallels in the experience of every missionary, every police reporter and every family doctor whose practice is among the poor.”

Eadweard Muybridge: Zoopraxiscope discs 1893


Taking his cue from earlier work (around 1832) by  von Stampfer, and Joseph Plateau , Muybridge builds his hybrid-projector/disk-viewer – the Zoopraxiscope, in 1979, and utilises his sequential photographs to create hand-rendered and hand-coloured versions of Plateau’s Phenaskistiscope disks, over 70 zoopraxiscope disks were mass-printed onto 12″ and 16″ glass disks, and sold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Princess Alexandra: Album Pages of Norwegian Cruise 1893


Alexandra was an accomplished amateur photographer (see her Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book 1903), and although she was often dismissed intellectually (mostly because of her deafness), she obviously brings an interesting creativity to bear in her albums, early examples of multimedia montage, photo-essays and pictorial records of her voyages as Princess of Wales.


Asa Briggs: A Victorian Portrait – Victorian Life and Values as Seen through the Works of Studio Photographers 1989
Frances Dimond: Developing the Picture – Queen Alexandra and the Art of Photography 2004

Leopold Emile Reutlinger: Portrait Post-cards 1893-1910


The intricacy of these mass-produced portrait post-cards – each one featuring a popular actress or performer as a photographic portrait embodied in a lavish art nouveau design: “He invited women from opera, theatres and the varieties like the Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergères to get portrayed by him, mostly in gorgeous robes, which often served as leading patterns in fashion style. Numerous series of portraits of stars, starlets and anonymous beauties were produced. Léopold created the famous Reutlinger-signature and used it from 1895 on all of his photographic work. His commercial success was also based on the creation of extensively reproduced postcards, selling all over the world by different publishers.”

I must confess a fascination with these cards – their graphic consistency and integrity – the fusion of photographic image, illustration and decoration that surpasses anything seen thus far in letterpress technique, is a prescient indicator of the 20th century advertising and marketing designs to come as we enter the modern world of Graphic Design..

(Helmut Schmidt at http://www.helmut-schmidt-online.de/Boudoir-Cards/be-photo-reutlinger.html)

Henry Pickering Bowditch: 12 Boston Doctors 1894


Although some of the work of Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson used multiple negatives (in Two Ways of Life (1857), and Bringing Home the May (1862)), and this technique was used to record sequential movement by Etienne-Jules Marey and Thomas Eakins,  I think the idea of sandwiching portrait negatives together and contact-printing the result, emerges from two main contemporary sources – spirit-photography (from Frederick Hudson c1870), and the physiological researches of Francis Galton (from 1877). Of course this technique is much more widely explored by avant garde, 20th century arts photographers, like Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy Nagy, Andy Warhol, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Eliot Elisofon – and many more. However there is a rather macabre quality to these early composite portraits by Bowditch and Galton – perhaps they are tainted by the underpinning notion of eugenics, and their endorsement by the Nazis and American Eugenicists in the 20th century. But I particularly like this ‘Boston Doctor’ composite, the rather wonderful idea of revealing the archetype or ur-type that is the cosmic model we aspire to – an idea associated with Annie Besant, Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophists. Nancy Burson, working from the 1980s, used digital software to combine portraits of Christ, Buddha and Mohammed together  in various proportions to create an iconic spiritual image she called One (2004).


Aaron Scharf: Art and Photography 1968
Nancy Burson: Composites – Computer-generated Portraits  1986

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley: Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome 1894


You can detect lots of the influence of the masters of the Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints in Beardsley’s Salome – not least in the fine lines and sotto voce eroticism of the delightful Salome above left, while the title-page still harks back to the medieval tastes of Emery Walker and William Morris. Look at the floating world prints of Utamaro Kitagawa (especially the Laughing Tippler volume – made in 1803). These prints and others by Hokusai, Kuniyoshi Utagawa and lots of less talented artists were infiltrating into Europe (initially as wrapping paper for porcelain), and were avidly collected by  leading artists of the fin-de-siecle, including James McNeill Whistler, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Alphonse Mucha, and Toulouse-Lautrec. But Beardsley is not a painter and doesn’t reference Japanese prints directly (as van Gogh does – see his Portrait of Père Tanguy -1887) – instead it is in his quality of line and the essential similarity of the results of fine print-making and fine line drawing – and his disposition and use of space, where this influence is most apparent. Beardsley also benefitted from the line-block reprographic process – a photographic way of creating a printing block. He is also adept at using the subtle – and often extremely overt – eroticism so well practiced by Utamaro. In the late 1960s, there was a renewed interest in Beardsley (until then largely ignored by the British fine-art establishment), spurred by his association with the aestheticals and art nouveau, his love of the grotesque and erotic, his habit of dyeing his hair green, and his asexuality – all of which seemed to fit well with the psychedelic flower-power spirit of the time. His influence at this time is reflected in the numerous publications that illustrate his work:

Robert Ross: Aubrey Beardsley 1967
Brian Reade: Aubrey Beardsley (Studio Books) 1967
R.A. Walker: The Best of Aubrey Beardsley 1967
Bruce Harris (ed): The Collected Drawings of Aubrey Beardsley 1967

Thomas Edison + William Kennedy Laurie Dickson: Kinetoscope 1894


In the ongoing debate about the possibility of interactive movies, and the likelihood of a successful, immersive and interactive multimedia entertainment format that could marry freedom of choice with authorial direction, it is the potential of the single-person console (whose ultimate ancestors were Edison and Dickson’s Kinetoscope and Casler’s Mutoscope) that gets most attention. Large-scale audience interaction by means of electronic polling, biometric feedback – and the use of hand-held wands – a kind of democratic interaction – has been tried (Loren Carpenter’s Cinematrix system, 1994), but these only offer a limited form of interaction. The console-based interactive movie was tried in pre-digital times – see Morton Heilig: Sensorama 1957 – but it is with the digital 3d, immersive computer game that the real potential for interactive movies  lies. But while the computer-game can provide the medium and platform, no-one has yet satisfactorily resolved the authorial-narrative versus user freedom of interaction conundrum.


Janet Murray: Hamlet on the Holodeck 1997
Kevin Kelly: Hive Mind (pps8) in Out of Control – The New Biology of Machines 1994

Emil Zola: The Experimental Novel 1894


Gustave le Bon: The Crowd – A Study of the Popular Mind 1895


Le Bon’s work forms an essential first step in the understanding of modern political , religious and populist propaganda, and is probably even more relevant in this age of Tweets and simplistic short txt messages and instagrams than it was in the 1930s, when Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini adopted Le Bon’s message. And I just love the Wang Zhi-Hong graphics on this modern cover (2017)…

For more on the context and impact of Le Bon’s seminal work, see Fred Turner: The Democratic Surround – Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (2013)

Alice Guy-Blaché: La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) 1896


Mark Cousins has this to say about Guy Blaché (whom he introduces as ‘the overlooked Alice Guy-Blaché’ : “… (she) directed perhaps the first ever scripted film, a comic fantasy about babies born in cabbage-patches.  Guy Blaché experimented with sound, visual effects, and even hand-painted directly onto film. Most of her subsequent films were biblical epics, and she created one of the first film studios, Solax, in New York State where she had emigrated in 1907. In total she is thought to have directed as many as 700 short films, including Westerns and thrillers.” (Mark Cousins: The Story of Film 2004). Other historians point out that until the Movies became ‘big business’ in the 1920s, women were in fact were in the majority among directors and producers:

“In the early days of film, women such as Alice Guy, Gene Gauntier, Hanna Henning, Ida May Park, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Nell Shipman, Ruth Stonehouse, Lucille McVey Drew, Elvira Notari, Lois Weber, Dorothy Arzner, Germaine Dulac, Marie Epstein, Grace Cunard, and many others were involved in creating the new visual format. Unfortunately, when the first surveys of film history were written, and when the first pantheons of directors and major players were drawn up, most of the accomplishments of women directors, producers, and scenarists were overlooked.”

(Gwendolyn Audrey Foster in Women Filmmakers and Directors (at filmdirectorsite.com)

Auguste + Louis Lumière: L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat) 1896


The film theorist Tom Gunning has this to say about the first projection of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (in the Salon Indien at the Grand Café  in Paris): “As I have shown elsewhere, many early spectators recognised the first projection of films as a crowning achievement in the extremely sophisticated developments in the magic theatre, as practiced by Melies at the Theatre Robert Houdin, and his English mentor Maskelyne at London’s Egyptian Hall. At the turn of the century. this tradition used the latest technology (such as focused electric light, and elaborate stage machinery) to produce apparent miracles.The seeming transcendence of the laws of the material universe by the magical theatre defines the dialectical nature of its illusions. The craft of late nineteenth century stage illusions consisted of making visible something which could not exist, of managing the play of appearances in order to confound the expectations of logic and experience.”

Tom Gunning: An Aesthetic of Astonishment in Linda Williams (ed): Viewing Positions – Ways of Seeing Film 1994

Of course, many popular (blockbuster) movies in the 21st century rely upon the dialectical tension between the aesthetic of attraction and the art of narrative – the pull between the spectacle and the story, and computer graphics not only provides the magical tool-kit for making the impossible apparently real, but also the tool – virtual reality – for introducing new forms of narrative – interactive narrative – into the film-makers toolkit. The current buzzy idea that films may contain VR episodes (as reported by Francine Stock in BBC Radio 4’s Film Programme in Dec 2015) is possibly the ultimate extension of this dialectic – it is coming from credible new media experimentalists like Chris Milk (see his The Wilderness Downtown 2009) so must be taken seriously. But we are aware that this tension between authorial narrative and personal freedom of interaction is still central to any form of interactive story-telling. As early as the 1970s and 1980s, artists and hypermedia/games pioneers like  Ted Nelson, Trip Hawkins, Brenda Laurel, Janet Murray and others raised this issue – film-makers are just beginning to grapple with this.


Ted Nelson Computer Lib/Dream Machines 1974
Trip Hawkins: Simple, Hot and Deep in Byte Magazine 1988
Brenda Laurel (ed): The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design 1990
Brenda Laurel: Computers as Theatre 1991
Janet Murray: Hamlet on the Holodeck 1997
Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine (TED talk 2015) at ted.com/talks

Alfred Jarry: Ubu Roi 1896


My contemporary and friend, the sculptor Maurice Owen produced a performance of this play around 1967-68 at Portsmouth College of Art, so Jarry was seared onto my consciousness, just as Jarry and his work began being mentioned in counter-culture publications like Oz and International Times (a comic strip spread  by Jeff Nuttall titled Physiodelics – very Jarryesque). This was interesting as in the 1960s, the ‘underground press’ brokered several discoveries/rediscoveries or reappraisals of eccentric or occultist artists who fell outside the strict Modernist canon then taught in art schools. These included – Mauritz Escher, Austin Osman Spare, Aubrey Beardsley – as well as bringing to light the work of Jarry, Alistair Crawley, George Gurdjieff, Helena Blavatsky. Pyotr Ouspensky (and other prophetic characters from past ‘undergrounds’ not taught at conventional schools – Thomas de Quincy, William Blake, Joris-Karl Huysmans etc). And of course, the underground press introduced us to the work of counter culture comic-strip -artists like Bob Crumb, Gilbert Sheldon, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso (and many others), and the remarkable Abdul Mati Khlarwein.

Giovanni Boldini: Belle Epoque portraits: Robert de Montesquiou (1897) + Cleo de Merode (1901) + Lawrence Alexander Harrison (1902)+ self-portrait (1894)


Of course, the public were interested in seeing these stylish characters and great beauties of this golden age. The technology of halftone reprographics and colour lithography had created a popular new pictorial medium- the picture postcard. This was a growing market in Britain – the postcard had been ‘legalised’ as recently as 1894, and card-portraits of these proto-celebrities became one of the most successful genres or topics.


postcard portrait of Cléopatra Diane de Mérode c1902 Mérode was a ballet dancer of great glamour, and in her popularity (she also danced at the Folies Bergere, and in the United States) she became world famous, and an important fashion influence in the 1890s. She was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, photographed by Felix Nadar…



Felix Nadar: Cleo de Mérode c1900

Bram Stoker: Dracula 1897


I didn’t read this book until I was in my forties, and then we were discussing the possibility of producing an interactive CDROM on Stoker’s original story. If I’d thought about Dracula (the book) at all it was as a kind of late 19th century penny dreadful, or what 20th century critics described as pulp fiction. The really pleasant surprise is that Bram Stoker’s gothic novel is not that at all. Stoker adopts and reinvents a style that seems perfectly to represent his story – a multi-media approach in the form of letters, diary entries, news-clippings, ship’s log entries, interspersed and linked by the authorial voice of the innocent solicitor Jonathon Harker. Harker is sent to Transylvania (in the Carpathian Mountains in present-day Romania) to negotiate a real-estate transaction involving Count Dracula. Thus the most successful gothic thriller begins, and as Harker slowly realises the true nature of Dracula, and we see the modern day vampire myth emerge, remediated in this prosaic epistolary form (a form made famous by Aphra Behn, 1684). Just as Mary Shelley had invented a wonderful science fiction (Frankenstein) at the beginning of the century, so Bram Stoker injects the magical Dracula at the end – ready for the 20th century multiple remediations of these two brilliant stories.

Herman Cassler + William Kennedy Laurie Dixon + Elias Bernard Koopman:The Mutoscope 1898


I’m intrigued by the Mutoscope, not least because there were one or two of these in the amusement arcade at the end of Totland Pier on the Isle of Wight right into the 1960s. Such was their longevity – and the robustness of the original flip-book mechanism – and the famous What the Butler Saw had an endearing and enduring fascination for boys of a certain age. And we still had old-pennies then, otherwise they’d probably still be there!

Siegmund Lubin: Open-air Rooftop Film Studio 1899


 James Stuart Blackton: The Enchanted Drawing – live on film 1900


Raoul Grimoin Sanson: Cinéorama 1900


There have been several of the world expos that have made significant contributions to the development of audio-visual media, but three stand out to me: The New York World’s Fair of 1939, Expo67 at Montreal in 1967, and this, the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Famous for its launch of art nouveau elegance, the Palais de l`Électrique celebration of electric light and power, and the first showings of the telegraphone (the first magnetic audio recorder) and talking film experiments – as well as an international celebration of Lumiere’s Cinematographe motion-picture system, it was also the venue for a number of large-scale, immersive media environments, including Grimoin Sanson’s Cinéorama. As I have asserted elsewhere, the search for an immersive, sensory and somatically all-embracing medium has been one of the key drivers in new media development throughout history, but with electricity and motion-picture projection technology in the late 19th/early 20th century, these attempts become manifest in large-scale public events like the Exposition Universelle.

Lumiere Brothers: Photorama Lumière 1900


Hugo d’Alesi: Maréorama 1900


These latter three immersive  installations transcended the efforts of Daguerre and other Panorama and Diorama entrepreneurs earlier in the 19th century by means of steam-driven mechanisation. Ironically, the Exposition Universelle brought us the mechanised panorama just as the older medium was being supplanted by a simpler, slightly less immersive but more disbelief-suspending electro-optical medium – the Cinema. And the Cinema is an intensely immersive medium – especially perhaps for those early audiences unfamiliar with motion pictures, sitting in near darkness with an attention-absorbing bright flickering screen dominating your attention! Later in the 20th century, technologies like optical sound-tracks, Surround-Sound, 3d anaglyptic red-green glasses, wide screen projection and anamorphic projectors added to this immersive illusion.

see: Stephan Oettermann: The Panorama – History of a Mass Medium 1980

William Holman Hunt: The Lady of Shallott 1900


A life-long spiritual eccentric, Hunt was given to wearing Eastern Robes – Arab Djellabas – and he was wearing one for his photographic portrait, recorded on wet-collodion plates by Julia Margaret Cameron, at Brent Lodge in Hendon,  in 1864. His mission, expressed through the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, was to return painting to the absolutism of realism, detailed observation, and a kind of spiritual integrity they (the PRB) detected in the paintings of the period before the High Renaissance – of the period before Raphael. Hunt’s The Lady of Shallot was probably the last Pre-Raphaelite painting – because, although producing preliminary sketches for this subject to include in Edward Moxon’s 1857 illustrated edition containing the poem (there are several pencil-sketches of various treatments, plus one or two engravings of this work), he did not start the painting until 1886 when Hunt was approaching sixty, and he did not finish the painting until 1900, when he was 73. His masterpiece then, has all the power you might expect from a meticulous painter and an artist as adept at interpreting Tennyson, as Tennyson was of interpreting Malory and the material of the Arthurian legend.

“She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.”

from Alfred Tennyson: The Lady of Shallot 1842


Julia Margaret Cameron: William Holman Hunt May 1864. More lively than the standard sharp-focus ‘conventional’ photographic portraits of the day, Cameron captures something of the man – he looks fun to be with…

Georges Méliès: Le Voyage dans la Lune 1902


When Martin Scorsese paid homage to Melies in his wonderful Hugo (2011), it was a reminder of how the cinematic genius had suffered in obscurity as the business and artform he had helped create burgeoned into a global industry. Melies was on the cusp of the cinematic transition from the cinema of the spectacle to the narrative film, when the remediation of novels and of plays became the dominant cinematic form. People like illustrated stories, and Melies Voyage to the Moon is in the HG Wells science-fiction tradition, spiced with movie-illustrations in the Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville tradition, enlivened by optical tricks inspired by stage magicians and his own genius. To see how far we have come in the celebration of this genre, consider my personal  main waypoints between 1902 and, 2015: George Melies: Voyage dans la Lune 1902; Yakov Protazanov: Aelita 1924; Fritz Lang: Metropolis; Cameron Menzies: Things to Come 1936, and forward to Jean luc Godard: Alphaville 1965; Richard Fleischer: Fantastic Voyage 1966; Stanley Kubrick: 2001 A Space Odyssey 1968; Roger Vadim: Barbarella 1968; Franklyn Shaffner: Planet of the Apes 1968; George Lucas: THX 1138 1971; Stanley Kubrick: Clockwork Orange 1971; Doug Trumbull: Silent Running 1972; Andrei Tarkovsky: Solaris 1972; Michael Crichton: Westworld 1973; Ridley Scott: Alien 1979;  Ridley Scott: Blade Runner 1982; James Cameron: The Terminator 1984; Robert Zemekis: Back to the Future 1985; Terry Gilliam: Brazil 1985; James Cameron: Terminator 2 Judgement Day 1991; Luc Besson: The Fifth Element 1997; Wachowskis: The Matrix 1999; Stephen Spielberg: AI 2001; Stephen Spielberg: Minority Report 2002; Andrew Stanton: Wall-E 2008 Luc Besson: Lucy 2014; – There are landmarks (in bold) of advances in special effects – in-camera effects, in editing effects, in costume design and makeup, in production-design, in optical effects, and of course in computer generated imagery and effects – that seem to accelerate in their frequency as we acquire the digital skills we needed to extend cinematics away from real cameras and glass lenses to the infinite possibilities of the expanded cinema glimpsed by Gene Youngblood as early as 1970. In fact, all cinema has expanded into the Digital World and become ‘pure’ software (with infinitely malleable virtual lenses and mathematical ‘cameras’, and as such can be channeled anywhere through radio and networks, can be projected immersively, can be synaesthetic, interactive and multi-media – in other words can become Total Cinema.

Otto Wagner: Die Zeit (facade) 1902


Gertrude Kasebier: Evelyn Nesbit (1903) + manipulated self-portrait c1900


An experimental pictorialist photographer, the great Gertrude Kasebier was already in middle-age when she made this self-portrait (background above), with its heavily reworked painted back-ground. In contrast in the foreground, her portrait of Evelyn Nesbit, a contemporary beauty, artist’s model and chorus girl – whose romantic scandals lead to a great celebrity, especially after her multi-millionaire husband killed her lover and long-time molester the socialite Stanford White in 1906. As a favourite model of Charles Dana Gibson – the popular illustrator and style observer – Nesbit was perhaps the prototypical Gibson Girl – an embodiment of American feminine style and beauty in the Belle Epoque – made famous by photography.


Isadora Duncan: The Future of Dance 1903


Yale PhD student Carolyn Sinsky has this to say about Duncan and The Future of Dance:

“Isadora Duncan, following Loie Fuller, was one of the great pioneers of what became known as the “free dance” movement of the early twentieth century.  During her career in America, Russia, and Europe, she developed a dance technique influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and advocated the idea that a dance based on that of the ancient Greeks (which was perceived as natural and free) was the dance of the future.  Duncan and Fuller were both seen as pioneers of free dance, but while Fuller focused on creating a magical, otherworldly synthesis of the arts, Duncan developed a philosophy of dance based on spiritual concepts and advocated the acceptance of pure dance as a high art, and a connection to a new and vital spirituality.”

and (quoting from Duncan’s book The Future of Dance 1903)

“The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of the soul will have become the movement of the body.  The dancer will not belong to a nation but to all humanity.  She will dance not in the form of a nymph, nor fairy, nor coquette but in the form of a woman in its greatest and purest expression.  She will realize the mission of woman’s body and the holiness of all its parts.  She will dance the changing life of nature, showing how each part is transformed into one another.  From all parts of her body shall shine radiant intelligence, bringing to the world the message of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of women.  She shall dance the freedom of women.”

Sinsky at The Modernism Lab  at Yale University n.d. (http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Isadora_Duncan)

Koloman Moser + Josef Hoffman: Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops) 1903 + Die Fläche (The Surface)Volume 1 1904


The Wiener Werkstatte are the bridge between the British Arts and Crafts movement and the Bauhaus – and so play a crucial role in the evolution of modern industrial design and product design (along with the Deutscher Werkbund, Peter Behrens, Otto Wagner, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Moriz Jung etc) . Firmly based in the entrepreneurialism of the early 20th century, rooted in the disciplines of both craft, art and business, producing a range of hand-crafted, yet commercially produced products – some mass-produced (like the postcards), the Werkstatte design company set the pace for the fusion of aesthetics and industry that characterised progressive, design and engineering fusions of the 20th century. This is where it began.

Edward Stanton Porter: The Great Train Robbery 1903


Emile Bayard: (The Aesthetic Nude) No34 plate from Le Nu Esthetique 1904


John Singer Sargent: self-portrait (1904) + Mrs Joseph E Widener (1903) + Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892) + Viscountess d’Abernon (1904)


Emilie Floge: Dress Designs and Floge Sisters Couture c1904-1938


Winsor McCay: Little Nemo in Slumberland from 1905mccay-slumberland_c

see also: Scott Bukatman: The Poetics of Slumberland – Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit (2012)

Henri Matisse: Woman with Hat (La femme au chapeau) 1905 + Les toits de Collioure (1905)


Anne Brigman: Soul of the Twisted Pine 1905 + colour study 1915.


Charles Tait: The Kelly Gang 1906


Andrey Markov: Markov Process + Markov Chains (chain dependence) 1906


Peter Behrens: AEG Corporate Identity 1906


Behrens played a key and seminal role in Modernist Design. A founder member of the Arts & Crafts-inspired Deutscher Werkbund (with other influential theorists, designers and architects like Hermann Muthesius, Josef Hoffman, Bruno Paul etc) which evangelised a marriage or fusion of industrial production, new product design and building, and arts and crafts, Behrens demonstrated the success of Werkbund ideas in his all-embracing corporate identity design for AEG, simultaneously demonstrating the power of a well-executed and implemented brand identity applied in a modern industrial context, and inventing the important role of the ‘industrial designer’ for the 20th century. Behrens ideas – and those of the Werkbund – influenced Walter Gropius in his creation of the Bauhaus in 1919.


Paul Otlet + Robert Goldschmidt: Microfilm-Books (livre-microphotographique) proposal 1906


Despite being photo-chemical, Microfilm and its development into microfiche (aka microform) plays an important transitional role in the development of cyberculture. Before the development of digital media (really from the 1940s), microfilm was – for nearly half a century, the most logical and practical media for the mass-storage and retrieval of information. The French – and the Europeans generally – called this sector of study ‘documentation’ – it was the science of information storage and retrieval – now we call this ‘information science or information technology (IT). It was the technology that Paul Otlet – the inventor of the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) – the first International system of classification for printed publications. It was based upon Thomas Dewey’s Dewey Decimal Index (1876). Public access to books via public libraries was identified by Otlet and Goldschmidt as very restrictive, and by 1934, Otlet proposed a new system – based upon telephone and television access to a large microfiche library (called the Mundunaeum – or World-Library). It is Otlet’s vision of a global information-retrieval system, combined with Vannevar Bush’s idea of the Memex and ‘associative linking’ that, combined with the technologies of packet-switching and computer networking, resulted eventually in the Internet. Tim Berners Lee’s idea and implementation of the World Wide Web – linking documents by hypertext through the Internet – and access to that via personal mobile phones, pads, tablets, as well as games consoles, personal computers, televisions, etc – brings us up to the 21st century.

Walter S. Booth: The (?) Motorist 1906


Edward Sherriff Curtis: The North American Indian 1907


There were several grand ethnographic-photographic projects around this time – Curtis’s North American Indian, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky’s Colour photo-documentary of the Russian Empire (1909), and Albert Kahn’s ambitious Archive of the Planet (1908). It is true that all these photographers were recording fleeting moments in cultures that were soon to be changed by modernity, but with Curtis you know that he was recording the last vestiges of a sophisticated culture, dieing-out as a result of the impact of white immigration, disease and ethnic cleansing. Several movies sympathetically treat of this impact: Little Big Man (Arthur Penn 1970), Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner 1990),  Jeremiah Johnson (Sydney Pollack 1972). Dee Brown’s exceptional, heart-breaking, written history of native indians in the late 19th century: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), was the seminal example of the new histories being written about the Wild West (in response to the change in sensibility evoked by the hippie counter-culture). An award-winning mini-series of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Yves Simoneau, was made in 2007. Curtis’ magnificent collection remains as a silent witness to what we lost.

Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907


While it is debateable that Demoiselles is ‘the first Cubist painting’; that Cubism is the most important aspect of the spate of innovations we associate with Modernism in art is explained by John Berger in his brilliant Success and Failure of Picasso (1965):

“The Cubists created a system by which they could reveal visually the interlocking of phenomena. And thus they created in art the possibility of revealing processes instead of static states of being. Cubism is an art entirely concerned with interaction: the interaction between different aspects: the interaction between structure and movement: the interaction between solids and the space around them: the interaction between the unambiguous signs made on the surface of a picture and the changing reality which they stand in for….What the Cubists mean by structure, space, signs, process is quite different from what nuclear physicists mean. But the difference between the Cubist vision of reality and that of a great seventeenth century Dutch painter like Vermeer is very similar to the difference between the modern physicist’s view and Newton’s: similar not only in degree but in emphasis.
Berger: The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965) page 69.

Auguste and Louis Lumiere: Autochrome colour photography 1907


Isn’t this wonderful? In a period when Impressionism was just becoming universally known, and the breakthrough artists of the previous 30 years or so at last being critically recognised (Manet, Monet, Degas, Pissaro, and other Impressionists), then the Lumiere brothers invent Autochrome – a photographic technique derived from the same inspiration that drove Seurat and Signac (and in principle, underpinned the entire Impressionist movement) – Maxwell’s Theory of trichromatic colour vision (1861) – and it effectively makes possible the creation of Impressionist colour photographs – and they are beautiful. This is the first successful colour-imaging technology, and dominated this marketplace until Kodak and others developed modern colour film technologies in the 1930s (Kodachrome 1935).

see Juliet Hacking (ed): Photography – The Whole Story 2012

Moriz Jung: Postcards for Wiener Werkstätte 1907


It’s 1907, but this mug-shot gallery of Viennese characters looks like it would be just as appropriate 20 years later in Weimar Berlin – a cast-list straight out of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (1928), or in Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929).

Charles Dana Gibson: The Gibson Girl 1907


I’ve chosen 1907 as the year, because it’s when the stage revue, Florenz Zeigfeld’s The Zeigfield Follies (1907 – 1931), featuring a chorus of beautiful girls dressed in the latest stage-couture – was launched and made the Gibson Girl even more famous, as Annabelle Moore took a starring role. Stars of later Zeigfield shows included WC Fields, Sophie Tucker, Louise Brooks, Will Rogers, Josephine Baker all seminal influences. Costumes were designed by leading fashionista including Erte (Romaine de Tertoff), and Lady Duff Gordon. Several Hollywood movies were based on Zeigfeld’s show, including The Great Zeigfeld (1937), and Zeigfeld Girl (1941) and Fred Astaire in Zeigfeld Follies (1946).

Take a look at this clip from the 1946 film – it’s a visual feast:

Fred Astaire and Katherine Grayson (I think), in the 1946 Zeigfeld Follies (directed by several artists, including Vincent Minelli)

Piet Mondrian: Avond (Evening) The Red Tree 1908mondrian-tree_c

Pablo Picasso + George Braque: Cubism (from 1907-1913)

In his highly recommended 1965 appraisal of Picasso and Cubism: Success and Failure of Picasso (p75-82), John Berger says:

“By painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Picasso provoked Cubism. It was the spontaneous and, as always, primitive insurrection out of which, for good historical reasons the revolution of Cubism developed. This surely becomes clear if one simply looks at seven relevant paintings in chronological sequence: …” (He interposes Demoiselles in this sequence of seven paintings):


Paul Cezanne: Les Grandes Baigneuses 1898-1906.


Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907


George Braque: Nude 1907-1908


Pabblo Picasso: Landscape with Bridge 1908


George Braque: Houses at L’Estaque 1908


Pablo Picasso: Girl with a Mandolin 1910


George Braque: Girl with a Mandolin 1910


Pablo Picasso: The Violin 1912

Now this indeed is more or less the canon of Cubist evolution that we were taught at art college. And as Berger points out: “This is the only period in Picasso’s whole life when his work to some extent resembles that of other contemporary painters. It is also the one period of his life when his work (despite his own denial of this) reveals an absolutely consistent line of development: from Landscape with a Bridge in 1908 to say, The Violin of 1913. It was a period of great excitements, but also a period of inner certainty and security. It was I believe, the only time when Picasso felt entirely at home. It is from that period, as much as from Spain, that he has since been exiled.”

Berger: Success and Failure of Picasso (1966)p82

I’ve had to include this delightful mini-photo-essay of Berger’s simply because Cubism was the most important art movement of the 20th century, rivalled only by Surrealism with its revelation of the subconscious and unconscious mind. Cubism is important because it is – as Berger points out at the end of a long passage in Success and Failure:

“I have taken so long to discuss Cubism without once mentioning Picasso (Berger writes, after a dozen pages on Cubism., and the new Physics), because its full historic significance is seldom understood. Usually it is explained purely in terms of art history. By so-called Marxist critics in Moscow it is condemned together with Expressionism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, as modernist and decadent. To do this is ludicrously unhistorical. Dadaism and Surrealism were the result of the 1914 war. Cubism was only possible because such a war had not yet been imagined.As a group the Cubists were the last optimists in Western Art, and by the same token their work still represents the most developed way of seeing yet achieved. It is to Cubism that the next wave of serious innovators are bound to return.”

Berger: Success and Failure of Picasso (1966) p70

see also  George Braque: Houses at L’Estaque 1908-1909 (below)


Joseph Jules Debrie: Parvo 35mm film camera 1908


Georges Braque: Houses at L’Estaque 1908-1909


George Braque believed that his and Picasso’s cubist paintings were the product of such similar thinking and painterly style that he (Braque) suggested that they did not sign their paintings during this period (Picasso concurred, but signed his on the back anyway). That they were affected by the same cultural influences is undeniable.

We know from Natasha Staller (The Sum of Destructions – Picasso’s Cultures and the Creation of Cubism (2001) that Picasso and his colleagues were regulars at the growing number of film-shows in central Paris before 1910, and John Berger explains this in his The Success and Failure of Picasso (1966): ” The film is the art-form of the first half of our (20th) century. It started in the late nineties as primitive fairground entertainment. By 1908 it had become the medium we would recognise today. By 1912 it had produced its first great master – W.W. Griffith in America. Technically the film depends upon electricity, precision engineering, and the chemical industries. Commercially it depends upon an international market: up to 1909 Pathe and Gaumont in France had a virtual monopoly: in 1912 the United States took over. Socially it depends upon large urban audiences who, in imagination, can go anywhere in the world: a film audience is basically far more expectant than a theatre audience. It is no coincidence that one of the very first narrative films was based upon Jules Verne. Artistically, the film is the medium which, by its nature, can accommodate most easily a simultaneity of viewpoints, and demonstrate most clearly the indivisibility of events.”

Berger: The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965) page 70
see also Natasha Staller: The Sum of Destructions – Picasso’s Cultures and the Creation of Cubism (2001) p236

Frank Eugene: Nude 1908 +  Hortensia 1908


Sergei Mikhailovitch Prokudin-Gorsky: Colour photo-documentary of the Russian Empire 1909


Sergei Diaghilev: Ballets Russes 1909 (Leon Bakst costume design)


Giorgio de Chirico: Melancholy and Mystery of a Street 1910


There is a strange fascination (centenniel perhaps), around this time with the metaphysical – de Chirico called his mysterious images of 1910-1920  Pittura metafisica. Mondrian and many others were adepts of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophist Society; Alfred Jarry created his own Pataphysics (pataphysique) – his ‘science of imaginary solutions’ in mockery of all the occultist demi-religeons that proliferated in  the fin de siecle – these included Alastair Crowley’s Temple of Thelema, George Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way; The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; and the Society for Psychical Research. So de Chirico’s work chimed with these occultisms, exploring that territory of waking sleep, day-dreams, hypnagogic dreams, ecstatic visions – in his pittura metafiscia.

Wassily Kandinsky: Concerning the Spiritual in Art 1910


Arthur Rackham: Illustrations: The Rhinegold from Wagner:The Ring of the Niblung, the Rhinegold and the Valkyrie 1910 + The Old Woman in the Wood from The Brothers Grimm: Little Brother and Little Sister and Other Tales 1917


Its hard to walk anywhere in the English countryside in Autumn and Winter without being reminded of Rackham. His beautiful anthropomorphic trees (centre, above), the quality of his drawing, the muted colours, the delicacy of his water-colour technique, his figure drawing – all these sing-out his genius, and confirm his place as a leading artist – perhaps the leading artist – in the golden age of children’s illustrated books (roughly 1890-1920).

Aleksandr Scriabin: Prometheus 1911


Adolph de Meyer: Photographs 1912


This period, and the artists who thrived as visual documenters (and creators) of it, is fascinating. It is no coincidence that during this time, photographers began to compete stylistically with the portrait artists – especially those mannerists like Boldini, Blanche and Singer Sargent – by exploring the potential of the art-influenced pictorialist photographic style. De Meyer’s work during this period reflects the influence of 20th century pictorialists like Robert Demachy, Alfred Steiglitz, Gertrude Kasebier, and Frank Eugene. That images of high society were becoming a mediated commodity is of course due to photography, and to the then dominant use of the half-tone letterpress printing process (invented in 1882) which allowed even newspapers to reproduce  high-quality photographic images (The Daily Mirror began using the halftone process to great effect in 1904). The synergies of period and the personalities that came to characterise it, and the new media of illustrated papers and magazines, and post-cards launched the phenomenon of celebrity that punctuates twentieth century media.


John Singer Sargent: Olga de Meyer c1909. De Meyer married (‘outragious’) Olga in 1899 – he a homosexual, she a bisexual, (notorious for her long affair with the Singer Sewing machine heiress Princess de Polignac) – the marriage characterised by Violet Trefusis (also her sometime lover) as Pederaste and Medisante’.


Adolph de Meyer: unpublished plate for Vogue c1919

Cecil Beaton famously called de Meyer ‘the Debussy of photography‘ and you can see how de Meyer’s technique – subtle back-lighting, elaborately styled sets – influenced Beaton’s work later in the 1920s.

George Braque: Papiers collésFruit Dish and Glass 1912 + La clarinette – Tenora 1913 + Nature Morte 1913


Pablo Picasso: Papiers collés 1911-1913


In the tumult of their Cubist explorations, Picasso and George Braque independently and alternately made important discoveries – applying bricolage materials directly to the canvas (Picasso), mixing paint with sand, coffee grounds, sawdust and other media or matiere (Braque), and in the creation of the first papiers collés (Braque), and the rapid exploration and extension of papier colles in range of materials, dimensionality (superimposition of material upon drawings and vice versa), and the mixed media drawings they both made in 1912-1913.

Franz Marc + Wassily Kandinsky: Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) 1912


Louis Feuillade: Fantomas 1913


I became a member of the Societe des Amis de Feuillade as soon as I saw my first episode of Fantomas. I was alerted to Feuillade’s work by a showing of Georges Franju’s feature-length tribute Judex (1963), starring Channing Pollock as Judex. This was at art school in 1964, and for me Franju conjured the wonderful, magical world of early silent serials in his elegant Judex. It was pronouncedly magical, amplified considerably by the casting of Pollock in the lead role. Channing Pollock was a stage magician as well as an accomplished actor and his suave stagecraft and confident legerdemain integrates perfectly into his role as Fantomas – Pollock even produces live doves seemingly from nowhere in his finale – a scene that I can’t help but think that Ridley Scott appropriates for the closing scenes of Blade Runner

Wassily Kandinsky: Composition VII 1913


Marcel Duchamp: Readymades 1913-1915.


Walter Gropius: Fagus Factory 1913


Lois Weber: Suspense 1913


The out-pouring of talent in the first few decades of the 20th century was quite phenomenal, not least in the brand new medium – a true 20th century medium – of cinematography and film-making. Already by 1914. the great early masters of (necessarily experimental) film-making -Alice Guy-Blaché, Georges Méliès, Stuart Blackton, Winsor McKay, Edwin S. Porter, Louis Feuillade, Walter Booth, George Albert Smith, Émile Cohl, William Kennedy Dickson, William Bass, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Tait, Max Linder – had invented much of the basic techniques of film-making – studio-design, editing, lighting, camera movements, slapstick, in-camera special effects, set-design, cel animation, stop-motion, integration of live-action and animation, cinema and cinema chains, cinema advertising, subtitling/intertitles, camera technology, et cetera – all this in less than two decades – comparable to the millennial digital explosion of the 21st century!

John Hammerton: The War Illustrated 1914-1918


Although The War Illustrated’ is obviously heavily censored, and makes no attempt at being bipartisan (it is a British publication after all), the world-wide nature of the four-year disaster is quite clear, and the weekly coverage of those ‘Decorated for Valour’ and ‘Britain’s Roll of Honoured Dead’ speak volumes of the personal sacrifice of millions of people. The blurring between the photographs of the front and action-packed monochrome illustrations of the more famous actions – exaggerated as I mentioned above, by the coarse low-resolution  halftone plates – gives the weekly record a stylistic homogeneity that serves to blur actuality and propaganda. But the overall effect is immersive and emotionally engaging in the extreme – photographs of veterinary hospitals with horses being treated, of women working in factories, foundries and shipbuilder’s yards,’Women Work with a Will while Men make War’, a montaged page ‘Switzerland’s kindly care of British Prisoners’, and ‘Soft-Hearted Fighting Men and Their Pets’ and a double-page spread featuring a montage of  portraits – arranged in perspective! of ‘100 Heroes of the Great War’ – all the VCs and lots of officers and general staff, and Edith Cavell and the Queen of the Belgians. In toto, these ‘pictorial records’ are incredibly moving, and instructive evidence of the first major European 20th century wartime conflict of information, truthful reportage, censorship and propaganda…

Giorgio de Chirico:Metaphysical Paintings 1914-1915: The Evil Genius of a King (1915)+ Vatiocinatore (1914) + Il Vatiocinatore (1915)


” In fact the work of Chirico – arcades or porticoes, enigmas, metaphysical interiors, rather than the paintings properly speaking – appear to us as the tracings of a dream, or as a reality perceived outside the senses of some other self. This theatre for the materialisation of shadows seems to us a better to the surrealist quest than Picasso’s moving universe, which plunges into reality and transmutes it. Without great concern for the art of painting, Chirico has depicted the place (generally deserted, the statues, the things, but by diverting them from their rational ends in order to restore to them their being, which is precisely the object of the surrealist movement.” Patrick Waldberg:  from The Initiators (p29), in Surrealism (1965)

But there’s something more here – in his painterly montage, de Chirico seems to me to be creating wonderful glimpses of the archetypes that haunted his unconscious mind throughout his life (he returns to metaphysical themes – and these symbols – all through his life), creating theatrical stage-sets for an unwritten play in which the ‘actors’ (all the painted components) conduct a silent visual dialogue on the essential metaphysical questions (why are we here? what should we do? etc). As Waldberg suggests, situating the real within the non-real creates a matrix of rationality in which the big questions are posed.

Antonio Sant Elia: La Citta Nuova 1914


Karl Schmidt Rotluff: Madchen aus Kowno (1918) + Kniende (1914) + Girl with Braids (1917)


Emil Otto Hoppé: Vaslav Nijinsky as Rose in Le Spectre de la Rose 1914


Vassily Kamensky: Tango with Cows (artist’s book) 1914



Kamensky: page from Tango with Cows 1914 – this Futurist work by Kamensky is a playful cyrillic-spatial exploration of the formal potential of concrete or visual poetry, printed on the verso of commercial-patterned wall-paper.

David Wark Griffiths: Birth of a Nation 1915


Lyubov Sergeyevna Popova: Portrait of a Philosopher 1915


As I point out elsewhere in this chronofile of Art and Media innovation, there was a very exciting confluence of avant-garde talent in Russia during this period. Just to list the most famous – Tatlin, Eisenstein, Vertov, Rodchenko, Mayakovsky, Kandinsky, Diaghilev, Chagall, Njinsky, Gabo, El Lissitzky, Malevich,  etc – is just not enough. Artists and designers of the calibre of Popova and Stepanova, Futurists of the calibreof Vassily Kamensky, – the film theoretician Lev Kuleshov (see below), the graphic and communications designer, Gustav Klucis, the charismatic Lilya Bric, Leon Bakst, Alexei Brodovitch, Mikhail Larionov, – the list goes on.

Lev Kuleshov: The Kuleshov Effect 1915


Louis Feuillade: Les Vampires 1915


Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance: A Burlesque on Carmen (hand-coloured) 1916.


Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné: Optophonetic Piano and Disks developed from 1916


The quest for a tangible expression of the experience of synaesthesia has motivated artists, scientists, mystics and writers from time immemorial – in the 16th and 17th centuries both Guiseppe Arcimboldo and Isaac Newton tried to correlate music tones and colours. In the 19th century Joris Karl Huysmans fantasised about a perfume organ in his A Rebours (Against Nature) in 1884, and various experiments in colour-music synaesthesia (eg Frederick Kastner’s Pyrophone 1873, and Rimington’s Colour Organ – 1893). In the 20th century the synaesthetic urge iterated through new media art, from Lazlo Moholy Nagy’s work in the 1920s and 30s through to Gordon Pask’s experiments with his Musicolour (1953); Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966), Marc Boyle’s Liquid Light Show (c1967), and more recently with the work of Russell Richards and Maurice Owen with their Kickit Visuosonics system (from 2006). You could argue that the main strands of aesthetic interest in new media art include the quest to evoke synaesthesia, create the experience of immersion, to optimise all media into a total work of art (a gesamptkunstwerk), and to make this art interactive, responsive and participative.

Emmy Hennings + Hugo Ball: Cabaret Voltaire (Swiss DADA) 1916


Giorgio de Chirico: Ce Due Maschere 1916 + The Great Metaphysician 1917


John Dewey: Democracy and Education – An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education 1916


Alvin Langdon Coburn: Ezra Pound 1917


James Reese Europe: Hell Fighters Jazz Band 1917


George Grosz: Metropolis 1917


Max Fleischer: Rotoscoping (patent drawing) 1917 + Out of the Inkwell (animation/live-action series  from 1918)fleischer-totoscope_c

George Grosz: Metropolis 1917 + The Guilty One Remains Unknown (drawing) 1919


Sergei Diaghilev + Eric Satie + Pablo Picasso + Léonide Massine: Parade for the Ballets Russes 1917


Wentworth Darcy Thompson: On Growth and Form 1917


JJP Oud + Gerrit Reitveld : De Stijl 1917


Aleksandr Bogdanov (aka Alexander Alexandrovich Malinovsky): Tektology (Universal Organizational Science) 1917


Paul Klee: Night Flowers 1918


Edward Wadsworth: Dazzle Ships in Dry Dock at Liverpool (1919)+ Norman Wilkinson: Dazzle Camouflage c1916


El Lissitzky: Help Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge 1919


Walter Gropius: The Bauhaus (1919-1933)


As Frank Whitford points out in his book on the Bauhaus (quoted above), it was this – the first of the modern art schools – that really set the agenda for 20th century art education. With Gropius’ driving vision, set out in his manifesto of 1919, and the willing participation of some of the most creative artists to emerge from what El Lissitsky called the Isms of Art that exploded into the early 20th century – artists, designers, craftsmen and architects including Lazlo Moholy Nagy, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Herbert Bayer, Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breur, and  Josef Albers. Moholy Nagy and Itten’s innovative creation of the Basic Course (or Foundation course) was a revolution in drawing together crafts, industrial processes, business practice, design and arts (and, with Johannes Itten – the introduction of the spiritual and the occult into an art school curriculum!).

John Heartfield + George Grosz: Life and Work in the Universal City 12.05 Noon + Dada Merica 1919


Vladimir Tatlin: Maquette for a Monument to the Third International 1919


Lillian Gish + Mary Pickford: American Sweethearts c1919


Raoul Hausmann: Der DadaDada Siegt! 1919-1920


John Heartfield and George Grosz claim to have invented photo montage 4 years earlier, in 1916. George Grosz writes: “When John Heartfield and I invented photomontage in my South End studio at five o’clock on a May morning in 1916, neither of us had any inkling of its great possibilities, nor of the thorny yet successful road it was to take. As so often happens in life, we had stumbled across a vein of gold without knowing it.” Of course, there are examples of photomontage by amateur artists and serious photographers using photomontage, often to adorn pencil drawings or watercolours, as early as the 1860s – we have Princess Alexandra’s photomontaged watercolours and album pages in the 1860s, examples of similar work by Constance Sackville West a decade later, and Oscar Rejlander’s Two Ways of Life (1857) and Henry Peach Robinson’s masterpiece – Bring Home the May (both complex, multi-image composite photographs created by careful montage) in 1862. But Hausmann’s colour photomontage is another first:  full colour printing of the calibre of materials Hausmann has included in his photomontage was a relatively recent invention (trichromatic colour separation printing – George Meisenbach 1882), and it was expensive – good results only achievable by using the best coated paper, so not in any sort of wide usage except for advertising and editorial in magazines – and reference works – Hausmann’s DADA Siegt! includes a cutaway anatomical illustration, an atlas image, as well as hand-coloured sepia prints, coloured fashion plates, monochrome ads for boots, typewriters, adding machines, football, telephones, hydraulic door dampers, belt pulley (etc). But most of these examples of colour photo-montage are really still hand-coloured monochrome montages – with colours painted upon the collaged materials. And they are still very effective.

So anti-capitalist, anti-establishment artists using the latest popular media – reproduced photographs and adverts – create a new medium that was to become a signature of the 20th century, adopted in many aspects of art and especially in advertising. There are interesting similarities in DADA, in British pop-art of the 1950s-1960s, and in the Punk revolution of the mid-1970s.