Selected Works and Context

The Barnes Brothers as children. Courtesy of William Barnes.

Find out further information on selected works.

When Collecting Makes History

Twin brothers John and William Barnes began collecting at the age of 13. Their collection traces the evolution of the moving image from the period film historians refer to as ‘the archaeology’ of cinema, until the pioneering British filmmakers from the south coast identified with the ‘The Brighton School’: Alfred Darling, William Friese-Greene, George Albert Smith and James Williamson, amongst others.

Their years of dedicated research and collecting culminated in a five-volume history of British Cinema written by John Barnes, and the opening of
the Barnes Brothers Museum of Cinematography in St. Ives, which they ran from 1963 for more than 20 years.

The closing of the museum in the 1990s marked the decisive split of the collection: the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin acquired the material related to the archaeology of cinema, while Hove Museum absorbed all the documentation and apparatus belonging to the south coast film makers.

Key works from both collections are brought here for the first time, tracing the Barnes Brothers’ far-reaching journey into cinema history. The display pays homage to their exhaustive approach as researchers and their unique relationship as identical twins.

Fluid Traces and Circular Visions

In the 1860s, Spirit Photography established itself as a widespread practice and this display includes a rare group of photographs taken by the famous medium William Eglinton (1857–1933) and his enigmatic accomplice Mary Burchett. Each print bears a handwritten note on the reverse of the mount, describing the particular circumstances under which each image was produced, or the name of the spirit that Eglinton used to invoke during his séances.

A century later, these prints mysteriously ended up in the Brighton and Hove Museum Collections, offering an interesting link to the work of British film inventor George Albert Smith documented in the Barnes Brothers Collection. With a background as a hypnotist, mesmerist and magic lanternist, Smith shared with Eglinton a vivid engagement with the ‘other side’, producing the first manifestation of the ghost illusion in British cinema.

The Double Life of the Magic Lantern

Designed by Dutch inventor Christiaan Huygens in the middle of the 17th century, this optical device uses a concave mirror at the back of a light source to direct the light through a small rectangular sheet of glass, the lantern slide, onto a lens at its front.

The term ‘magic lantern’ suggests the apparatus’ early association with both the worlds of science and magic. In early magic shows, the lantern was usually hidden from the public, enabling conjurers to perform their tricks through mobile back projections. With the discovery of the oxy-hydrogen limelight in the 19th century, front projections became possible and the lantern developed into a popular medium of visual information, delivering lectures with moral, religious or propaganda content.

The subsequent diffusion of the biunial (two lens) and triunial (three lens) lanterns recreated the illusion of movement, either by fading between images using dissolving views slides, or by superimposing two slides, one on top of the other.

Bodily Expressions

By the second half of the 19th century the focus in photography shifted from the fixing of the image to fixing an instant of time through the use of shorter exposures.

The experiments with chronophotography of the Anglo-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) and French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) opened up a new approach to the visualisation of animal and human movement that had a long-lasting impact.

Such studies found a concrete application in the medical field, and specifically in the practice of psychiatric photography. Albert Londe (1858–1917) was a photographer who worked at the Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris, under the supervision of the clinician Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–93) and conducted extensive photographic studies on his hysterical patients.

Swallowing the Image

Contemporary works sit alongside experiments of early pioneers drawing formal and conceptual connections with them. While Susan Hiller battles with the iconography of ‘Punch and Judy’ shows associated with traditional English seaside culture, Steven Pippin provocatively substitutes Muybridge’s battery of cameras with the laundromat. The red and green nuances of Saskia Olde WolbersTrailer (2005) make explicit reference to the process of Kinema Colour pioneered by both George Albert Smith and William Friese-Greene.

At the same time historical works offer insights into current debates. The 1901 silent comedy The Big Swallow (A Photographic Contortion) by British film pioneer James Williamson (1855–1933) stands as a metaphor for the conflicted relationship between photography and cinema.