Erkki Huhtamo's book takes you on a deep journey into the origins of motion images and the development of a 'modern' way of seeing. It is a highly fascinating, complex and relevant history told from a unique perspective. The book captures both the bird's-eye view of history and the close up view that appears from a deep investigation of material artifacts. Reading "Illusions in Motion" has expanded my knowledge of visual culture immensely.
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A great catalog of details about mechanical entertainment devices. In depth explorations of the construction and manipulations of pre cinematic entertainment with excellent illustrations and great source references.
The rise of photography and then later film was wonderful. But an inevitable consequence was the destruction of an unappreciated art form - the panorama. This was closely related to the three dimensional diorama. The latter survived into the 20th century largely in museums, as representations of extinct animals and environments.
Huhtamo describes how in contrast the panorama reached its peak in the 19th century. A story was painted onto a long rolling canvas. This canvas would then be held between 2 rollers, much like film was in cameras. [You do recall photographic film, or maybe not?] The canvas might be say 2 meters wide and many meters long. The rollers were held in a frame and cranked by a handle. There would be a speaker, declaiming from a nearby podium, while an assistant would ably turn the handle. In some elaborations, live music might be played by another person.
Before photography, this panorama was a means and maybe the only one of conveying a travelogue to an audience. To let them appreciate some exotic far away place. Like California in the 1850s gold rush, as portrayed to Americans of that time in the east coast. I was lucky to see such a reenactment at a Los Angeles Velaslavasay Panorama recently. At the same venue, on a different occasion, the author of this book spoke about his research.
Alas, once photography arose, even in black and white, the panorama was doomed. A photograph, though in black and white, was far easier to take and much more detailed than a colour imagining of an artist. What then arose was the modern slideshow. And when moving silent pictures came about in the early 20th century, the last bell rang for the panorama. But before the finale, several magnificent panoramas were made in Europe, as the book shows. The sheer effort was inspiring though ultimately doomed. The reader should admire the past efforts. Given the constraints of a pre-computer era, they did the utmost they could to convey the essence of another place and peoples.
Look especially at the discussion about the Paris panoramas. The author cautions us that we see how the French depicted often less advanced peoples, thru the lens of European colonialism. Some stereotyping was inevitable. Yet maybe there was still a genuine attempt to show other societies in a dispassionate manner.
The author has done us a service by resurrecting the forgotten memories of a dead technology.
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