Filming History

I’ve had a keen interest in photography from a very young age, probably inspired by my Grandad and Uncle who both loved it.

Particularly my uncle, who would keep all of his photography equipment in the back of his car and would often talk to me about competitions he had entered, photographs he had taken and the goings-on in his photography club. I had my first camera before I was 10 and I was always using it, especially on family holidays abroad in summer. I still have quite a few packs of developed photographs from this time and even though the photos are not quite of professional standard, I enjoy looking through them occasionally. Photography has changed so much since then with people using pocket-sized digital cameras, digital SLRs and phones being able to take, look at and download images instantly. Changes in photography methods and equipment as well as photography as an art-form are both things that interest me and so I was really excited to start working on the Film Pioneers project with the Film and Media collection at Hove Museum, which focuses on the documentation of the collection as well as assisting with the preparation for the Experimental Motion exhibition opening in Brighton Museum later this year.

I began my work on the project by being introduced to the collection both in the galleries and stores  at Hove Museum by exhibition leads Suzie Plumb and Alexia Lazou. I also had the opportunity to watch some films by 19th and 20th century film-makers like James Williamson, the inventor of the close-up and George Albert-Smith, the creator of the first colour filming process ‘Kinemacolor’. Seeing some of their original works was fascinating. I particularly liked ‘Fire!’ by Williamson and would recommend anyone look this film up to see some of the earliest examples of film editing and the use of film as a way to tell a story, something which was very experimental at that time when films were ordinarily used to show scenes from everyday life. In preparation for the Experimental Motion exhibition I have also been looking at the influential work of more contemporary Brighton filmmakers like Ben Rivers, Jeff Keen and Ben Wheatley whose work pushes the boundaries of film into innovative and exciting new domains.

Researching the history of film and cinema in Brighton & Hove has been a highlight of mine during this project and a real eye-opener. Although I already knew a little about the rise of cinema around the mid-20th century I had no idea exactly how popular it was or how many cinemas there had been in Brighton. I felt a hint of sadness too, seeing photos of these cinemas in their grand heyday and knowing that most are now derelict if they haven’t been completely destroyed. I’m sure residents of Brighton will recognise the wonderful Art-Deco façade of the Astoria which was once one of Brighton’s largest cinemas.

Brighton’s Astoria c1932
Brighton’s Astoria c1932

A professional photographer visited Hove Museum to take new images of the objects we are planning to show to publicise the exhibition and display in the gallery space. I arrived at the museum that morning unaware that I would also be photographed holding various cameras (including a Bolex, one of my personal favourites) with the possibility of them being used in publicity! I tried to channel my inner model but holding those old cameras up was quite tough, some of them are pretty heavy! The final photos look great, especially the ones of the early 20th century wooden box cameras, I’m really looking forward to seeing them used in the exhibition.

The last couple of weeks have involved me really getting to grips with some of the finer details on our collections management system MIMSY. I’ve been working through donations held in Hove Museum’s film and photography stores, handling the objects, reading the donation documentation and then adding the details onto the database. I used MIMSY previously when I produced the LGBTQ trail for Brighton Museum and also on a short project for the Learning team but Film Pioneers has given me the chance to develop what I already knew and learn how to use some of the other functions that MIMSY has. I feel much more confident using the software and I’m sure that this will be invaluable in the future, especially when applying for new jobs. It has also been great to get out all manner of film and photography related objects (including, but definitely not limited to, old projectors, Super 8 films of 60’s Hanna Barbera cartoons and some tricky-to-identify objects that have required some research online) which have been a lot of fun to discover. The sense of nostalgia when I find something I recognise from my family attic or see an animation I watched as a child is also quite wonderful.

As I write this I still have a few weeks left on the project during which I’m sure I’ll get to work with some more great objects from the collection. I’m really looking forward to seeing the work of Suzie, Alexia and myself come together in Experimental Motion later this year and hope you enjoy discovering the stories yourselves that I have found so inspiring.

Robert White, Collections Assistant