Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Who is the Real Father of the Motion Picture?

By Jennifer Uhlarik


I have a bit of a confession. Some months, I have no idea what to write about for my monthly contribution to the Heroes, Heroines, and History blog. It’s simple when I have been writing and researching for a new historical novel or novella (which I am doing right now—but I’m not quite ready to share my research). Usually when I am researching, I tell you about the wonderful facts and details I’ve been diving into for my writing. But sometimes, in those in between stretches, I don’t have as many interesting topics to write about immediately at my fingertips. This month was one of those months. I had to search a little harder—and in my searching, I discovered an interesting thing. The “Father of Cinematography” was not who I thought it was!


Thomas Edison

While no one person invented the concept of “motion pictures” completely, I have believed that Thomas Alva Edison was largely thought of as the inventor of the technology since I was in the fifth grade. And he does deserve a lot of credit for that advancement in technology. After all, he and one of his young lab assistants built upon the latest technology invented by Muybridge and Marey. Edison came up with an idea that took their cameras and equipment and combined it into a machine that could make still images appear to move by printing a series of photographs on a strip of film. This machine was the Kinetograph, and the machine used to view that strip of film in quick succession, giving the image of a “moving picture” was the Kinetoscope. Edison and his lab assistant, Dickson, created these new machines in the early 1890s.


However, they were not the only ones making advancements in the field of cinematography. In fact, because Edison chose not to apply for international patents on the machinery he and Dickson had invented, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, were able to see Edison’s inventions in operation and then legally copy or modify the technology. Where Edison’s battery-operated Kinetograph weighed a daunting 1,000 pounds, making it an immoveable machine, the Lumière brothers used Edison’s invention as a springboard to create their own Cinèmatographe. Their version of the technology was powered by a hand crank and was small and semi-portable at twenty pounds.


Auguste (l) and Louis (r)

But before Edison and his assistant Dickson, or Auguste and Louis Lumière dreamed up their respective inventions, another man was patenting his version of a motion picture camera device. Who was this man? His name was Louis Le Prince. Why doesn’t he get credit for creating the first motion picture technology and become the “Father of Cinematography” instead of Edison or the Lumière brothers? Well, that’s the interesting fact that I discovered that caused me to write this post.


You see, Louis Le Prince grew up around photography thanks to his father’s friendship with the inventor of the daguerreotype. Louis Daguerre allowed the young Le Prince to spend time in his studio and learn some basics in the technology. This may have ignited his passion, which would later serve him in his pursuit of new motion picture technology.

Louis Le Prince


Le Prince went on to study art, and later chemistry and physics. After graduating, one of his college cronies, John Whitley, invited Louis to Leeds, England, to take a job with him in Whitley Partners, a business that made brass components and fixtures. Not long after, Le Prince married John’s sister, and once they returned to Leeds from their honeymoon, they created the Leeds Technical School of Art, where they experimented and perfected the ability to affix color photographs to metal or pottery.


During the early 1880s, he traveled to the United States, where he began trying new forms and expressions of photography, particularly with moving images. With all his photographic and artistic knowledge, he created a camera with sixteen lenses that could capture multiple images and potentially show those images “moving” on a screen—but there were some flaws in design. Despite the flaws, he patented the invention, then kept working to improve it. Several years later created a single-lens camera to do the same sort of thing, and with it, shot what is now known as the Roundhay Garden Scene  probably the oldest surviving piece of motion picture film in history. 


This is where the story of Louis Le Prince takes its strange twist. With this success, Le Prince patented the new camera and continued to create more short, silent film clips. In September 1890, he began making plans to show off the technology to a group in the United States, where he would rejoin his wife and son. But before he departed England, he made a quick trip to France to visit his brother. Heading from Dijon where he’d met up with his brother and going to Paris, he caught a later train than expected and missed seeing friends there. And somewhere after leaving his brother on September 16, 1890, Le Prince disappeared, never to be seen again.


Speculation abounds about what happened to Le Prince. One of the most common theories is that others in the race to create the first motion picture technology (including Thomas Edison himself) may have had him killed. Another is that there was some family strife over who would inherit money from his mother, who had recently passed—so family members had him killed to gain the inheritance themselves. Others said he was suicidal due to failures with his inventions and high debts, so he took his own life. Yet another rather out-there theory is that Le Prince was having a homosexual affair and chose to disappear to save his family embarrassment. Sometime after his disappearance in September 1890, a body closely resembling Le Prince was pulled from the Seine River—but authorities concluded it could not be Le Prince because the body wasn’t tall enough to fit his description. So after no answers or resolution on what happened to the budding inventor, Le Prince was finally declared dead on the seventh anniversary of his disappearance.


For a few years after he went missing, Le Prince’s patents were under some dispute, and because he’d never gotten to unveil his invention or the films created by it, his new technology was largely overlooked and forgotten. Thus, Louis Le Prince may have created the first moving pictures—and he may have been hailed a hero in his own hometown—but outside of that, he became the man history forgot, largely due to the advancements of Edison and the Lumière brothers just a few years later.


Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies. www.jenniferuhlarik.com




Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I guess we'll never know what happened to Louis Le Prince....perhaps there is fodder there for a book!