Sunday, 5 February 2017

Researching and Viewing a Novelty "Cinegraph" Photograph

A "Cinegraph" Novelty Photograph, taken 1931.
The photo sequence order is 3,2,1 so the image
on the far right (no 3) is the first image taken.
[From my own collection]

I recently came across an unusual and intriguing "candid" photograph in what is a somewhat large and daunting collection of old family photographs. The unusual feature of this image is that it is made up of three multiple photos taken in quick succession. The intriguing thought then came to me that I should now, with modern computer technology, be able to convert these individual images to a moving image. How I achieved this and the story of the photograph itself is the subject of this blog.

What Do I Know About this Photo?

On the reverse is a hand written date of 1931 as well as the rather appropriate name of the photographer stamped in blue ink, being "The Cinegraph Co.". My Grandfather has recorded the names of the three very smart looking gentleman as being (from left to right) my Great Great Uncle William Watson of "Mayfield", Heddon Bush in Southland New Zealand (known in his day as Southland's most progressive farmer), James Milne, and David Marshall. I know nothing of the last two but they would almost certainly also be local agriculturalists and business friends.

Jellicoe Statue
being carved, 1929
[Source : Papers Past]

The Statue of Lord Jellicoe
with the same pointed hat
highlighted in the red box

Confirming the Location

We can verify the location as being the Post Office Square in Invercargill. The band rotunda with it's decorative iron railing appears to the right while the distinctive peaked marble hat on a statue of Lord Jellicoe is also visible. That alone is confirmation of the date as papers of the period record that the statue was only erected on it's plinth on the 7th January 1931. Part of the building which once stood on the corner of Dee street and The Crescent appears in the left background and I can read the word "Cunard" on one of the windows. Wording above that window is too faint to read. To the right, and in the background, is part of The Crescent buildings which once formed an elegant sweep of period building facades leading to the railway station.

Confirming the Date

The interesting if not extraordinary fact here is that we know that William Watson died suddenly on the 18th May 1931, so the photograph could have been taken no earlier than the 8th January 1931 when Jellicoe's statue was put up and the 18th May 1931 when William Watson died. I had originally thought the date of 1931 must be wrong as William (whom I do clearly recognize) doesn't look like a 70 year old man and I had also thought he used a walking cane. But the date is definitely correct and perhaps the cane he was earlier pictured with was just a "fashion accessory" befitting a successful gentleman farmer. This image, which was taken 85 years ago, is also more than likely the last photograph ever taken of my Gt. Gt. Uncle.

What Type of Photo Is This?

This has proven the most difficult to confirm. It appears to have been taken on an unusual form of camera with three lenses although all I can find references to are cameras with two lenses for taking "stereoscopic" photographs so that by using a special viewer the image would become two dimensional. The Wikipedia entry for stereo cameras does however make reference to these types of cameras having up to three lenses but does not provide an example of either the camera or a photographic print such as featured in this blog. There were no viewers for this type of "cinegraph" photograph, it was purely a novelty.

The image was definitely taken on a roll film negative as evidenced by very fine and continuous horizontal scratches across all three images. This means that only one camera was used but variations in exposure and placement would indicate there were three individual lenses used rather than the camera itself moving. The most common film size then in use was 120 size roll film which created a negative 2¼" deep and width to suit the camera but I believe the smaller 127 size at 1⅝" deep or the 135 size at 35mm (also then used in commercial cine cameras) are more likely, the grainy image suggesting a smaller sized negative.

All roll film then in use utilized a highly inflammable (and now quite unstable) nitrate negative base. Shutter speeds would, for good quality German made cameras, then be as fast as 1/300th of a second but would be limited by the "speed" of the actual film used. Pushing a cable release would have actuated each shutter mechanism in relatively quick succession. I would be very pleased to hear from a knowledgeable camera enthusiast or collector who may know of such a camera and can describe it to me.

These were truly the days when everyone 
dressed up in one's best clothes to go to town 

Converting the Frames to a Moving Image

My next step was to work out how I could convert each frame to a moving image in the form of a modern "cinemagraph" (the term now used for such moving images). First I scanned the full photograph in high resolution then created three individual frames of equal size. I then uploaded these to a very useful site called to create a moving Gif image while also being able to adjust the frame refresh rate. This is the "moving image" that you can see below.

To adjust your eyes to the correct frame sequence William Watson's impressively high "Homburg" hat (at far left) should move from left to right and the lighter coloured building in the background will then be seen to move towards the left. I have adjusted the frame refresh rate to what seems an optimal speed, neither too slow or too fast (which looked a bit like a scene from the 'Keystone Cops').

The Completed Gif Image
(L to R) : Messrs William Watson,
James Milne & David Marshall

I like to think that William Watson found this novelty photo intriguing if not in fact amusing. He definitely liked the concept as he ordered at least four copies to give to close family members, all ending up in my collection. As the photograph is numbered 9752 there must be plenty of similar images around. And with that number of images taken I would assume it was a travelling photographer rather than a local studio.

Hopefully scanned newspapers in the future will provide some information about "The Cinegraph Co.". If anyone has further information on this type of photography or on the photographer my email address appears in the right hand menu bar.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...