They pioneered filmmaking techniques in over 1,400 moving pictures, showing everything from a train rushing into the station to a baby taking its first steps, with an artistic flair. But how did their feat of enterprise and ingenuity come about? Here are five key moments that chronicle their contributions to cinematic history:
The Lumières owned a small business in Lyons where they manufactured photographic plates but the factory was in constant danger of going under. As a teenager Louis experimented with techniques and photographic plates to try and help his father automate and expand. In 1894, with Louis’ invention of a new ‘etiquettes bleue’ plate the family managed to open a new factory in the suburbs and their production jumped to around 15 million photographic plates annually.
Thomas Edison and his employee William Kennedy Laurie Dickson developed the Kinetoscope between 1889 and 1892. The Kinetoscope was a device where individuals could look through a viewer to see a short film made by a strip of sequential images drawn across a light with a high-speed shutter. The Kinetoscope, showing blacksmiths at work, was first demonstrated to the public at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1893 and was first shown in Europe in the summer of 1894 at number 20, Boulevard Poissonnière in Paris. As Edison had not patented his device in Europe the Lumière Brothers were inspired to create a new and better way to show moving pictures – not just to one viewer, but to an entire audience.
The brothers developed what would become the first viable film camera which recorded, developed, and then projected moving pictures in a single, somewhat lightweight device. Louis Lumière designed the Cinématographe with pin holes in the film to capture and project 16 frames per second using intermittent movement he based on a sewing machine. The Cinématographe was patented in February 1895 and the very next month Louis and Auguste filmed workers leaving the Lumière factory with it.
First paid public showing of the brother’s work was in Paris at the Salon Indien du Grand Café on 28 December 1895. The evening included 10 films, with the very first being the 46 second clip of ‘Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory’. Other films included a comic episode with a garden hose and an exciting portrayal of ‘Horse Trick Riders’. The film reels were 17 meters in length and required hand cranking through their cinématographe apparatus. It is interesting to note that over a month earlier Max and Emil Skladanowsky showed a paying audience their Bioscop invention in Berlin but they are not credited with the birth of commercial cinema as their screening apparatus was even more unwieldy and impractical. After the success of their first viewing Louis and Auguste took their show on the road, with stops in Brussels, Bombay, New York and Buenos Aires. They made films to show along the way, with depictions of everyday life from both home and abroad fascinating audiences.
By the early 1900s the Lumière Brothers withdrew from the ‘novelty’ of moviemaking business to focus on creating a colour film process. Their invention of Lumière Autochrome was the first practical way to develop film in colour and was used up until the 1930s.
The Lumière Brothers were not the only ones to develop film technology during the turn of the century. Many other pioneers of cinematography, such as Eadweard Muybridge, Louis Le Prince, Émile Reynaud, Léon Guillaume Bouly, Claude Mechant, and Kazimierz Prószyński among others each played an important part in developing technology and making film the art form it is today. However, Louis and Auguste were the first to understand the importance of making cameras more portable to capture scenes, and the significance of projecting images rather than keeping film a private affair. Not even Edison could foresee the commercial (and artistic) value of showing films to the public.