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A film series by Werner Nekes

Werner Nekes is both filmmaker and media-researcher, but also a collector of historical books, scientific objects and visual toys from the early period of mediaarts. His extensive collection comprises five centuries of rare objects.

In his film series, "Media Magica", he guides us through his unique collection, as through a museum. He shows his historical objects in motion, because it is only in motion that their magic unfolds and that they regain once more, the charm they radiated in bygone days.

The spectator is taken on a fascinating voyage of discovery in the magic land of pictures. He encounters the Camera Obscura, the Magic Lantern, and peep-shows from the seventeenth century, the artistry of shadow theatre and much more. And he discovers how pre-cinema research of perspective, montage and the illusion of movement and space prepared the way for the film.

Beyond the Image

About the Camera Obscura, the peep-show, anamorphoses, shadow theatre and much more. The principle of the Camera Obscura was already known in the fourth century: a dark room where a picture of the outside world passes through a small hole and is pictured back-to-front and upside-down on the opposite wall. This is the principle that, approximately 1500 years later, made the development of the photo and movie cameras possible.

The principle of the Camera Obscura played a role in the research of the laws of perspective. On the other hand, the peep-box is often a reversal of the principle of the Camera Obscura. In the Camera Obscura, or rather, with its help, wievs are sketched - in the peep-show, such views are observed. However, research on perspectives awakens an interest in its irregularities, in distorted pictures - anamorphoses.

Already prior to the play with perspective, the play with light and shadow is developed. The thousand-year old shadow theatre with its rich tradition lives on today, especially in oriental cultures.

Pictures Come to Life

About the Magic Lantern, animation on paper, object animation, illuminated panoramas and much more.

Together with the research of perspective came the wish to awaken pictures to life. The magic lantern had already achieved the illusion of moving pictures and this was also used to project shadow pictures.

The magic lantern is the predecessor of the film projector. This had already been described in the fifteenth century.

Simple ways to create movement are also be found on paper, in the pull, push and lift mechanisms of comic picture post cards or movable picture books.

Peep show pictures are perforated, pasted over and coloured from behind in order to make city views come alive through backlighting.

Another simple way to create the illusion of movement are panorama pictures: picture worlds that pass before the eye of the motionless observer or where the observer himself passes along the picture, as in a carriage ride.

Multi-Thousand Picture Show

About montage, folding and transformation pictures, myrioramas and much more.

Alongside perspective and the creation of the illusion of movement, montage is already a central aspect in the early history of visual media. Pictures or sections of pictures are placed in a relationship to one another in the order to give the pictures a new meaning.

Already, in the sixteenth century, there were predecessors of the techniques of montage, used today in films. An example is the folding picture montage, where half pictures combined with pictures beneath, present a new picture each time.

Through combination of the pictures it is possible to assemble different versions.

Other examples of early montage forms are transparencies, picture puzzles and transformation pictures which draw the gaze towards hidden information.

In the myriorama, the mulri-thousand picture-show, it is possible to assemble a never-ending landscape. The pictured world which results from this montage game is infinitely variable.

The Ambiguous Image and Space

About perspective-theatres, folding dioramas, stereo-pictures and much more.

Besides perspective, movement and montage, space is a further early experimental area in visual art. It reaches from pop-art books or extensions of the picture space in postcards up to optical prisma, verre eglomisé pictures and depth relief pictures.

Picture worlds in peep-shows are stacked in several layers, and thus make space visible.

The folding diorama is developed from the perspective-theatre and shows places and events on multilevels placed one behind the other.

Stereo pictures separate what is seen by the left eye form what is seen by right eye in two slightly different pictures. These are then blended together by a mirror, a stereoscope or polarisation spectacles.Holography promises three-dimensional films without spectacles.

The Magic Drum

About the thaumatrope, stills, the kinora and much more. In 1896 the Lumière brothers combined the principle of the Camera Obscura, which takes the picture, with that of the Magic Lantern, which reproduces the picture, to construct the cinematograph. But movies - moving picture series - are first made possible by after-image effects and stroboscopic effects.

Many early scientists had already studied this phenomenon by using revolving objects, and discs and thus prepared the way for the cinematograph. The thaumatrope is a rotating disc with pictures on both sides; when it is rapidly revolved, both picture sides melt into one. The phenakistiscope, the zoetrope and the praxinoscope, so-called "wheel of life" and "magic drum", show pictured phases of movement in an endless loop. The stills taken by Eadweard Muybridge demonstrate in exact analysis, movement phases, for example, the leg movements of a horse's stride.

In the early days of films, many flickerbooks appear on the market: "thumb movies", mutoscope and kinora, where the viewer himself could regulate the speed of the movement of the printed film pictures.