Theatre and Visual Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century is an AHRC funded project that examines theatre as an integrated part of nineteenth century visual culture. The team are comprised of Prof Jim Davis and Dr Patricia Smyth at the University of Warwick and Prof Kate Newey and Dr Kate Holmes based at the University of Exeter. As part of the project, Kate Holmes curated two linked displays at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and here at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Transporting and Evolving Views: Nineteenth Century Ways of Seeing considers how audiences may have looked again at their world through popular entertainments that utilised developing technologies.
The featured image shows Kate with the display.
One of the reasons curating an exhibition at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum was built into the project from the earliest stage was because of the rich resources on nineteenth century popular entertainments that the Museum holds. Although the collection is predominantly known as a cinema museum, holdings include pre-cinema moving images and theatrical ephemera such as playbills, tickets, stereoscopes and carte de visite. Even that notion of the moving image is fairly broad as there are a range of fantastic resources on immersive entertainments such as panorama, peep shows and magic lantern slides. Often facilitated by a showman whose performances drew in audiences, the topics represented in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum are rich resources for theatre and performance scholars but our team felt they are likely to be underestimated by many working in the field.
The wealth of information available on nineteenth century entertainments within the Museum was at first quite intimidating. Curating a display is an act of communication and this was what led me to focus on the panorama as a means of organising our display. The varied means through which panorama appeared across media as diverse as illustrated books to hand panorama linked to our projects’ interest in remediations. As a type of image, panorama also represented a means to explore our project’s aim of considering how nineteenth century audiences viewed their world through, and with, entertainments; in this case as a means of looking again at their world.
The approach of displaying materials was also led by the archive and direct interactions with materials. Observing my team members, Patricia Smyth and Jim Davis consulting a printed panorama of London, I watched them trace journeys through the city from the unusual vantage point of the Duke of York’s column. I found myself equating their navigation to my first experience of encountering Google Streetview. There was the pleasure of recognition, of linking up places within the media. Having lived in London, I also found myself becoming aware of points of interest that weren’t noticeable when walking those streets.
This recognition of something similar in experiencing the digital and nineteenth century visual materials led me to incorporate digital experiences within our display. In the end COVID-19 led us to scale back our exhibition, so the range and number of these digital experiences are far fewer than first anticipated. However, when you visit the exhibition you can use QR codes to unravel a hand panorama or get a rough sense of how a stereoscopic image might create the impression of 3D through this gif made by alternating left and right eye images:
As a researcher, I’m interested in how the experience of viewing connects to the wider senses. What has been surprising in viewing back this hand panorama video in particular, is how the act of viewing the video forces attention on more than just the visual experience but also on the sound of paper unfurling:
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