Our latest blog is from stipend holder Dr Claudy op den Kamp, Principal Academic in Film at Bournemouth University. Claudy visited us recently to research our holdings on W.K.L Dickson and Eadweard Muybridge and the complex copyright landscape of moving pictures in the late 19th Century. Below she discusses her experience of researching with us:

Changing research attitude

Over the last few years, I have changed the way I conduct archival research. I remember one trip specifically, during which I could only spend a short amount of time at the respective institution. I took copious amounts of pictures and compiled them into neat PDFs. Although I was having a great time, I quickly hit a dead end in terms of my research question and the available documents. Upon returning home, I am sad to admit, I tried reading through the neatly compiled PDFs, but needless to say, that didn’t last very long. I soon gave up on reading the scans off my laptop in autumnal England, only dreaming of the sunny locale where I had made them. I decided I needed to change the way I went about this process.

With this newly adopted attitude, I made my way to Washington, DC, last year to take up my Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress. And for the next six months, I limited myself to what was right in front of me. I took many pictures and unavoidably parked many things for ‘later.’ But every time I noticed too much of that attitude creeping up, I reminded myself of having to engage with the here and now.

This was a gamechanger to my process, to say the least. For a long time during my fellowship, I did not know which story I was going to tell. But I had to trust that the story would reveal itself to me – and reveal itself, it did. By asking questions of the primary documents right in front of me, I followed a path that I could not have foreseen.

From where I am sitting today, I would even like to argue something stronger. Even if I would have had access to all the documents earlier on, I would not have recognised the story right in front of me. I now fully understand that doing archival research for me is taking the necessary time to find a way through the primary sources. It also means thinking through the questions they raise on the spot.


Figure 1: Claudy researching in the US.

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

Which leads me to the serendipitous week I recently spent on a research stipend at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter. As a follow-up to my work in Washington, I am currently delving deeper into the ideas of seriality that underpin the emergence of motion pictures. Knowing that the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is strong in pre- and early cinema, it was an ideal place to do so. The research at the museum will make its way into my forthcoming monograph. It will tell the 130-year archival journey of THE BLACKSMITH SHOP, the first motion picture that was registered for copyright. I have the so-called middle of that journey, but I am looking for a place to start and a place to end.

W.K.L. Dickson, who was an Edison employee, registered the first motion pictures for copyright as serial photographs, much in the style of Eadweard Muybridge. In my work on the processes of invention and innovation, I use the concept of the ‘shadow line’ by Joseph Conrad. The shadow line is the line that you know you have crossed once you have crossed it and can look back over it. The concept is a useful tool, as exact points of origin of most inventions are difficult to pinpoint and can usually only be determined retrospectively.


Figure 2: Portrait of W.K.L.Dickson

Figure 3: One of Dickson's serial photographs of a boxing match.

In looking for Dickson’s sources of inspiration for his serial photographs, something else revealed itself – the very problem of the historical enquiry. The more I ‘scratch’ at this history, the more interesting things I seem to find. There is always someone else who also did something noteworthy that contributed to the story I am trying to tell. So, what seems to happen is that the idea of the shadow line is slowly starting to stretch into the idea of the shadow land. The invention of motion pictures, and particularly its legal conceptualisation, stretched out over a significant period of time. My job as a scholar entails determining where the story starts and where it ends, particularly if I endeavour to package it as a monograph.


There are three particular highlights of the week at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

I have a facsimile copy of the book that W.K.L. Dickson published with his sister Antonia, The History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and Kinetophonograph. But it was incredible to see the copy held in the museum with Dickson's own handwritten notes in the margins (EXEBD 33900 - see featured image at the top of the page). I have become very familiar with Dickson’s extraordinary penmanship in the materials at the Library of Congress. It was almost jarring to come across it in a place closer to (his!) home.

I have previously made the claim that Dickson made no published claims to copyrights that he didn’t hold. My argument is that he gladly would have avoided a $100 fine while it only cost him $0.50 to obtain a copyright at the time. Ever since I made that claim, I find myself looking for evidence to the contrary. And in studying many more captions to his published photographs during the week in Exeter, I was glad to further confirm my assumption.


My focus on Muybridge’s work on panoramas and stereographs as a direct inspiration for Dickson took up the larger part of the week. Being able to cross-reference many archival holdings in one spot formed the heart of this stipend.

Additionally, I felt privileged to read Bill Douglas’s gorgeously written final screenplay, FLYING HORSE, his film about Muybridge, which he wasn’t able to realise anymore. Engaging with this work in real time on the spot was mesmerising, and reading Douglas’s interpretation of Muybridge’s life story felt eye-opening. The script is a beautiful juxtaposition of two story lines, one set in the 1860s, featuring the relationship between Muybridge and Stanford. The other is set in the 1940s, in which a journalist and his assistant are looking for Muybridge’s orphaned son, Florado. In the first story line, it is particularly Stanford who jumps off the page, a man I hadn’t been able to grasp before. The romantic bantering à la IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT in the second line was an absolute joy to read.

The other highlight was re-arranging the furniture in the reading room with the help of the librarians. We were trying to enjoy the full splendour of a reprint of Muybridge’s 1877 panorama of San Francisco. One of the nine surviving copies of this work is part of the Muybridge collection in the Kingston Museum, now housed at Kingston University. I pinched myself sitting on the floor in front of this copy, spending time just looking at it, realising that this is what I do. And I have come to trust that the experience will make its way into the ultimate story.

Figure 4: Reprints of Mubridge's San Francisco panorama (EXEBD 50818)

Glass Lantern Show

The most serendipitous highlight of the week happened on the morning of my second day, when a deafening fire alarm drove us all outside. In the light rain, I found museum curator Phil Wickham who introduced me to John Plunkett, specialist in Victorian media. John was about to put on a glass lantern show for his final lecture of the term, and invited me along – what a treat. What I saw over the next half hour or so, were projected lantern slides from the collection of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.  And they enabled me to fully imagine the level of showmanship Muybridge must have brought to his lecture series.

Figure 5: Chromotrope projected in John Plunkett's lecture.

Where will it go

My story’s contemporary resonance is one of archival access. And while in archives, I now fully embrace and trust the material in front of me. I take the questions it prompts as the research starting point. I follow many paths, take turns, go down roads that don’t necessarily lead anywhere, I get stuck, but then become unstuck by taking another path. At the start of my research week, I delved into many books about panoramas and stereographs. This led me to an impromptu magic lantern show, and by the end of the week I had serendipitously found my story’s starting point [TBC].

On 19 April, I will be interviewed about my research at the Library of Congress. Later this year, I will be a Lemelson Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

My sincerest thanks to Bill Douglas Cinema Museum curator Phil Wickham for feeding my interest over the week with an increasing amount of archival goodies,including this Loie Fuller stereograph]

Figure 6: Loie Fuller sterocard (EXEBD 01858)

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