Friday, May 20, 2011

Magic images

When I was a ten-year-old child in South Grafton, an older boy named Ervin McNally, living on a farm on the other side of the road, gave us a demonstration of an amazing device called a magic lantern.

The light source was a small candle burning inside the copper-plated receptacle. Images were painted in transparent colors on glass bars that could be inserted in a slot between the lamp-house and a simple lens. This gave rise to large images projected onto a white sheet tacked to the wall. Since the candle flame flickered constantly, spectators had the impression that the projected images were vaguely animated. To create a show, the projectionist related a story that was illustrated by his stock of painted images. And he could call upon an archaic gramophone to provide background music. It wasn't exactly home cinema. To me, though, a wide-eyed boy of ten, it was marvelous.

Today, the Gallica online service of the national French library offered us a collection of magic-lantern slides created during the 19th century. This one presents the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem:

Here's a recent unusual image of that same place, produced by means of a fish-eye lens.

At first sight, the following photo evokes a vision of hell. In fact, it's a Greek Easter Sunday view of the annual ritual of the so-called miracle of the Holy Fire, which descends from heaven—with the help of a few ecclesiastic friends—and falls directly onto the tomb of Christ.

Down in the vicinity of the Holy Sepulcher, human forms are floating around in a blaze of flickering candles.

The scene strikes me as the inside of a gigantic magic lantern.

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