Images from 110 years ago causing a stir at National Media Museum in Bradford (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Images from 110 years ago causing a stir at National Media Museum in Bradford
A goldfish in a bowl, soldiers marching in London, a macaw and children playing with sunflowers are creating a good deal of excitement at the National Media Museum .
For experts at the museum, working with colleagues at the British Film Institute in London, believe they have discovered the earliest colour moving pictures ever created.
The films, from 30 seconds to a minute, were made by Somerset photographer and inventor Edward Turner before his death in 1903 at 29.
Turner used a complex three-colour process patented with his financial backer Frederick Lee in 1899 and then with the support of an American film entrepreneur Charles Urban, who eventually acquired the films. Experts at the NMM dated the films back to 1901-02 – five years before Urban patented his two-colour Kinemacolor process, and 30 years before the advent of Technicolor in the United States.
Michael Harvey, curator of cinematography at the NMM, said: “This is a very exciting discovery. It recasts our understanding of what was possible at the time. All historical textbooks about cinema will have to be re-written, in a minor way.”
Turner worked for a colour photographic studio in London. Moving pictures were first shown to the public in London in 1896. Three years later he took out a patent for his three-colour process. So he was a pioneer.
Charles Urban donated the film to the Science Museum in 1937. They were sent to the NMM for storage in 2009.
Toni Booth in the collections department saw that the film stock was 38mm, as opposed to the usual 35mm stock. She recognised this was Turner’s trademark and alerted Michael Harvey.
He worked with archive experts Brian Pritchard and David Cleveland to reconstruct Turner’s moving images in colour, following the method specified in the 1899 patent.
Specialists at the BFI transformed the film material into digital files. These were made public for the first time in Bradford yesterday afternoon.
There hasn’t been such excitement since the discovery in Blackburn in 1994 of the stash of films by Mitchell & Kenyon, made at the turn of the 20th century. A BBC documentary will be screened in Yorkshire on Monday.
Mr Harvey said: “We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen. The image of the goldfish was stunning. Its colours were so lifelike and subtle.
“I realised we had a significant find on our hands. We had proved that the Lee and Turner process worked, but it remained to establish who those children were and establish as precisely as possible when those first colour images were made.”
All the people in the films were traced. The daughter of a little boy in one of them is still alive. She is 85.
The films can be seen in the museum’s Kodak Gallery from Thursday.