Louis Le Prince is widely considered to be the Father of Cinematography. He was a talented inventor with a vast knowledge of photography for the time. He held 5 patents for camera and projectors.
He also recorded moving the image a year before Thomas Edison did. Until recently, he was a forgotten legend in film’s history. He was fiercely overshadowed by PR machines that are The Lumiere Brothers and Edison. His mysterious disappearance has recaptured the imagination of the public.
Le Prince and Daguarre
Louis Le Prince was born on the 28th August 1841. His father was an Artillery major in the French Army. His father’s best friend was Lois Daguerre. Daguerre was an inventor and photographer, who created a photography process called Daguerreotype.
By all accounts, young Louis was a constant visitor with Daguerre, who began to show Le Prince his work. He taught him how to use his photography system, and how to process film. Processing film was a somewhat complicated process which included many chemicals.
Daguerre’s influence is evident throughout Le Prince’s life. Le Prince went on to study painting in Paris. Daguerre had apprenticed in Theatre Design and Panoramic painting as a young boy, and he may well have inspired a love of art in Le Prince.
Daguerre’s Chemistry lessons may have been the inspiration for Le Prince’s later studies. After his painting degree, he enrolled in a Post-graduate Chemistry course at Leipzig University. This course set him up nicely for his future pursuits.
Louis Le Prince Heads To England
In 1866, Le Prince’s college friend John Whitely invited Le Prince to work at his company in Leeds, England. A few years later, Le Prince married Whitely’s sister Elizabeth, who was a talented artist.
Elizabeth (Known as Lizzie) set up their own art school and soon became well-known artists. They perfected a method for fixing colour photos onto Metal and Pottery. A portrait of the Queen was commissioned. This portrait is buried under Cleopatra’s Needle in London.
In 1881, Le Prince and his family moved to the United States to manage a small team of artists who created Panoramas. Again, Daguerre’s influence has popped up in his life.
In his spare time, he began to take an interest in moving pictures. He started to tinker with an invention which could create photographs that move. The result was a 16 lens camera which he patented in 1886. The patent description states: “Method of and apparatus for producing animated pictures of natural scenery and life”. The camera used on George Eastman’s paper film.
Le Prince filed his film patent around two years before Edison filed his preliminary patent for the Kinetoscope. Le Prince had his patent accepted around 10 months before Edison had even submitted his. Considering Edison’s fierce desire to own the film industry, rumours that he may have been behind Le Prince’s disappearance doesn’t seem so strange
Roundhay Garden Scene
By 1888, Le Prince had returned to Leeds. He built his single lens camera and set to work. He set up the camera in the home of Joseph and Sarah Whitely, his wife’s mother and father.
The film shows Sarah, Joesph and a friend, Annie Hartley in the garden, taking a turn around the garden, which Adolpho Le Prince, Louis and Lizzie’s son, plays.
Le Prince shot the film on 14 October 1888, a year before Edison’s Monkeyshines, an 1889 film which Edison used to test the Kinetoscope. It was recorded at 7 frames per second, using paper film produced by Eastman Kodak. The film’s running time is just over 2 seconds.
Louis Le Prince followed up Roundhay Garden scene with Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge and The Accordion Player.
His three films and his cameras are all held in the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.
In 1890, Le Prince had travelled home to France to spend time with his family and friends. Perhaps to celebrate the fact he had secured a public viewing of his films in the US. Maybe because he had been feeling suicidal and wanted to see them one last time.
On the 16th September, he supposedly boarded a train to Paris. When the train arrived, his friends found no trace. He was never seen again. Despite searched by French and British police, a body was never found. He was officially declared dead in 1897.
Le Prince was the first person to create “film” as we know it. Despite Edison’s desperate attempts to declare himself the actual inventor, Le Prince has resurfaced as the true inventor. He deserves his place in film history.