Hello! It’s Naomi Bulger again, filling in for Tina on a Tuesday evening.
Once upon a time, in an age before digital cameras or film or even those overhead projectors the teachers used in school, way before electricity, in fact, there was the magic lantern, an early type of image projector.
In the 1400s, a Venetian engineer by the name of Giovanni Fontana created a lantern that projected an image of a demon. Scary. Super scary if you are a 15th Century Venetian and don’t know what you’re looking at. But it was not until the 1650s, supposedly, that the first ‘magic lantern’ as we know it today was formally invented.
Picture an old fashioned lantern with a concave mirror in front of a light source (which, back in the days, would have been a candle or an oil lamp). The mirror gathers the light, and projects it through a slide with an image on it. Then the light rays cross a small opening at the front of the lantern, and hit a lens. This throws an enlarged version of the picture on the slide up onto a wall. Ta da! Big, scary demon in the house!
I saw some of these while I was in Venice last year. Somehow, the air around them still vibrated faintly with magic, the magic that tricksters and charlatans conjured when using magic lanterns to bamboozle their early audiences.
Not far from where I live in Melbourne, Australia, two artists Gonzalo and Lucy have opened a shop called Magic Lantern, with an artists’ studio out the back. The shop is a veritable emporium of curiosities and ephemera from before the age of electricity. Gonzalo kindly let me loose in there with my camera.