restricted access Moving Pictures: Magic Lanterns, Portable Projection, and Urban Advertising in the Nineteenth Century
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Moving Pictures:
Magic Lanterns, Portable Projection, and Urban Advertising in the Nineteenth Century

In 1896, bodybuilder Eugen Sandow sat at a desk to devote himself to a mental task, rather than a physical one. He had recently returned to England from a trip to the United States, where he had collaborated with inventor W. K. L. Dickson on a mutoscope reel, an early moving-picture technology, and had posed for X-ray photographs after indicating his interest in the subject to Thomas Edison, who was proudly advertising his patented process for X-rays and fluoroscopes.1 Now, though, Sandow was working on his own invention. Self-consciously identifying himself as a “Professional Athlete,” he drafted a patent application for what he called a “novel and effective portable method of advertising” (figs. 1, 2).2 This mobile moving-picture device was to be mounted on a human body that would walk the streets while projecting lantern slides or films, bringing novel meaning to the newly developing media and the bandied-about terms of “moving pictures” and “living pictures.” Sandow’s device for portable projection engaged with and re-conceptualized contemporary issues of mobility, technology, consumption, and urban spectacle. Although the proposed machine was never brought into mass production, this patent transforms our understanding of the history of “screen practice,” as articulated by Charles Musser, by proposing a mobile screen borne on the body of a pedestrian, meant to circulate through the city at night; it also expands our view of broader practices of urban advertising, media experimentation, and perception.3 The patent specification, emerging only a few [End Page 733] months after the first successful projection of enlarged motion pictures (rather than the prior reliance on the kinetoscope and peep-box viewing), reveals the way the practice of viewing film might have developed.4 This article examines the circulating image of embodied advertising and corporeal technologies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, positing a proto-cyborg whose interaction with machines and commodities superseded his interaction with other humans.5

As Sandow specified in his proposal,

In carrying out my Invention I construct a frame or screen combined with a projecting (or magic) lantern which may be easily carried on a man’s shoulders. . . . By means of the lantern I project upon the screen, advertisements of any desired character. The lantern is provided with a train of wheels arranged as in clockwork which control and cause to pass in front of the condenser at desired intervals, an endless transparent film, upon which may be photographed or printed in any desirable manner the various advertisements [or] . . . show moving pictures along with the advertisements.6

The bearer was literally weighed down with the burden of modern technology, the projector mounted over his head and strapped to his shoulders and his field of vision obstructed by the screen. The patent raises important issues for our understanding of the turn of the century imagined urban dweller and the possibilities that people foresaw for street life and visual consumption—and for the social interactions, or lack thereof, between people mediated by technology and machines. While the apparatus did not achieve the ubiquity of the stereoscope or the panopticon, it is nonetheless a revealing conceptualization of the period’s urban spectator and consumer.7 Sandow’s invention is an “evocative object” with which to consider laboring bodies and their uneasy immersion in the realms of commerce, technology, and wonder, while it also highlights and complicates the often-overlooked urban figure of the sandwich man and his relationship to showmanship.8

Sandow: Image, Embodiment, and Invention

Sandow’s self-promotion had already revealed an awareness of the intertwined issues of embodiment and mobility. Born in Prussia, Sandow garnered attention in 1889 with showy stage performances and feats of strength in London; he also became renowned in the United States during a tour that coincided with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where his skills of aesthetic posing were applauded.9 His image was disseminated through photographs, cabinet cards, and illustrations in popular journals, thanks to innovations in printing technologies and photomechanical reproduction. In addition to his roles as performer and model, Sandow proved himself...


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