Some Strange Subjects and How They Were Taken

The grandstand of the Sheepshead Bay race-track, one spring afternoon, was packed solidly with people, and the broad, terra-cotta-coloured track was fenced in with a human wall near the judges' stand. The famous Suburban was to be run, and people flocked from every direction to see one of the greatest horse-races of the year. While the band played gaily, and the shrill cries of programme venders punctuated the hum of the voices of the multitude, and while the stable boys walked their aristocratic charges, shrouded in blankets, exercising them sedately—in the midst of all this movement, hubbub, and excitement a man a little to one side, apparently unconscious of all the uproar, was busy with a big box set up on a portable framework six or seven feet above the ground. The man was a new kind of photographer, and his big box was a camera with which he purposed to take a series of pictures of the race. Above the box, which was about two and a half feet square, was an electric motor from which ran a belt connecting with the inner mechanism; from the front of the box protruded the lens, its glassy eye so turned as to get a full sweep of the track; nearby on the ground were piled the storage batteries which were used to supply the current for the motor.

As the time for the race drew near the excitement increased, figures darted here, there and everywhere, the bobbing, brightly coloured hats of the women in the great slanting field of the grandstand suggesting bunches of flowers agitated by the breeze. Then the horses paraded in a thoroughbred fashion, as if they appreciated their lengthy pedigrees and understood their importance.

At last the splendid animals were lined up across the track, their small jockeys in their brilliantly coloured jackets hunched up like monkeys on their backs. Then the enormous crowd was quiet, the band was still, even the noisy programme venders ceased calling their wares, and the photographer stood quietly beside his camera, the motor humming, his hand on the switch that starts the internal machinery. Suddenly the starter dropped his arm, the barring gate flew up, and the horses sprang forward. “They're off!” came from a thousand throats in unison. The band struck up a lively air, and the vast assemblage watched with excited eyes the flying horses. As the horses swept on round the turn and down the back stretch the people seemed to be drawn from their seats, and by the time the racers made the turn leading into the home-stretch almost every one was standing and the roar of yelling voices was deafening.

All this time the photographer kept his eyes on his machine, which was rattling like a rapidly beaten drum, the cyclopean eye of the camera making impressions on a sensitised film-ribbon at the rate of forty a second, and every movement of the flying legs of the urging jockeys, even the puffs of dust that rose at the falling of each iron-shod hoof, was recorded for all time by the eye of the camera.

The horses entered the home-stretch and in a terrific burst of speed flashed by the throngs of yelling people and under the wire, a mere blur of shining bodies, brilliant colours of the jockeys' blouses, and yellow dust. The Suburban was over, and the great crowd that had come miles to see a race that lasted but a little more than two minutes (a grand struggle of giants, however), sank back into their seats or relaxed their straining gaze in a way that said plainer than words could say it, “It is over.”

It was 4:45 in the afternoon. The photographer was all activity. The minute the race was over the motor above the great camera was stopped and the box was opened. From its dark interior another box about six inches square and two inches deep was taken: this box contained the record of the race, on a narrow strip of film two hundred and fifty feet long, the latent image of thousands of separate pictures.

Then began another race against time, for it was necessary to take that long ribbon across the city of Brooklyn, over the Bridge, across New York, over the North River by ferry to Hoboken on the Jersey side, develop, fix, and dry the two-hundred-and-fifty-foot-long film-negative, make a positive or reversed print on another two-hundred-and-fifty-foot film, carry it through the same photographic process, and show the spirited scene on the stereopticon screen of a metropolitan theatre the same evening.

That evening a great audience in the dark interior of a New York theatre sat watching a white sheet stretched across the stage; suddenly its white expanse grew dark, and against the background appeared “The Suburban, run this afternoon at 4:45 at Sheepshead Bay track; won by Alcedo, in 2 minutes 5 3-5 seconds.”

Then appeared on the screen the picture of the scene that the thousands had travelled far to see that same afternoon. There were the wide, smooth track, the tower-like judges' stand, the oval turf of the inner field, and as the audience looked the starter moved his arm, and the rank of horses, life-size and quivering with excitement, shot forth. From beginning to end the great struggle was shown to the people seated comfortably in the city playhouse, several miles from the track where the race was run, just two hours and fifteen minutes after the winning horse dashed past the judges' stand. Every detail was reproduced; every movement of horses and jockeys, even the clouds of dust that rose from the hoof-beats, appeared clearly on the screen. And the audience rose gradually to their feet, straining forward to catch every movement, thrilled with excitement as were the mighty crowds at the actual race.

To produce the effect that made the people in the theatre forget their surroundings and feel as if they were actually overlooking the race-track itself, about five thousand separate photographs were shown.

It was discovered long ago that if a series of pictures, each of which showed a difference in the position of the legs of a man running, for instance, was passed quickly before the eye so that the space between the pictures would be screened, the figure would apparently move. The eyes retain the image they see for a fraction of a second, and if a new image carrying the movement a little farther along is presented in the same place, the eyes are deceived so that the object apparently actually moves. An ingenious toy called the zoltrope, which was based on this optical illusion, was made long before Edison invented the vitascope, Herman Caster the biograph and mutoscope, or the Lumiere brothers in France devised the cinematograph. All these different moving-picture machines work on the same principle, differing only in their mechanism.

A moving-picture machine is really a rapid-fire repeating camera provided with a lens allowing of a very quick exposure. Internal mechanism, operated by a hand-crank or electric motor, moves the unexposed film into position behind the lens and also opens and closes the shutter at just the proper moment. The same machinery feeds down a fresh section of the ribbon-like film into position and coils the exposed portion in a dark box, just as the film of a kodak is rolled off one spool and, after exposure, is wound up on another. The film used in the biograph when taking the Suburban was two and three-fourth inches wide and several hundred feet long; about forty exposures were made per second, and for each exposure the film had to come to a dead stop before the lens and then the shutter was opened, the light admitted for about one three-hundredth of a second, the shutter closed, and a new section of film moved into place, while the exposed portion was wound upon a spool in a light-tight box. The long, flexible film is perforated along both edges, and these perforations fit over toothed wheels which guide it down to the lens; the holes in the celluloid strip are also used by the feeding mechanism. In order that the interval between the pictures shall always be the same, the film must be held firmly in each position in turn; the perforations and toothed mechanism accomplish this perfectly.

In taking the picture of the Suburban race almost five thousand separate negatives (all on one strip of film, however) were made during the two minutes five and three-fifths seconds the race was being run. Each negative was perfectly clear, and each was different, though if one negative was compared to its neighbour scarcely any variance would be noted.

After the film has been exposed, the light-tight box containing it is taken out of the camera and taken to a gigantic dark-room, where it is wound on a great reel and developed, just as the image on a kodak film is brought out. The reel is hung by its axle over a great trough containing gallons of developer, so that the film wound upon it is submerged; and as the reel is revolved all of the sensitised surface is exposed to the action of the chemicals and gradually the latent pictures are developed. After the development has gone far enough, the reel, still carrying the film, is dipped in clean water and washed, and then a dip in a similar bath of clearing-and-fixing solution makes the negatives permanent—followed by a final washing in clean water. It is simply developing on a grand scale, thousands of separate pictures on hundreds of feet of film being developed at once.

A negative, however, is of no use unless a positive or print of some kind is made from it. If shown through a stereopticon, for instance, a negative would make all the shadows on the screen appear lights, and vice versa. A positive, therefore, is made by running a fresh film, with the negative, through a machine very much like the moving-picture camera. The unexposed surface is behind that of the negative, and at the proper intervals the shutter is opened and the admitted light prints the image of the negative on the unexposed film, just as a lantern slide is made, in fact, or a print on sensitised paper. The positives are made by this machine at the rate of a score or so in a second. Of course, the positive is developed in the same manner as the negative.

Therefore, in order to show the people in the theatre the Suburban, five hundred feet of film was exposed, developed, fixed, and dried, and nearly ten thousand separate and complete pictures were produced, in the space of two hours and fifteen minutes, including the time occupied in taking the films to and from the track, factory, and theatre.

Originally, successive pictures of moving objects were taken for scientific purposes. A French scientist who was studying aerial navigation set up a number of cameras and took successive pictures of a bird's flight. Doctor Muybridge, of Philadelphia, photographed trotting horses with a camera of his own invention that made exposures in rapid succession, in order to learn the different positions of the legs of animals while in rapid motion.

A Frenchman also—M. Mach—photographed a plant of rapid growth twice a day from exactly the same position for fifty consecutive days. When the pictures were thrown on the screen in rapid order the plant seemed to grow visibly.

The moving pictures provide a most attractive entertainment, and it was this feature of the idea, undoubtedly, that furnished the incentive to inventors. The public is always willing to pay well for a good amusement.

The makers of the moving-picture films have photographic studios suitably lighted and fitted with all the necessary stage accessories (scenery, properties, etc.) where the little comedies shown on the screens of the theatres are acted for the benefit of the rapid-fire camera and its operators, who are often the only spectators. One of these studios in the heart of the city of New York is so brilliantly lighted by electricity that pictures may be taken at full speed, thirty to forty-five per second, at any time of day or night. Another company has an open-air gallery large enough for whole troops of cavalry to maneuver before the camera, or where the various evolutions of a working fire department may be photographed.

Of course, when the pictures are taken in a studio or place prepared for the work the photographic part is easy—the camera man sets up his machine and turns the crank while the performers do the rest. But some extra-ordinary pictures have been taken when the photographer had to seek his scene and work his machine under trying and even dangerous circumstances.

During the Boer War in South Africa two operators for the Biograph Company took their bulky machine (it weighed about eighteen hundred pounds) to the very firing-line and took pictures of battles between the British and the Burghers when they were exposed to the fire of both armies. On one occasion, in fact, the operator who was turning the mechanism—he sat on a bicycle frame, the sprocket of which was connected by a chain with the interior machinery—during a battle, was knocked from his place by the concussion of a shell that exploded nearby; nevertheless, the film was saved, and the same man rode on horseback nearly seventy-five miles across country to the nearest railroad point so that the precious photographic record might be sent to London and shown to waiting audiences there.

Pictures were taken by the kinetoscope showing an ascent of Mount Blanc, the operator of the camera necessarily making the perilous journey also; different stages of the ascent were taken, some of them far above the clouds. For this series of pictures a film eight hundred feet long was required, and 12,800 odd exposures or negatives were made.

Successive pictures have been taken at intervals during an ocean voyage to show the life aboard ship, the swing of the great seas, and the rolling and pitching of the steamer. The heave and swing of the steamer and the mountainous waves have been so realistically shown on the screen in the theatre that some squeamish spectators have been made almost seasick. It might be comforting to those who were made unhappy by the sight of the heaving seas to know that the operator who took one series of sea pictures, when lashed with his machine in the lookout place on the foremast of the steamer, suffered terribly from seasickness, and would have been glad enough to set his foot on solid ground; nevertheless, he stuck to his post and completed the series.

It was a biograph operator that was engaged in taking pictures of a fire department rushing to a fire. Several pieces of apparatus had passed—an engine, hook-and-ladder company, and the chief; the operator, with his (then) bulky apparatus, large camera, storage batteries, etc., stood right in the centre of the street, facing the stream of engines, hose-wagons, and fire-patrol men. In order to show the contrast, an old-time hand-pump engine, dragged by a dozen men and boys, came along at full speed down the street, and behind and to one side of them followed a two-horse hose-wagon, going like mad. The men running with the old-time engine, not realising how narrow the space was and unaware of the plunging horses behind, passed the biograph man on one side on the dead run. The driver of the rapidly approaching team saw that there was no room for him to pass on the other side of the camera man, and his horses were going too fast to stop in the space that remained. He had but an instant to decide between the dozen men and their antiquated machine and the moving-picture outfit. He chose the latter, and, with a warning shout to the photographer, bore straight down on the camera, which continued to do its work faithfully, taking dozens of pictures a second, recording even the strained, anxious expression on the face of the driver. The pole of the hose-wagon struck the camera-box squarely and knocked it into fragments, and the wheels passed quickly over the pieces, the photographer meanwhile escaping somehow. By some lucky chance the box holding the coiled exposed film came through the wreck unscathed.

When that series was shown on the screen in a theatre the audience saw the engine and hook-and-ladder in turn come nearer and nearer and then rush by, then the line of running men with the old engine, and then—and their flesh crept when they saw it—a team of plunging horses coming straight toward them at frightful speed. The driver's face could be seen between the horses' heads, distorted with effort and fear. Straight on the horses came, their nostrils distended, their great muscles straining, their fore hoofs striking out almost, it seemed, in the faces of the people in the front row of seats. People shrank back, some women shrieked, and when the plunging horses seemed almost on them, at the very climax of excitement, the screen was darkened and the picture blotted out. The camera taking the pictures had continued to work to the very instant it was struck and hurled to destruction.

In addition to the stereopticon and its attendant mechanism, which is only suitable when the pictures are to be shown to an audience, a machine has been invented for the use of an individual or a small group of people. In the mutoscope the positives or prints are made on long strips of heavy bromide paper, instead of films, and are generally enlarged; the strip is cut up after development and mounted on a cylinder, so they radiate like the spokes of a wheel, and are set in the same consecutive order in which they were taken. The thousands of cards bearing the pictures at the outer ends are placed in a box, so that when the wheel of pictures is turned, by means of a crank attached to the axle, a projection holds each card in turn before the lens through which the observer looks. The projection in the top of the box acts like the thumb turning the pages of a book. Each of the pictures is presented in such rapid succession that the object appears to move, just as the scenes thrown on the screen by a lantern show action.

The mutoscope widens the use of motion-photography infinitely. The United States Government will use it to illustrate the workings of many of its departments at the World's Fair at St. Louis: the life aboard war-ships, the handling of big guns, army maneuvers, the life-saving service, post-office workings, and, in fact, many branches of the government service will be explained pictorially by this means.

Agents for manufacturers of large machinery will be able to show to prospective purchasers pictures of their machines in actual operation. Living, moving portraits have been taken, and by means of a hand machine can be as easily examined as pictures through a stereoscope. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that circulating libraries of moving pictures will be established, and that every public school will have a projecting apparatus for the use of films, and a stereopticon or a mutoscope. In fact, a sort of circulating library already exists, films or mutoscope pictures being rented for a reasonable sum; and thus many of the most important of the world's happenings may be seen as they actually occurred.

Future generations will have histories illustrated with vivid motion pictures, as all the great events of the day, processions, celebrations, battles, great contests on sea and land are now recorded by the all-seeing eye of the motion-photographer's camera.