Dr Martyn Jolly and Dr Elisa deCourcy working on a magic lantern. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Dr Martyn Jolly and Dr Elisa deCourcy working on a magic lantern. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Reviving the magic lantern

The spectacular outdoor projections that are redefining our urban space have a long heritage in Australia, as EVANA HO reports.

For more than a century, Australia’s visual culture was profoundly shaped by the technology of magic lantern slide projection.

From the 1840s to the 1930s the lanterns were used to project beautifully hand-painted slides in theatres, lecture halls, church services, private homes and even open public spaces.

As well, they left behind large collections of glass slides in a wide variety of institutions.

For the shows, glass slides were mechanically manipulated to produce animation on the screen, a multisensory experience for the audience. Despite being neglected until now, the world of magic lanterns is being revived at the ANU School of Art and Design.

Dr Martyn Jolly, Head of Photography and Media Arts, has a deep academic interest in the form and technology.

“I’ve got 16 magic lanterns, which is slightly embarrassing to say,” he says.

His colleague Associate Professor Martin Thomas jokes, “And he’s still pretending he’s not a collector.”