LIGHT KEEPER: (opposite) Two
triple-lens magic lanterns from
the 1800s; (above) Jack Judson in
his restoration workshop with a
project-in-process, a rare French
science projector from the 1800s.
be walking, probably, into a town square somewhere The image could be small, or grow larger, and this
in France, where we presume a lot of it began. was quite alarming to some people. They thought it
DD: What is a hurdy-gurdy?
JJ: The hurdy-gurdy is really a violin in a box, but
instead of being stroked by a bow, it is stroked by a
wheel that is turned with an outside crank. On the
front of the box is a set of keys that can change the
pitch and tone, to play music with it. He would play
the hurdy-gurdy to attract attention. He might be
invited into a home, or a church, where he would
slide pictures painted on glass through this machine
that was lit by a little oil lamp. It was basically a tin
box with a lens at the front.
DD: The light of an oil lamp flickers. And it’s a yellowish light.
JJ: It’s a terrible light. The next evolution, of course,
was trying to improve the light — the amount of
light — by adding, instead of one little wick, a bigger
wick or two wicks, or three wicks, or four wicks. They
were able to grind better lenses. Then, of course,
they were using fire — that was about as far as you
could go with burning oil or some kind of a liquid,
DD: The lanternist was essentially a storyteller who
had images to accompany his story.
JJ: The magic lantern was very scary to people
who had no education whatsoever. Frequently, they
did these shows in total darkness, like in a crypt,
which was very spooky, and they showed pictures
of skeletons and devils. It just scared everybody
like crazy. They might also do the projection from
behind the screen. They would have a light-colored
cloth, which they wet to make it more translucent.
DD: Some lanterns used a pair of lenses.
JJ: They had a condenser lens, which is right at the
front of the box with the light in it. That was either a
single or double plano-convex large lens, which acted
to focus the light from the source into a coherent
path. It would pass directly through the image area
on the slide, and then meet the projection lens out
front, which you use to focus the image. That’s the
normal configuration. That exists even to this day in
the latest slide projector.