Charlotte Fiell, author of the stunning and unique Memories of a Lost World, reveals how she discovered the magic lantern slides that the book contains – and what they reveal about our history in the ‘pre-media’ age.
Looking through a window into the past…
“Memories of a Lost World is a book that came about from my obsession with magic lantern slides and my related love of social history. It all started a few years back when I was researching a book on German design and found a magic lantern slide showing a Zeppelin airship being maneuvered into a hangar. As I lifted this large glass slide to the light to see it more clearly, it was so like looking through a window into the past that it quite literally gave me goose bumps. I just knew I had lucked onto something that every social historian is searching for, a wonderful new source of primary historical research to explore. And explore I did as I collected hundreds and hundreds of magic lantern slides over the next few years. Many of these slides were some of the earliest photographic records of countries, cultures and peoples to have been taken before the advent of photographic film, cinema, television or mass-travel. What these slides represented to me was a pure and for the most part undiluted essence of national character – whether it was a slide of a geisha sleeping or a African tribesman dancing or a bustling street scene of Paris or a panoramic view of the Himalayas.
Illuminating all corners of the world
I eventually decided it would be really interesting to collect enough magic lantern slides to make up an extensive “world tour” of this long lost pre-media age that spanned a period of around seventy years from the 1860s to the 1930s. It just seemed the right thing to do with this amazing resource of primary historical imagery, especially as these magic lantern slides had been originally taken to be used as both educative tools as well as pre-cinema entertainment. The result was Memories of a Lost World – a really chunky tome which includes literally hundreds of painstakingly scanned and retouched magic lantern slides from all corners of the world – from early exploration trips in the frozen Arctic to the pyramids of Egypt, from the indigenous peoples of New Guinea to ranching on the South American pampas, from the tram-and-carriage blocked streets of London to the sublime vistas of Yellowstone Park…it is all included. Significantly, not only does this fascinating collection of early imagery show the wonderful cultural diversity that existed in our long lost pre-globalised world but quite poignantly it also expresses an overwhelming sense of shared humanity as well. I just hope you enjoy your travels into this lost world as much as I have…”