The Magic Lantern Show

In the 18th century, magic lantern shows were usually presented for small groups (left). Because images could be projected onto walls or hanging drapes, they were suitable for collective viewing; naturally, the images selected were also suitable for groups mixed both by gender and age. From the beginning, however, it was also possible to exhibit magic lantern slides in peephole viewers. Thus in the view on the right, a contemporary (1848) illustration depicts a group of Parisians patronizing a peepshow called the “Lanterne Magique Jemmappes.” The peepshow format tended to foster what American film historian Charles Musser calls “private spectatorship and voyeuristic satisfaction.” The peepshow and screen-projected formats of the magic lantern coexisted for over 200 years, before the latter finally emerged as the preferred method of exhibition in the late 1890s.

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