Garvey on the day the first camera rolled...
||Image shot by Louis le Prince
Clouds scud over Leeds having scraped across the Pennines. Planes ferry
into and out of nearby Yeadon Airport. Motorways race vehicles in all
directions; round, through and away from this evermoving city. In the
daytime, you can stand in City Square and watch the choreographed chaos
of people intermingling, each invisibly drawn by ravelling threads. At
night, youll feel clublands beating pulse invade. New buildings
are altering the landscape, expressions of confidence in concrete and
glass. All is built around a once-lively river which travels almost unnoticed
through. A minor inconvenience, to be crossed discreetly, as at Leeds
I was there, standing on it, late one August afternoon. A man has made
it into a magical bridge.
Out of respect for him, lets run the next bit as a movie:-
Pan upwards away from the rivers steady ebb and sweep right to the
waterside buildings. Focus on an elevated window. Zoom in. Pick up sound
from inside the room and cut to view of within.
Now weve merged with the past and can see what looks to us like
an antiquated camera. The year is 1888. It is autumn. Louis Le Prince
is bringing twenty years of painstaking work to fruition. Excited, absorbed,
he checks his equipment as the bustling Victorian city hurries about its
business. His camera overlooks Leeds Bridge which people are crossing
in either direction, briskly. Several horsedrawn carriages traverse it.
He speaks to his assistant, then they are ready. The camera starts and
they film in rapt silence. In my minds eye, colour has faded to
monochrome and I can see that famed clip of people and carriages moving
jerkily but moving across the bridge. Frozen images, made to flow, have
come to life.
Poor Louis, though, choosing to celebrate his adoptive city in some of
the worlds first motion pictures, had jealous rivals in America.
He also had run up large debts trying to be first to bring the past back
to life. Ironically, his mysterious and total disappearance in 1890 from
a train travelling between Dijon and Paris, along with all his equipment
and films, is perfect cinema. Abduction? Deception?
The diminishing train, without Louis, races on towards Paris but I remain
on the bridge, feeling the sunshine on my back. Leaning over the parapet,
I watch the waters sliding forever eastward. Everything changes. All the
people captured by Le Princes camera have long since hurried to
their rest. Nothing is fixed
except by movies.
© Graeme Garvey August 2002
A prince among hillocks
once more, he searches for a meaning to the universe, with stimulants
which he has kept handy.
© Graeme Garvey
Previously by GG
The Yorkshire Dales
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