The Biograph Studio, London


The Biograph Studio, photographic printing studio, 107 Regent Street. London, W.

The American Mutoscope Company was incorporated in New Jersey on December 30, 1895. The firm manufactured the Mutoscope and made flip-card movies for it as a rival to Edison’s Kinetoscope for individual “peep shows”, making the company Edison’s chief competitor in the nickelodeon market. In the summer of 1896 the Biograph projector was released, offering superior image quality to Edison’s Vitascope projector. The company soon became a leader in the film industry, with distribution and production subsidiaries around the world, including the British Mutoscope Co. In 1899 it changed its name to the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, and in 1908 to simply the Biograph Company. The Biograph Company was active until 1916. It was the first company in the United States devoted entirely to film production and exhibition, and for two decades was one of the most prolific, releasing over 3,000 short films and 12 feature films. During the height of silent film as a medium, Biograph was America’s most prominent film studio and one of the most respected and influential studios worldwide, only rivaled by Germany’s UFA, Sweden’s Svensk Filmindustri and France’s Pathé. The company was home to pioneering director D. W. Griffith and such actors as Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and Lionel Barrymore.

In 1897 Elias Koopman arrived in the UK from America, followed by William Dickson, to market both the Biograph films and the Mutoscope. Biograph films had their premiere at the Palace Theatre in London on 18 March 1897, where they would hold a continuous spot on the bill until December 1902. On the 21st of July 1897, the Mutoscope and Biograph Syndicate Ltd was incorporated.

The South Wales Daily News of 8 June 1900 reported the activities of the London branch:

BIOGRAPH PICTURES FOR THE MILLION. To ran the risk of being snap-shot at every moment was bad enough; but if the biograph is to be brought into common use nobody will dare to move at a11 unless he is absolutely alone, and awkward consequences may be expected. The Biograph and Mutoscope Syndicate have it seems, decided to open a studio in Regent-Street, where people may go and be biographed just as they foolishly submit to being photographed at present and from this to the snapshot biograph is but a small step.

“I think the biograph studio will be very popular indeed,” said Mr Smedley, the manager of the syndicate to a Daily Mail representative recently. “There will be no limits to the operation of the studio save those which regulate the usual high-class photographers. Anyone who wishes, or a number of persons, may be photographed doing just what they like. Bridal procession ? Certainly if they wish it. The bride and bridegroom, bridesmaids, best man, parents, sisters, cousins, aunts — they can all walk round the studio and be ‘biographed’ for private circulation. Young ladies and gentlemen may meet in front of the ‘machine’ and send reels of the living pictures to their friends. In fact, anyone may come and walk, dance, receive one’s friends, or anything in reason, and have a faithful reproduction of the scene sent home. There will be no difficulty about showing the biograph pictures to friends. We supply stands for the drawing-room, and all you have to do is to put the reel on the spindle and turn the handle. Or you can have a Kinora, a small machine for the table. The great advantage over the ordinary cinematograph is that our reels consist of finished pictures, not of combustible films. There will be unlimited amusement, and no danger.”

On the 31 October 1899, Koopman took out three patents for a professional Kinora camera for use in photographic studios. He continued refining the Kinora system but, in November 1904, British Mutoscope and Biograph ended its lease on its offices on Great Windmill Street in London and moved to smaller ones. This resulted in a large auction of surplus films and equipment including 517 Kinora viewers and 1,490 Kinora reels.

In November 1908, William Smedley, the chairman of British Mutoscope and Biograph relaunched the Kinora System of Animated Photography through a different company. Despite heavy marketing, the system failed commercially; On 11 January 1914, their factory in Letchworth burned down, bringing the Kinora story to an abrupt halt. No attempt was made to resume production or sales and the company was officially wound up on 7 April 1915

The London Biograph Studio also traded in the conventional manner of photographic studio. Their Biograph Post Cards featured photographs of stage stars and MPs. They produced a carte de visite for barrister Sir Edward Marshall Hall (1858 to 1927). The studio also produced the photographs for the article Our Future King at Play which The Harmsworth Magzine published in October 1900. Their photograph of The Bartitzu Form of Japanese Wrestling featured in The Sketch magazine in 1901.

Source: Who shot Harry Vardon? A Moving Tale of Champion Golfers by Peter N Lewis Through the Green, September 2008

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