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World’s earliest “moving picture” of a magician discovered and to be screened for first time at Dana Centre, London


The earliest "moving picture" of a magician – which was created for a scientific study on magic in the 1890’s – will be shown for the first time tonight, Wednesday 26 July, at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre in South Kensington, London.

The pictures were created during a study by famed psychologist and creator of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, as he investigated the psychology of magic.

Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, who discovered the pictures in a Paris archive, will screen them as part of The Science of Magic event at the Dana Centre - the UK’s only dedicated venue for adults to discuss contemporary and controversial science - in London on 27 and 29 July.

Alfred Binet, head of the Experimental Physiology Laboratory at the Sorbonne, was interested in whether the hand is quicker than the eye and approached a well-known chronophotographer, Georges Demeny, to capture sequences of images of conjuring tricks.

Demeny’s technique involved taking several stills of moving objects in fast succession. It had been used by Eadweard Muybridge in the 1870s to establish whether horses take all four feet of the ground when they trot and by Demeny’s colleague Etienne Jules Marey to discover how cats land on their feet when they fall. Demeny is regarded as one of the pioneers of cinema.

Binet wrote up the results in 1894 claiming that the sleight of hand was obvious when it was photographed in this way.

“After much detective work I tracked them down to the ‘collection des appareils’ in the Cinémathèque Française in Paris,” said Professor Wiseman.

“The magician in the moving pictures was a well known French sleight of hand artist called Raynaly, who performed various magic tricks for the camera. Only one set of photographs still exists which shows Raynaly vanishing a ball. I took stills of the 23 frames and re-animated them, thus bringing him back to life. The trick he performs is impressive and still works as well as modern day trick. It’s fantastic to be able to screen this for the first time at the Dana Centre in London.”

“This is a very interesting discovery”, said Michael Harvey, Curator of Cinematography at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. “Cinema itself is a trick of the eye and from the start was adopted by magicians such as David Devant and Georges Méliès for the purposes of trickery and fantasy. This shows how in its earliest manifestation it was also used to deconstruct the mystery of magic.”

The science of showmanship and psychology of magic will be explored at two unique evenings of spectacle, discussion and illusion on 27 and 29 July at the Dana Centre, which is fast developing a reputation for creating innovative science events for adults.

The events – which are for adults only - will be hosted by one of the UK’s leading psychologists and former magician, Professor Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire), and will involve jaw-dropping performances by critically acclaimed Las Vegas magician Jeff McBride as well as a live demonstration of sophisticated eye tracking equipment from Dr Gustav Kuhn (University of Durham).

The Science of Magic is part of The Magic Circle’s centenary year.

Lauren Gildersleve | alfa
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