Over the last year we found ourselves in the uncharted waters of a global pandemic as we prepared for and installed The Story of the Moving Image. But there was a small beacon of delight that I kept coming back to: the 9.5mm Pathé-Baby camera and projector, one of the very first objects to nestle into its current home in the Moving Pictures section of the exhibition.
As a cinema and fine arts student in the mid to late 1990s I loved everything about the 1920s, with my particular obsession being anything by Fritz Lang, but also all the incidental furrowed footage from the era of the city streets, landscapes and holidays taken by ordinary people; would-be amateur cinematographers using these old cameras as those of us nowadays use our iPhones.
Last year when the world had almost stood still and none of us knew what was to come, the 9.5mm Pathé-Baby camera and projector acutely reminded me each time I passed by its case of the beauty and limitation defiance to be found in the small things; of the curiosity and possibilities that drove me in my studies and early career – and still does – and the enormous value in capturing and celebrating the essence of living for ordinary souls that such a technology made possible.
A short film shot on the 9.5mm Pathé-Baby camera by aviator and engineer John Robertson Duigan (1882–1951).
As we relied on the smallest things to get us through the year, there the camera floated, giving me a point of focus, letting me know that we could keep going. While everything may be transient, there’s always someone’s history, someone’s love and someone’s possibilities if you look closely enough.
– Sarah Caldwell, Registrar