Arguably the creators of cinema, Auguste and Louis Lumière were two remarkable brothers who made their mark on the world at the end of the 19th century. Born in Besançon, they were quickly introduced into the world of photography and art by their father, an artist and owner of a photography business. In 1861 they moved as a family to the Monplaisir quarter of Lyon, nowadays called Monplaisir- Lumière, an acknowledgement of their contribution to cinema and to the city. The Lumière mansion remains a great part of the history of this quarter and has been converted into a museum charting the astonishing lives of these two brothers.
Antoine Lumière, father to Auguste and Louis, introduced his two sons to the world of photography through his shop. Both scientifically minded they quickly became interested in the mechanics of photography. In September 1884, Thomas Edison created the kinetoscope, a phenomenal invention; it resembled a box with a window at the top through which a film could be watched. Therefore it was fairly restrictive in that only one person could watch at a time. This obviously meant that a very select group of people with the means to pay were able to experience this novelty. In reaction to this, Antoine challenged his sons to create a method of bringing this invention to the mass public across the world. This, in itself, was a fairly revolutionary idea for a bourgeois and conservative family and shows that he realised its significance. The brothers found the answer in an incredibly short space of time. By February 1885, they had answered their father’s challenge.
In the spirit of their father’s philanthropic ideals, during the next 15 years they created an apprenticeship scheme, wherein the young men of Lyon were invited to be trained in the art of film-making. Applicants were required to be young, intelligent and with an appetite for the world and for travel. After a few weeks of training, these explorers were sent off around the world to record their experiences. This meant an incredible diversity of skills, techniques and creativity emerged within a very short period after the invention. The development of the industry was incredibly fast moving, throwing up some wonderful talent such as Gabriel Veyre who was very avant-garde in his use of camera angles and composition. The first film shown to the public was in 1895, in Paris, called ‘La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon’, rolled for about 50 seconds and was the prelude to today’s global film industry.
The most fascinating thing about these brothers is that following this global success they decided that there was no future in cinema. Auguste left the profession altogether claiming he was not an artist and turned his attention to medicine with no less success. He went on to invent the prosthetic hand, a bandage for burns that was invaluable following WWII and came up with many other theories. Louis turned his attention to the notion of colour photography and in 1903 discovered ‘autochrome’ and it was Gabriel Veyre who took some of the first colour photos in Morocco with this system. These two brothers are nowadays barely mentioned, yet without them, so much of what we take for granted today would not be possible. They achieved so much in such a short period of time and in such a diverse range of areas. If you ever find yourself in Lyon with a few hours to kill, the Musée Lumière is well worth a visit.