First Shots

In Paris in 1895, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière exhibited their latest invention – the cinematograph. Throughout the following years they sent specially trained operators across the four corners of the world to film human life, in all its great diversity. The footage that the operators brought back astonished all that saw it. The camera was sat upon a tripod and, when the moment was right, the operator would crank a handle, moving the film through the machine, recording all it saw in front of it.  With the apparatus sitting static on a tripod all of the shots were from a fixed perspective, that was unless the camera, tripod and operator themselves were already on a moving vehicle. As the reels of film were rather short, the shots, or Lumière views, didn’t last more than a minute. Today we recall the work of the Lumière Brothers by filming the world in a single, 60 second shot with the added addition of colour, sound and more, echoing those first cinematic gestures.

Sortie d'usine, first shot screened at Salon indien du Grand Café on 28th of December 1895, excerpt from Lumière ! L'aventure commence, composed by Thierry Frémeaux © Institut Lumière


« A new invention, certainly one of the most curious in our fertile era of inventions, was revealed last night, at 14 Boulevard des Capucines, in front of a learned public made up of professors and photographers. It concerns the reproduction by projection of scenes lived and photographed by a series of instant events. Regardless of the scene thus captured or the numbers of people caught in the act of living their lives, you see them again, life sized and rendered in colours (sic) of a certain sort. Perspective, the sky in the distance and the streets are there presented with the illusion of real life. »

Le Radical, 30 December 1895

« Louis Lumière’s films seem to be totally spontaneous. With the camera set up in the street, the life of the street passes in front of the lens, and if it’s well observed, if it causes a flip, we say to ourselves, it’s by chance. There was X meters, no more, to bring a shot together. The shot may, for example, start with a tram entering on the right hand side, the tram moves on and another tram comes in from the right hand side of the image. It’s not by chance at all. They’ve researched when the best moment to take the shot is, and they’ve achieved the most extraordinary thing, that which we’ve forgotten – for a few seconds, without changing the camera’s position, they’ve managed to get the most out of the shot that they possibly could. There are long shots, medium-long shots, close ups, group shots, and a movement which draws them all together. It’s a science developed and shared between Louis Lumière and the cameramen he chose to work with. It’s a sincere desire to copy reality, without either adding or taking anything away. »

Henri Langlois


La Canebière, excerpt from Lumière ! L'aventure commence, composed by Thierry Frémeaux © Institut Lumière

Lancement du "Varèse" à Livourne, excerpt from Lumière ! L'aventure commence, composed by Thierry Frémeaux © Institut Lumière


« What interested Méliès was the ordinary in the extraordinary, and for Lumière, the extraordinary in the ordinary. »

Jean-Luc Godard

« Following the recommendation of one of my parents, Monsieur Louis Lumière received me (in 1896). He was looking to train camera operators and he questioned me with the kind benevolence which he extended to all beginners. (…) He promised me that I would have an interesting position but said in a very friendly way, “You know, Mesguich, it’s not necessarily a position with a future that we’re offering you, it’s more of a fairground trade. It could last 6 months, a year, maybe more, maybe less!” (…) We proceeded through to the screening room with great haste. I’ll never forget the shock of what followed. In a darkened room, there before my stupefied eyes, on a fabric screen was the very image of life itself. It was a revelation, I was amazed. Passing from surprised to curious, I felt saddened by my ignorance and inability. Would I ever be able to make this strip of celluloid move in such a way? »

Félix Mesguich, Lumière cameraman


Biarritz : la plage et la mer, shot by Félix Mesguich, excerpt of Lumière ! L'aventure commence, composed by Thierry Frémeaux © Institut Lumière