The world in 1903

Front cover of Urban's 1903 catalogue, 'We Put the World Before You'
Front cover of Urban’s 1903 catalogue, ‘We Put the World Before You’

Why sit on stuff when you can give it away and be useful? Well exactly, and so I’ve been uploading some of my Charles Urban images to a new folder on Flickr. As well as plundering my digital archive, I’ve been copying and pasting images from Urban’s 1903 film catalogue, We Put the World Before You, available on the Internet Archive (courtesy of the indispensable Media History Digital Library). The images won’t be of the highest resolution, but they will be browsable and a lot easier to find.

I’ve done this before – lifting images from public domain books (i.e. on the Internet Archive, and strictly speaking US public domain) and making them separately discoverable on Flickr (for silent films in particular). Of course we have software programmes now which can extract images from digital libraries automatically, but they still need classifying by humans if humans are going to find them, and find them useful. So that’s what I do.

If you don’t know who Charles Urban was, then you haven’t been following this blog or some of my other web offerings, but in brief he was an Anglo-American film producer in the early years of cinema who specialised in non-fiction film – there’s an introductory post on him here and my website dedicated to the man is at www.charlesurban.com.

Below is a selection of Urban images from the 1903 catalogue, when Urban was just starting out as an independent producer, impressing his unique vision of what films could show and what they were upon an unsuspecting public. Despite the catalogue’s title, in 1903 he hadn’t had the chance to cover all that much of the world (mostly Switzerland, Canada, Egypt and London Zoo). But it was nevertheless a strong statement of intent.

Mysterious iconography in this still from 'The Toad's Frolic' (1903), made for Urban by the naturalist Francis Martin Duncan
Mysterious iconography in this still from ‘The Toad’s Frolic’ (1903), made for Urban by the naturalist Francis Martin Duncan
'Participants of the Elk Dance'. Still from Hiawatha (UK 1903 p.c. Charles Urban Trading Company), filmed by Joe Rosenthal in Canada, enacted by members of the Ojibwa people
‘Participants of the Elk Dance’. Still from Hiawatha (UK 1903 p.c. Charles Urban Trading Company), filmed by Joe Rosenthal in Canada, enacted by members of the Ojibwa people
Bioscoping a football match at Crystal Palace
Bioscoping a football match at Crystal Palace
Urban's 1903 catalogue includes images from other producers whose films he distributed, such as Georges Méliès, whose costume team is shown here
Urban’s 1903 catalogue includes images from other producers whose films he distributed, such as Georges Méliès, whose costume team is shown here
Urban camera operator ('Bioscopist') filming in Egypt (possibly Jack Avery)
Urban camera operator (‘Bioscopist’) filming in Egypt (possibly Jack Avery)
Inside the offices of the Charles Urban Trading Company at 48 Rupert Street, London
Inside the offices of the Charles Urban Trading Company at 48 Rupert Street, London
The Octopus (1903), filmed by Francis Martin Duncan for Urban's series The Unseen World
The Octopus (1903), filmed by Francis Martin Duncan for Urban’s series The Unseen World
Poster advertising film shows using the Urban Bioscope projector
Poster advertising film shows using the Urban Bioscope projector
A still from Dorothy's Dream (1903), made by George Albert Smith and starring his wife Laura Bayley (here as Dick Whittington). Urban distributed Smith's films
A still from Dorothy’s Dream (1903), made by George Albert Smith and starring his wife Laura Bayley (here as Dick Whittington). Urban distributed Smith’s films
Members of the Urban Alpine Expedition on the Jungfrau, with filmmaker Frank Ormiston-Smith standing by the camera
Members of the Urban Alpine Expedition on the Jungfrau, with filmmaker Frank Ormiston-Smith standing by the camera
The film testing department at the Charles Urban Trading Company
The film testing department at the Charles Urban Trading Company

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