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About the Projection Project

The Cinema Projectionist is a digital archive and website that makes available online The Projection Project’s collection of research materials on the history of cinema projection in Britain. It has been developed by the Project’s team of researchers from the University of Warwick. The Projection Project, which ran from October 2014 to January 2018, was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and investigated the history of cinema projection in the UK through interviews, archives, feature films and photographs, following the switch of most cinemas to digital projection. It also looked at the contemporary expansion of projected images outside of the cinema. This page provides some more information about The Projection Project.

The Cinema Projectionist contains no physical objects but is a digital collection of:

  • a wealth of audio recordings of the memories of projectionists working in British cinemas from the 1940s to the 2010s including during the transition from 35mm to digital projection
  • audio recordings of sounds of the projection box recorded by Michael Pigott
  • hundreds of photos of the projection boxes of cinemas from all over the UK from the 1910s to the 1960s – most of them scanned from cinema exhibition trade journals
  • a special issue of the Journal of British Cinema and Television written and edited by the Projection Project team and outside contributors dedicated to projection
  • a ‘virtual projection box’ which is an online exhibit you can use to explore the projection box and discover the functionalities of various bits of equipment as well as other details about the workspace of the projectionist
  • an online version of the photographic exhibition staged by Richard Nicholson – The Projectionists – which opened 2016’s Flatpack Film Festival and was covered in the national media.

We welcome current and former projectionists, researchers, journalists, historians and archivists to use The Cinema Projectionists and to give us feedback or ask questions about the collection.

Background

The majority of cinemas in Britain switched to digital projection between 2004 and 2012. Most of the multiplexes are now all digital, while some repertory and art-houses maintain the capacity to project 35mm celluloid film. This transition means that the job of projecting films has changed, with many film projectionists losing their jobs. Films are now delivered as digital files and performances are programmed by computer.

The Projection Project focused on four broad areas of inquiry:

The contemporary transition to digital

As well as mechanical and electrical skills, many projectionists have extensive knowledge of cinema history. Interviews with (former) projectionists will allowed us both to document a passing analogue/mechanical trade and also contribute to the debates about the future of cinema. The interviews allowed us to gain an insight into the individual working lives of projectionists, allowing us to develop and understanding of the many aspects involved in being a projectionist throughout the twentieth century, including: skills, training, professional procedures and standards, attitudes to changing technology and the shift to digital.

The history of the cinema projectionist

The ‘analogue memories’ discovered in our interviews have been supported by archival research. This strand of work has focused on key moments of change in projection practices and the professional status of projectionists throughout the history of cinema. These include: the formation of the first projectionists’ union, NACO in 1907; the employment of women as ‘projectionettes’ in both World Wars and since; the re-skilling of projectionists necessitated by the introduction of sound; the consequences of the long decline in cinema-going and mass cinema closures from the late 1950s to the 1970s and changes to the technical requirements of the job occasioned by the twinning of single screen cinemas and emergence of the multiplex.

The projectionist in the movies

Cinema-goers know – from the way projectionists appear in feature films themselves – that the magic of the silver screen is projected from the small dark room, the projection box, at the back of the auditorium. Claire Jesson’s PhD thesis, ‘The Projectionist in Cinema and the Persistence of Film’, was completed in September 2018 and constitutes one of the Projection Project’s research strands. Transhistorical and transnational in scope, it is a detailed analysis of how the projectionist is represented cinematically from the earliest days of cinema to the near present, across a range of national cinemas. The films analysed in Claire’s work reflect upon cinema’s changing social uses and contexts. It aims to write the projectionist and audience into how films reflect upon their own construction including their sensitivity to the national and historical context in which they were made. It argues that these are routinely overlooked by scholars concerned with filmic reflexivity (who tend to focus on how films represent figures more closely associated with producing films like directors, writers and stars). The thesis operates as a work of meta-criticism as well as doing the work of historical documentation and reflection.

The new projection: emergent uses of digital projection as an artistic practice

This strand of the project surveyed contemporary uses of digital projection outside of the cinema including digital projection in galleries, projection mapping (the geometric mapping of tailored video content onto the three-dimensional surfaces of objects, often buildings) and VJing (live mixing of video content). This strand was concerned with contextualising the work of artists using digital projection, as well as the material realities of curating projection in a gallery environment. It addressed the ways in which contemporary artists have articulated their relationship to the projected moving image, and the everyday practices of installing and maintaining projection works within the gallery, and sought to determine how digital technologies have affected the way that artists and curators use, and think about, moving image projection.  

Team Members

Prof. Charlotte Brunsdon (Principal Investigator, 2014-2016)

Dr Jon Burrows (Co-Investigator, 2014-2016, Principal Investigator, 2016-2018)

Dr Claire Jesson (PhD Researcher)

Dr Michael Pigott (Co-Investigator)

Dr Richard Wallace (Research Fellow, 2014-2017, Co-Investigator, 2017-2018)

Partners

Ian Francis (Flatpack Festival)

Ian Franci is the founder and director of Birmingham's Flatpack Film Festival. The festival hosted a number of events in partnership with the project during the 2016 festival (see below).

Richard Nicholson (Photographer)

Richard Nicholson is a freelance photographer (www.richardnicholson.com) whose previous projects have included 'Last One Out, Please Turn on the Light', a series chronicling the last surviving photographic darkrooms in London.

British Film Institute (Richard Paterson)

Richard Paterson is head of Research and Scholarship at the British Film Institute (BFI). His key role is developing the BFI's links with educational institutions

Advisory Board

Charlotte Crofts (Digital Cultures Research Centre)

Dr. Charlotte Crofts is a creative producer and Senior Lecturer in Filmmaking and Creative Media at University of the West of England, Bristol. Charlotte has developed the Curzon Memories App which uses digital technologies to explore cinema exhibition spaces.

Ann Gray (European Journal of Cultural Studies)

Professor Ann Gray has written on the forms, functions, introduction, and uses of moving image technologies. She is the co-editor of the European Journal of Cultural Studies, and her most recent book, with Erin Bell, is History on Television (2012).

Allan Eyles (Cinema Theatre Association)

The Cinema Theatre Association is a cinema heritage organisation dedicated to the history of cinema buildings. Allen Eyles is a historian of British cinema and his books include studies of the Odeon, Granada, Gaumont and ABC cinema chains and London's West End Cinemas.

Ken Worpole (writer and public policy researcher)

Ken Worpole is Professor Emeritus at The Cities Institute, London Metropolitan University, and the author of books on architecture, landscape and public policy, including, Last Landscapes: the architecture of the cemetery in the West (2003), Modern Hospice Design: the architecture of palliative care (2009), and Contemporary Library Architecture (2013). He has also collaborated with photographer Jason Orton on two books exploring the coastal landscape of the Thames Estuary and East Anglia: 350 Miles (2005) & The New English Landscape (2013).

Peter J Knight (Projected Picture Trust)

Peter Knight is TE chairman of The Projected Picture Trust which is an organisation dedicated to locating, preserving, renovating and exhibiting the equipment of still and moving images.

Lawrence Napper (Kings College London)

Dr Lawrence Napper is a scholar of British film history and author of British Cinema and Middle-brow Culture (2009). He was senior researcher on the University of East Anglia’s British Cinema History Project (2001-5), and in this time worked on cataloguing the BECTU project (interviews with workers in the cinema industry conducted under the aegis of the amalgamated trade union, BECTU).

Roger Shannon (Swish Birmingham)

Roger Shannon is the director of Swish films, Birmingham. Swish films develops and produces films as well as organizing film events and festivals. Roger is former head of the BFI Production Board, and a Professor of Film and Television at the Edge Hill University

Events

Throughout the Projection Project’s duration, we staged events for the public at which team members showcased their research. Indeed, events are still occasionally put on. A list of these events can be found below:

10-11/07/2015: ‘“Oh it’s good. The only trouble is it puts us out of business”: the experience of the introduction of digital cinema projection’ - conference paper by Richard Wallace, Oral Histories of Science, Technology and Medicine: Oral History Society Annual Conference 2015, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham

22-24/06/2015: ‘The end of cinema? The view from the projection box’ - conference paper by Charlotte Brunsdon and Richard Wallace, What is Cinema History? A HoMER Conference, University of Glasgow, Glasgow

25/03/2015: ‘Starting an Oral History Project: The Projection Project’ - invited speaker presentation by Richard Wallace, Oral History Network, University of Warwick, Coventry

08/05/2015: 'A cultural study of projection' - invited plenary presentation by Charlotte brunsdon, Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies 15th anniversary symposium, University of Sunderland

21/11/2015: 'Projection Project' - panel discussion including Jon Burrows and Michael Pigott and chaired by Claire Jesson as part of the Celluloid City weekend, Midlands Art Centre (mac), Birmingham

22/11/2015: Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders, 1976) - film screening and introduction by Claire Jesson as part of the Celluloid City weekend, Midlands Art Centre (mac), Birmingham

8-10/02/2016: 'The Virtual Projection Box: Cinema History and Digital Space’ - conference paper by Michael Pigott and Richard Wallace, Hands on History: Exploring New Methodologies for Media History Research, Geological Society, London

20-24/04/2016: 'The Projectionists' by Richard Nicholson - photographic exhibition, Flatpack Film Festival, The Gas Hall, Birmingham

24/04/2016: Richard Nicholson in Conversation - public event, Flatpack Film Festival, The Gas Hall, Birmingham

24/04/2016: Secrets of the Projection Box - public talk, Flatpack Film Festival, The Gas Hall, Birmingham

07/05/2016: Inside the Projection Box - public talk plus screening of Cinema Paradiso

29/07/2016: 'Thinking inside the box': Projecting in the UK - conference panel, NECS, Potsdam

25/03/2017: The Disappearing World of Analogue Film Projection - conference panel, SCMS, Chicago

09/04/2017: 'Is That A Woman in the Box?' - public talk, Flatpack Film Festival, Flatpack Hub, Birmingham

24/02/2018: The New Projectionists: VJing, AV Performance and Post-cinematic Projection - symposium, Vivid Projects, Birmingham

Publications and Other Releases

Michael Pigott, 'Trapped in the Image: An Interview with Gerars Byrne', Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli: Film Inside an Image (Coventry: Mead Gallery)

Richard Wallace, 'On the Audibility of Time' (2016) - Oral History Network blog post

Richard Wallace, 'The Projection project' (2016) - report for Viewfinder (September 2016)

Charlotte Brunsdon, Jon Burrows, Claire Jesson, Michael Pigott and Richard Wallace, Special issue of the Journal of British Cinema and Television (Vo.15 No.1) edited by the Projection Project (2018)

Michael Pigott, 'Sounds of the Projection Box' (2018) - vinyl record