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Published June 2011 | public
Journal Article

Black Maria: film studio, film technology (cinema and the history of technology)


In late 1892 at Thomas Edison's laboratory in West Orange, NJ, William, Kennedy Laurie Dickson designed an architectural space like few seen before. Soon dubbed the Black Maria – a colloquialism for nineteenth century police vehicles – the building was variously described by contemporary observers as a coffin, cavern, or outright conundrum (Figure 1). Today it is better known as the world's first film studio. Dickson developed the studio concurrently with two of Edison's better-known moving-image machines, the kinetograph (camera) and kinetoscope (viewer), and indeed the studio was integral to Dickson's work on these devices. Each operated on the same principles: the juxtaposition of light and dark, the interplay of movement and stasis, and the technological reproduction of nature. As with the kinetograph and kinetoscope, the Black Maria allowed Dickson, Edison, and the inventors, artists, and image-makers who followed to create new forms of visual representation and to contribute to the emergence of new conceptions and experiences of modern technological space.

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© 2011 Taylor & Francis. Published online: 18 Jul 2011.

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