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Life Model Slides

From 1860s photographic slides gradually spread across Europe. Then for the first time many audiences could see the actual appearance of faraway and exotic places and admire famous works of art.

A type of photographic lantern slide peculiar to Britain was the life model. Life Model Slides employed actors posing in front of painted backcloth to illustrate narrative, songs, sacred hymns and other texts, usually with a strong moral or religious theme. Models of this kind of photo dramas were usually photographer's relatives and friends. This sort of photographic slide were often handpainted.

The two main producers of Life Model slides were Banforth & Co. and York & Son. These two firms produced about 850 different sets of Life Model over the last decades of the 19th and the first decade of the 20th century. Magic lantern shows with this type of slides were extremely popular in those years.

Let me introduce some examples of this kind of magic lantern slide sets:

Temperance Movement

Organisations such as The Salvation Army intended life model slides to be a useful entertainement to educate audiences against the dangers of alcoholism. Many stories in life model slides sets had a temperance theme.

Indeed, in the 19th century alcoholism was really a social evil in Britain.

This double magic lantern slide warns us about the deceit of alcoholism.

1. The devil on the back of the young man says: "One glass won't hurt you" ...
2. The second part of the picture says: "Stay! It may lead to this" , and you can see the young man reduced to poverty with a Workhouse on the back.

Workhouses were a fearful institution in Victorian times, where poor people could get a little support but with a really hard and degrading treatment.


Dan Dabberton's Dream was produced by York & Son in 1885. Dan Dabberton is a victim of the bottle, but a bad dream (ending with his wife's death) shown in a long and beautiful dissolving sequence will move Dan to repent and tear himself from alcoholism.



Dick Wilson's Home is a photographic set of magic lantern slides produced by Bamforth & Co. in 1897. The slides tell the edifying story of when mr. Wilson decided to free himself by alcoholism and to stop beating his wife and his children.

The text is a summary from the original slide reading.

"Don't, Dick, don't! The children don't deserve that!" The mother cries when her husband, drunk as usual, is going to beat their children."'Say goodnight, children, and off to bed quick, as father's tired."

But the youngest one, Little Tiny, wants to say a little and touching prayer before she goes to bed. In the meantime the other children are looking with hungry eyes the herring and tea ready for their father's dinner.

"I've nothing for you tonight, my little ones", the mother says in a very low voice."Tomorrow, if all's well, you shall have something". There comes rather a sad "goodnight" from the little ones and then they hurry upstairs.

" Dick - Lucy says -our childrean had no fire and nothing to eat all day except a piece of dry bread each I gave them this morning. I said they might sit until you came and warm themselves. I don't generally keep them up till you come, and I won't again, as you don't like it."

Dick Wilson's heart has been touched by Little Tiny' s prayer and by the hungry look of his children "Lucy - he says - why don't you call me a fiend and a brute?" "Because I don't wish to do, Dick. You haven't always been what you are now. Don't you remember how you loved me and the little ones? You were good-tempered and gentle like, and unselfish then. I try to think of you as you used to be and I try to teach the little ones to love you." "Lucy! God bless you! When in years to come you look back to this night you will be able to say to yourself 'it was through his wife's Christian life of faith and hope that he was saved.' Fetch the little ones down again: we'll begin it at once"
"Children! are you asleep? Come along down again with me: father wants you." "Father wants us?" and they start up from their beds of straw with a feeling of dread, in spite of her mother's cheery voice. The eldest one, Joe, asks:"I say, mother, he doesn't want to whip any of us, does he?""No that he doesn't. Come along quick and you'll soon see." So here they are in front of their father. " Come along, children - he says - your mother has told me that you haven't eat, so I want you to sit in a row close up to the fire and we'll all have a feast". So the mother sees that he has divided the fish into bits, and put each bit on a piece of bread.
And the astonished children take their seats. Their father hands a portion to each and pours some tea into the cups. "Well, do you like it? - the father asks - and should you like nice tea and dinner and breakfast every day?" "I should, daddie - Little Tiny says - only mother says she can't get it for us." "No, mother can't, Tiny, but father can - and will, with God's help." That night was the beginning of a new life in Dick Wilson's home. After that there came many days and weeks and years of happiness and prosperity, for Dick never went back to the old ways. From then on he used to shiver when he looked at a drunkard, at the thought that he had been such as he, and he spent all his spare time in trying to save others.


Nowadays melodramas like these may result boring and it is hard to imagine the large extent and popularity of magic lantern shows like these in the last decades of the 19th century. But the large amount of life model slides similar to Dick Wilson's and Dan Dabberton's stories that were produced proves that audiences of the time were seriously involved.

Flo's Motor Ride

In this short photographic set the painted backcloth is well visible.

It was probably intended as a humorous situation, but I don't find it funny at all.















More life model slides in the next page: Hello Central, Give Me Heaven >