Leeds University Library

Louis Le Prince archives now online

Published Tuesday 17 November 2015

Technical drawing of early camera 1880s

Explore drawings and correspondence from the father of cinematography's archive

To celebrate the Leeds International Film Festival, the Library is making technical drawings and personal correspondence from the archives in the Louis le Prince Collection available online for the first time. Le Prince is often called the father of cinematography. The first moving pictures on paper film were shot by Le Prince in Leeds using a single lens camera.

Explore the Louis le Prince Collection

Growing up, Le Prince spent time with Louis Daguerre, the inventor of daguerreotypes, an early form of photography. Daguerre gave him lessons in photography and chemistry. Le Prince went on to study painting in Paris and chemistry in Leipzig. In 1866 John Whitley invited him to move to Leeds where he joined Whitley Partners of Hunslet, a firm of brass founders. Le Prince married John's sister, Elizabeth, in 1869. The collection includes 3 letters from Le Prince to his wife in which he writes about testing his inventions.

Read Le Prince's letters to his wife, Elizabeth

Between 1881 and 1887 Le Prince and his family lived in America where he worked as an agent for Whitley Partners and the manager of a group of French artists. Le Prince continued with the experiments in moving pictures that he had begun in Leeds. On his return to Leeds in May 1887 he patented a single lens camera. The archive contains some of Le Prince's fascinating technical drawings and notes.

View Le Prince's technical drawings

On 14 October 1888 Le Prince used his camera to film the moving picture now known as "Roundhay Garden Scene", soon followed by "Leeds Bridge". In 1890 Le Prince was preparing to return to the USA to promote his invention, but decided first to visit friends and family in France. He disappeared from a train travelling from Dijon to Paris in September 1890. The mystery surrounding his disappearance has never been resolved.

After Le Prince vanished his son, Adolphe, tried to establish the family's claim to the patents on his inventions. Adolphe and his father's chief mechanic, James Longley, discuss the process in their letters.

Read letters between Adolphe and Longley

The Le Prince archives are part of the collection of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.