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Collings, Esmé (1859-1936)

Cinematographer, Director

Main image of Collings, Esmé (1859-1936)

Arthur Albert Collings, born the son of a prosperous bootmaker in Weston-super-Mare in 1859, was a commercial photographer who became one of Britain's first film-makers. Initially he followed his father into the bootmaking trade; but his artistic ambitions were encouraged by his future wife Ketura Beedle, and by 1888 he had formed a partnership with William Friese Greene, setting up photographic studios in London and Brighton. Collings adopted the middle name of Esmé, and in the 1891 Census he is described as an 'Artist/Photographer'. By this time he had quarrelled with Friese Greene and in 1892 he set up his own portrait studio in Hove.

In October 1896 his first public exhibition of the films he had made in Brighton opened to great acclaim at the Empire Theatre of Varieties. Only two films from his Brighton series (from a possible total of nineteen) have survived: Boys Scrambling for Pennies under the West Pier and Children Paddling. They both feature strong compositions and are engaging demonstrations of how animated photography could be used. The iconography of Children Paddling is of particular interest because of its similarity to Constable's painting 'Chain Pier, Brighton' (1826-27). In addition to these actualities, Collings also made a film featuring the actor/cellist Auguste van Biene in a scene from the play The Broken Melody (1896).

Collings and the Vitagraph returned to the Empire for a week in early 1897. After this date there is no further evidence of him being active in moving pictures. His photographic business continued to thrive up to 1914, though Collings appears to have been increasingly interested in painting miniature portraits. He died in Eastbourne, Sussex, in 1936.

Barnes, John, The Beginnings of the Cinema in England 1894-1901, Volumes 1 & 2, (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996-98)
Low, Rachael and Manvell, Roger, The History of the British Film, 1896-1906 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1948)
Pepper, Terence, High Society: Photographs 1897-1914 (London: National Portrait Gallery, 1998)

Frank Gray, Directors in British and Irish Cinema

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Boys Scrambling for Pennies Under the West Pier (1896)Boys Scrambling for Pennies Under the West Pier (1896)

Actuality short from Brighton-based pioneer Esmé Collings

Thumbnail image of Victorian Lady in her Boudoir, A (1896)Victorian Lady in her Boudoir, A (1896)

Pioneering cinematic smut featuring a woman undressing to her petticoat

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Thumbnail image of Friese-Greene, William (1855-1921)Friese-Greene, William (1855-1921)