Islington’s Lost Cinemas is a large-scale art and cultural history project that makes visible the little known history of film and cinema in the London Borough of Islington through photographing the everyday urban sites where these historic cinemas once stood.
The project unearths, collects, and illuminates the multiple histories and present-day realities of Islington’s cinematic past by developing and presenting an online archive: ‘The Islington’s Lost Cinemas Website’, which includes:
- photographic documentation of the historic sites of cinema in Islington: both past and present;
- historical research that combines moving image history with the specifics of cinema development in Islington;
- the reminiscences of Islington’s own community: through the invitation for those who remember the cinemas to contribute their memories and photographs of the cinemas.
The artist Sam Nightingale, who has conceived and developed the project, would also like to provide the opportunity for the history of cinema in Islington to be known through the voice of Islington’s own community, particularly the older members who would have experienced many of the cinemas first hand. This website is the first step in making that happen by inviting people to add their own comments about the cinemas. However, in the future it is hoped to also record the oral histories of Islington residents recounting stories of visiting the cinemas in their heyday. These audio recording would then become podcasts available to be listened to on the Islington’s Lost Cinemas website.
Sam Nightingale explains:
While I’m keen to record memories about the long-disappeared cinemas in Islington, I don’t want this to be a nostalgic project but one that recognises our changing urban environment and the way in which memory and history perhaps remains as a latent or ghost like presence in these spaces. It is hoped that a function of the website will be to provide access to an illuminated history of Islington’s architecture – one that can help connect local people with the history of their urban environment.
In its initial stages this online archive presents information about a small selection of the cinemas that Islington has been home to, over the coming months information on the other cinemas will be added and hopefully visitors to the website will also contribute their own stories, information and photographs of the cinemas. So the idea is rather than presenting a static history of something long-gone – the website will be a place that is a growing and living archive for social and cultural history relating to cinema in Islington.
If you would like to know more or participate in the project please contact Sam Nightingale here.
As former home of more than 40 movie theatres since film’s invention in 1895, the birth place of RW Paul one of the pioneers of British cinema and the location of one of the first screenings of the moving image, Islington has much to be proud of in terms of film history. Yet today almost all of the impressive picture-palaces that once entertained Islington’s residents have long-gone, leaving only distant memories and fading images so that we have little opportunity to know anything of the Borough’s important contribution to the history of cinema in the UK.
However, while the cinemas may have all but disappeared, replaced by the unspectacular sight of the urban everyday, what can be revealed in these architectural sites is an illuminating social and cultural memory that can enact historical and psychic geographies that can help connect people with the history of their urban environment.
Sam Nightingale is an Islington-based artist who works with photography and the moving image; he exhibits internationally, and his work has been included in exhibitions and film festivals in America, Australia and Europe.
Nightingale’s practice is concerned with enlivening and imploding the hidden spaces within and between built structures – the uncertain spaces of story, memory and imagination. His passion for early cinema technologies and structures has led him to photograph cinemas in rural Australia as well as in the UK. However rather than simply documentary, Nightingale’s work leads him to address the structure and appearance of film itself – what he calls the architecture, infrastructure (grain, pixel) and substrate (bricks and mortar, memory and imagination).
His website can be found here.
Further reading and key research sources for the project can be found here.