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Nekes Collection of Optical Devices, Prints, and Games, 1700-1996 (bulk 1740-1920)

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Nekes Collection of Optical Devices, Prints, and Games

Biographical / Historical Note

Already a collector in his early childhood, Werner Nekes turned his interest to film and cinema history when he reached his twenties. While he was a student of linguistic philology and psychology in Freiburg and Bonn in the mid-1960s he worked on his first film. Between 1969 and 1972 he taught at the Academy of Visual Arts in Hamburg.

While doing research for an article on thaumatropes, he began to collect devices, prints, and books related to pre-cinema technologies and entertainment. Ten years later, when he finally found an original set of thaumatropes in Cologne, he had assembled a broad range of material concerning anamorphosis, panoramas, camera obscuras, peepshows, metamorphosis, shadowgraphy, and optical illusions along with a supporting library.

In the early 1980s he taught first as visiting professor at Wuppertal and later at the Academy of Art and Design in Offenbach. Some years later he worked as a consultant for the pre-cinema galleries of the Deutsches Film Museum in Frankfurt and co-founded the North Rhine-Westfalia film office, as well as the International Center for New Cinema in Riga.

In this period he also designed and installed a room-sized walk-through camera obscura in a former Wasserturm, which had been turned into a museum in Mülheim a. d. Ruhr. In 1992, in the same museum, he exhibited his pre-cinema collection in the exhibition Von der Camera Obscura zum Film. In 1993 he organized the exhibition Schattenprojektionen and directed the Internationales Schatten-theaterfestival in Oberhausen.

Since 1965 Nekes has directed more than 70 films (see his filmography in Appendix 1) including a series of documentaries that demonstrate how early optical devices, prints, and other objects contributed to the development of popular entertainment as well as to the evolution of cinema technologies. In these documentaries (available in the Getty Research Library on videotape) he used the material from his own collection, a portion of which was acquired by the Getty Research Institute in 1993.

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