The original material comes courtesy of a cinematographic pioneer: Claude Friese-Greene. During the 1920s, he traveled the UK to capture everyday situations for his project “The Open Road“. To this end, he used a special technique developed together with his father, William Friese-Greene, that exposes black and white film through two color filters. The resulting 26 short episodes – the first ever color film projections – stunned audiences at local cinemas across the country.

Trafalgar Square 1927 and 2013 © Simon Smith
Trafalgar Square 1927 and 2013 © Simon Smith

In 2013, the British Film Institute revived and restored these intriguing images and made them accessible to a 21st century audience. Deeply fascinated by the footage, film-maker Simon Smith decided to re-shoot the last film of the series – the one set in London. “The experience was fantastic,” he explains. “I found myself standing in spots where, almost ninety years ago, another man had been doing exactly the same thing. He would never have guessed that this was possible.“

Petticoat Lane, © Simon Smith
Petticoat Lane, © Simon Smith

Over several months, Smith covered London’s streets on his bike searching for the original locations, always accompanied by his trusty Canon 5Dmk3 DSLR. “Initially, I had wanted to use my cell phone, but I soon realized that it had the wrong lens shape,” adds Smith. “I also got more and more drawn to the idea that Friese-Greenes used the first ever color-film camera whilst I reshoot his scenes with the latest model on the market.“

 

Not only did Smith reproduce the original’s motifs and perspective, but the more research he undertook, the more he felt connected to Friese-Greenes. “I learnt a lot about him by doing the project. I found out that he, just like me, was 29 when he did these films – what a cool coincidence! Maybe it’s vain, but I like to think that we could be very similar and talk about cameras and stuff.“

After plenty of positive reactions from all over the world, Smith considers a UK tour to re-shoot the remaining original episodes. After all, 2014 marks the 90th anniversary of Friese-Greenes initial journey.

River Thames, © Simon Smith
River Thames, © Simon Smith

Smith’s work is not only beautiful, but also a precious contemporary document with its snapshots of everyday life and each era’s particular markers. Smith admits that he was “actually surprised by how little London has changed. The old footage shows the city’s typical red buses and black taxis. While they are still around, almost every scene from today features the city’s blue bicycles. Maybe, a hundred years from now, we will still come across those blue bikes. It would be great if they would go on to define London.“

Text: Romy Uebel
Header Image: creatific /photocase.com