Acres was born in Richmond Virginia in the USA in 1854 and
became and orphan at the age of fourteen during the American
civil war and was taken in by his aunt who became his guardian.
Around 1872 Acres was sent by his aunt to Paris
to complete his education at the Sorbonne where he studied
Fine Arts, and, one would imagine, photography.
Acres returned to the United States four years
later to lead the life of a Frontiersman and it during a period
of eight or nine years became quite wealthy and around 1885
moved to England where he married a Tazmanian girl.
Once settled in England, he set up a studio
for the 'production of portraits by painting and photography',
in the seaside resort of Ilfracombe in Devon. It wasnít long
before Acres had gained a good reputation as a successful
photographer, lecturer and contributor to photographic journals.
In addition he worked as an inventor and patented apparatus
for washing prints and copying stereoscopic photographs.
In 1893 Acres joined Elliot and Sons - leading
manufacturers of photographic plates and printing paper and
in the same year patenting an appartus for 'exposing successive
photographic plates and for exhbiting magic lantern and other
slides'. Around the end of 1894 Acres was introduced to electrical
engineer, Robert W. Paul by his friend Henry W. Short. At
this time Paul was in the process of manufacturing copies
of Edisonís Kinetoscope and was anxious to construct a camera
with which to produce films to show on his machines.
Around the end of 1894 Acres was introduced
to electrical engineer, Robert W. Paul by his friend Henry
W. Short. At this time Paul was in the process of manufacturing
copies of Edisonís Kinetoscope and was anxious to construct
a camera with which to produce films to show on his machines.
The pair worked together on the camera at Paulís
Hatton Garden address with Acres providing the initial designs.
When they had constructed the camera, Acres used it to make
the first successful film in Britain - Incident at Clovelly
Cottage outside his London home in Barnet in March 1895.
It was at this point where the two entered into
partnership with a ten year business agreement. This agreement
lasted only six weeks before the two split. During their brief
partnership, the two shot films of the Oxford and Cambridge
Boat Race in April and the Derby in May.
The precise reason for the parting is not known
but it is widely held that Paul was angry because Acres had
patented his Kinetic camera - almost identical to the one
they had developed together - in his own name.
Following the rift, Acres travelled to Germany
with his Kinetic camera and filmed the opening of the Kiel
canal and made a film of the Kaiser in June 1895.One his return
to Britain Acres began work on a projector to accompany his
Kinetic camera - the resulting projector became known as the
Kinetic Lantern, Kineopticon and the Cinematoscope.
Acres gave the first public performance of his
projector at the Royal Photographic Society, where Acres was
a fellow, in London on 14th January 1896 - five weeks before
the screening of Lumièreís Cinématographe and Paulís Theatograph.
Also in January, Acres formed his own company
- the Northern Photographic Works which specialised in coating,
perforating and processing film.
During that year, Acres toured the country giving
lectures with projected accompaniment at photographic societies
and in June of 1896 he was asked to give a programme of films
at the first Royal Command Film Performance at Marlborough
House - the residence of the Prince of Wales.
Acresí film manufacture and processing became
the primary focus of his activities and proved highly successful
as the British Film Industry began to get established. However
his inventive nature was still prominent and in 1898 he unveiled
the Birtac - a piece of apparatus he hoped would popularise
cinematography in the same was as George Eastman had popularised
photography with the Kodak camera.
The Birtac was the first 'sub-standard gauge'
cine camera and projector, instead of normal 35mm film the
camera used narrower width film - typically 17.5 mm.
Unfortuanately for Acres, within weeks a rival
17.5 mm camera/projector was announced - the Biokam by the
Warwick Trading Company. The Biokam benefitted from its cheapness
- half the price of the Birtac, and heavy backing. Regardless
of this, Birt Acres can still be creditted as inventing the
first amateur cine camera.
Birt Acres remained in the film business until
his death in 1918.