A future for Lucey

After a month of working among the pages of the Lucey archive and immersing myself in the frames of his film, I feel as though I’ve learned so much about him as a person. Since  it is impossible to meet him in person, all I can do is explore that which remains: his works. “Lucey’s archive is what’s left of his working life. His family gathered together and gave it in its entirety to us, which is fantastic because nobody is putting a particular slant on it,” Rachel Hosker, Deputy Head of Special Collections, says, “It is just what is left behind and we can look at it and piece together who this man was and what he did, what his personality was like. I know that both of you working in the archive have got to know and to like Lucey quite a lot as an individual, and you can’t help it because you start working with material and you start to find out about people and their personalities and who they are.” Who a person is isn’t just what they did but it is also is the memories they leave behind. The research became more real when I met with Lucey’s daughter and one of his sons, who had so many memories and stories to tell. They were happy that he had left behind this archive and his autobiography because it gave them an understanding of him that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. His son told stories of the hustle and bustle that was constantly surrounding Lucey’s daily life. Apparently, in his spare time Lucey was tinkering and building contraptions to enhance his filming while making the science aspect easier. The children all seemed very interested in the Timescapes: Looking for Lucey event and believe that their father would have loved the project.

It isn’t just the family that’s excited about the possibilities. Hosker, who has been working closely with the project, can’t wait to see the collection out in public. “One of the techniques [Lucey] uses quite widely is timelapse, and trying to capture something, whether it’s a flea jumping or movement on Princes Street in a very rapid way,” Hosker said, “he’s trying to capture the reality of something within a particular measurement. I think also when you start looking at the films themselves, not necessarily as science or Lucey’s work, film is all about capturing a moment in time, capturing a memory, capturing something, so that you can go back and look at it, so you can go back and analyze it, and make sense of it. So it is quite important for us to look at film and ask what do we do with film now. Time is going on and the film is deteriorating because of time, because of the environment, and so resurrecting it through digitizing it and reinterpreting it, I think, is very important as well because it allows that film to continue its life and continue its journey.”

Looking for Lucey isn’t only showcasing Lucey’s films. This event will contain footage from the Moving Image Archive and short films produced after Lucey’s time. We are trying to celebrate his works while showing the importance of film through time and within fields of experimentation. There will also be a short interval of films created by Conrad Waddington, Head of the Institute from Animal Genetics and longtime friend of Lucey. All these films and a lot of the Waddington archive were explored by Project Archivist Clare Button at the Centre for Research Collections. Button has worked with people in and out of the centre trying to understand this archive and she was one of the first people to come into contact with Lucey’s children and personal archive. The collection is something Button is continually coming back to. She first interacted with the Lucey personal archives while working on a different project in 2012 but without dedicated funds, it became a side project. She again encountered Lucey when working with the C.H. Waddington archive. Button seems to be someone always in orbit around the Lucey archive. “I think the fact that we barely scraped the surface [keeps me coming back] really, which you guys are proving, so the stuff that we had in from Caroline had a basic description,” Button said, “It was not a full catalog because it was extra to the project and I never had any time to delve into the film collection. I had no idea the paper archive you guys have been working on even existed. I think it’s the fact that he created such a large group of work and such a diversity of work as well. Not just the scientific and genetics stuff but the fact that he became a sort of resident filmmaker at the University [of Edinburgh]. He had a variety [of films] under his belt and he was such an interesting person as well as a filmmaker. I certainly think he was an underappreciated figure, not just in the University’s history but in filmmaking history. I am really pleased that you are doing this work because I think he is due a renaissance.”

“That Exponential Thing”

Eric Lucey wasn’t only a filmmaker. At heart, he was also a scientist. The below photo set is an example of this. “That Exponential Thing” is part of a symposium that C.H. Waddington put together about the adverse effect humans have on the planet. These hand drawn slides are from Lucey. Together they created an opener that would show the negative consequences of industrialisation on communities. Though Waddington was the Director of Animal Genetics, he did not only study animals. He was fascinated with the effect of pollutants and industry on agricultural societies. Many cultures world wide are economically tied to the success of agriculture. Following the slides were a series of graphs showing the rise and fall of pollution from the birth of a community to its “death.” All visuals were created to support the statistics supplied about quality of life, industrialisation and population among small communities. Waddington had the science part completed and ready for this symposium but without Lucey’s projector slides and artwork, the audiences may never have truly seen his vision.

Delving a Little Deeper

During the research session this week I found myself drawn further into the life of Eric Lucey. The boxes of content presented to me were packed full of his past colleagues obituaries and momentums from his past life as a part of the Film Unit. This was a reflective box, not only for the family but also for me. Though to me Lucey was still somewhat a stranger, I found pleasure in flicking through the pages of both his autobiography and many photo albums. It was enough to make one think about one’s life and the events which truly mold us into human beings.

                A huge moment in Eric Lucey’s life was his time serving Britain in Jordan, while there he pursued his hobby of photography, capturing local communities and even his friends just wandering about. Upon his return to the United Kingdom he moved to Edinburgh to get his degree. Lucey wrote in his autobiography, “I had recently been at a meeting of The Royal Society of Edinburgh where I had seen what must have been one of the earliest films of cell dividing… It had been shot by Professor Commandon at the Institute Pasteur in Paris this, coupled with my early interests in photography, immediately made me realize the potential of “Time Manipulation” not only for the biological sciences but also as a potential tool that could be applied to a wide range of scientific research projects using both Time Lapse and High-Speed techniques.” Lucey had found a medium that not only interested him but also offered an exciting avenue of study, previeously unexplored.

                After a chance meeting later in his studies with Professor Waddington, Head of the Animal Genetics department, Lucey found a way to pursue this intriguing line of work. Waddington wanted to introduce new techniques and ideas into the department in a way which also preserved the work being done. After Lucey was hired as a Lab Technician in the department, he approached Waddington with the idea of creating a Film Unit that conduct scientific research with the use of film techniques, such as time lapse or high-speed photography. “In general, our aims had a similar focus, though mine were somewhat wider in that I hoped to develop a “Service Unit” accessible to the whole Science Faculty providing centralized equipment and skills available to individual researchers enabling them to explore the potential of “Time control” ranging from high-speed (10000 images per second) to extended time lapse (intervals of minutes),” wrote Lucey. Though the process was never perfected, the film unit did follow through with recording a large catalog of films and research. Most of Lucey’s film work has become closesly affilliated with the Unviersity of Edinburgh, however his work spans to multiple different organisation throughout the United Kingdom, working with agricultural societies, fisheries, communities, scientists, the BBC, and the NHS to name a few. Lucey created a legacy in this field that had previously gone unnoticed by many, until now.

“The Scientific Film Unit may never have developed along the idealistic lines that I had earlier hoped for but it still achieved a significant output, much research footage for detailed analysis, much of which is now deposited in the National Film Archive… The Film Unit was certainly an exciting place in which to have had the privilege to work, and to meet so many scientists who at that time had been at the forefront of the world wide growing field of Genetics. Thank you, Waddington! And all those who encouraged me – even those who were discouraging.” Lucey’s autobiographical notes.

Let the adventure begin


For the last month campus has been vacant. It would be hard to convince anyone that there were people still pressing onward with coursework. With the semester ending and the holiday season taking control of December, I embarked on a different kind of journey. This was one of research and discovery through an archive containing a man’s entire life’s work.

Eric Lucey was a scientist and a pioneer in the field of film, inventing a type of camera which was able to film microorganisms and cells. Over the course of his career he worked at the University of Edinburgh in the Animal Genetics department, after a while his methods were adopted by his superior and he was asked to film different types of scientific research for the government. Lucey’s films have a signature of their own; his films are one of a kind. But what makes them truly astonishing is that these films are each accompanied by a storyboard, script, research notes, negatives and stills. His works contain over 24 boxes of documents and 600 accompanying films, to a person first looking into these boxes it seems the man was a hoarder due to the vast amount of printed emails, accounts, budgets, and newspapers from the time. However, he was a hoarder of the right things. He knew this was something extraordinary, something to be documented for posterity. Lucey’s work fully flourished within the Edinburgh University Animal Genetics department as he began experimenting with film. Lucey’s work focused on animal behavior and biology, works such as The Jump of the Flea, Chicken Behavior and Bee Flight are a few examples of these. His films are predominantly timelapse, slowed down or sped up, to fully show the animals range of motion which is often not seen by humans.

“In 1950 Eric C. A. Lucey (1923-2010) suggested to Professor Waddington that a Research Film Unit be established within the Institute for Animal Genetics.  His request was granted by an enthusiastic Waddington and Lucey was able to follow the recommendations of a number of contemporary reports that were calling for an increased use of film in research and teaching.  The Unit remained a one-man operation until Lucey’s early retirement in 1989.

His extensive collection of films includes those about or featuring leading medics and scientists such as Conrad Hal Waddington, Dorian Pritchard, Christopher Pennington and Charlotte Auerbach as well as films focusing on specific teaching and research issues (e.g. ‘Amphibian Dissection’ or ‘Optomotor Responses in Cephalotods’).  Alongside these sit a smaller number of films of a slightly more general nature, somewhat contextualising Lucey’s work and the broader landscape in which the Institute of Animal Genetics operated.  Some of Lucey’s films won international awards, such as Shoreline Sediments which attained first prize in the Geography/Geology section of the Fifth International Festival of Technical and Scientific Films in 1970” (UOE Library).

Throughout the next month a fellow student and myself shall be updating this blog with interesting finds and information about Eric Lucey, as we sift through all of his research. This project will conclude with an event in March to commemorate his vast library of information and works.

The Looking for Lucey Project would like to show Eric Lucey’s importance to both film and science. We hope to spark an interest in you our readers.