Arthur Albert 'Esmé' Collings Esme Collings

British filmmaker, photographer, painter

Esmé Collings was a notable Brighton portrait photographer. He was born Arthur Albert Collings in Weston-Super-Mare and followed the profession of bootmaker, before turning artist/photographer. At one time he had studios in London, Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester. Around 1887 he met William Friese Greene and it was probably through him that he became interested in the photography of movement. Around 1889 they quarreled and their business partnership ended. Collings adopted the middle name of Esmé, and is usually referred to in sources as Esmé Collings. In 1896, with apparatus probably supplied by Alfred Darling, he made a number of films, of which only three are know to have survived. Yet, from a surviving stock list and other sources, it is known that he made at least nineteen films during his first year of production. Among the titles listed are Boys Scrambling for Pennies under the West Pier, Brighton as well as other local views. One of his most notable productions depicted the actor/musician Auguste van Biene in a scene from a Victorian play called Broken Melody in which the 'servant persuades the cellist to play and the errant wife returns'. He also made Woman Undressing, which must have been one of the first erotic films in British cinema. In 1897, he was enlisted by Lewis Sealy to photograph three scenes based on the popular song 'Simon the Cellarer' which were intended to be shown in unison with live singers present on the stage. Soon afterwards he seems to have abandoned films to devote himself to painting, while continuing to run the Esmé Collings Limited photographic business until at least 1914. His wife, Keturah Collings, ran a fashionable photographic studio in London and was a watercolourist. Collings' chief claim to fame is as one of the first of that small band of South Coast film makers whom the French film historian Georges Sadoul labelled the 'Brighton School'.

John Barnes (revised September 2004)