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Science and Media Museum

When the Camera Beats the Eye: The F. Percy Smith Archive

Frank Percy Smith was a pioneer of nature cinematography, revealing the hidden lives of insects and plants in a way that people had never seen before.

We are displaying selections from our collection of Smith’s notes, experimental photography and press cuttings. They show some of the preparation that went into making his incredible films.

Gallery

About F. Percy Smith

Frank Percy Smith (1880–1945) got his big break after he was so bored at his day job that he adopted a pet bluebottle, keeping it on a tiny lead and feeding it milk. His close-up of the fly’s tongue as it drank was extraordinary. When film distributor Charles Urban saw it, he gave Smith two rolls of film and said: ‘show me what you can do’.

Smith’s first film The Balancing Bluebottle (1908) showed a fly, glued upside down to a matchstick, weightlifting a tiny dumbbell. It caused shock and amazement when it was first shown.

Smith went on to make scores of nature films over the next 35 years. He is perhaps best known for his pioneering stop-motion masterpiece The Birth of a Flower (1910).