Early Cine-Photography at the Cango Caves

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  • Article describes early efforts to produce a motion picture of the interior of Cango Caves, near Oudtshoorn in South Africa. The first still photograph of the caves is said to have been taken in 1881; to make a cinematograph film of the interior, the problem of a continuous source of bright light would have to be resolved. Several plans proposing that a film be made began in 1913, but these did not come about due to problems regarding financial responsibility. Before World War I, the publication of the book "King Solomon's Mines" and a rumor that a motion picture based on the book might be made rekindled the idea of a film of the caves. A local newspaper, the Oudtshoorn Courant, had lobbied for many years to publicize Cango Caves to the world and lauded the film-making idea as the way to do it, especially with the 1917 discovery of three new cave chambers.
  • However, not until 1919 was a film made, and then only because the Smithsonian Institution and the Universal Film Manufacturing Company organized a Cape to Cairo expedition to collect specimens and film the locals en route. The expedition's stop to film the interior of Cango Caves was well-documented in the Courant, and the author quotes from a number of its articles to describe how the filming was done by the bright light from magnesium flares, which also produced choking gas and damaging smoke. A transcript of the finished film's sound track, however, does not mention the caves, and it is not clear why that part of the film was omitted.
  • Efforts to produce a publicity film of the caves to be shown at the 1924-1925 British Empire Exhibition in England included discussions of using electrical lighting; financing problems were again encountered, and the plan was dropped. A film of the caves' interior was made in the early 1920's by Joseph Albrecht, described as "the father of the South African film production industry," and the caves were electrified sometime between 1927 and 1933.


  • Smithsonian-Universal African Expedition
  • Universal Film-Smithsonian African Expedition


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


The author lists films made in caves worldwide during the early part of the 20th Century, and cites 39 references

Contained within

Bulletin of the South African Spelaeological Association Vol. 26 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


  • 1985
  • 1920


  • Photography
  • Electric apparatus and appliances
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Cango Caves
  • Speleology
  • Caves
  • Motion pictures


  • Africa
  • South Africa

Physical description

p. 17-27

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