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Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)Eadweard Muybridge

(1830-1904)
Documentary, Scientific

Biography: Edward James Muggeridge was born in Kingston on Thames, and it is said that because this area is associated with the coronation of Saxon kings, he took on a name closely resembling (as he saw it) the Anglo Saxon equivalent. In his early twenties he went to live in America, gaining a reputation for his landscape photographs of the American West. As he used the collodion process, like other travel photographers he would have needed to take with him all the sensitising and processing equipment, as all three processes of sensitisation, exposure and processing needed to be done while the plate was still wet.

During the late sixties and early seventies he made some two thousand pictures, exposing negatives size 20x24 inch. Though he is not given due acclaim, many his landscape studies rank with the best.

However, Muybridge's main claim to fame (apart from being tried and acquitted for the murder of his wife's lover!) was his exhaustive study of movement. Just about this same time the French physiologist Etienne Marey was studying animal movement, and his studies began to suggest that a horse's movements were very different from what one had imagined. One of the people who became aware of this research was Leland Stanford, a former governor of California, who owned a number of race horses. Stanford was determined to find the truth about this. It is said that he bet a friend that when a horse gallops, at a particular point all four feet are off the ground simultaneously. To prove his case he hired Muybridge to investigate whether the claim was true.

By the 1870s lengthy exposures had been reduced to a minimum, and thus it became possible for photography to begin to extend one's vision of reality. It took a little time, however, for Muybridge to perfect a way of photographing which would supply the answer, for the Collodion process was rather slow.

Whilst working on this project Muybridge also undertook other assignments, and it was on his return from one of these, we are told, that he became aware that his wife was having an affair with another soldier. In true Wild West style he shot the soldier dead, and was duly imprisoned for murder; however, presumably partly because of his connections, he was acquitted a little later, and was asked to photograph the Panama railroad, some distance away from the scene of the crime.

Returning to his movement experiments, a few years later Muybridge was able to photograph a horse galloping, using twenty four cameras, each triggered off by the breaking of a trip-wire on the course. He not only proved Leland right, but also showed that, contrary to what painters had depicted, a horse's feet are not, as hitherto believed, outstretched, as if like a rocking- horse, but bunched together under the belly. This discovery caused considerable controversy, but eventually became more generally accepted.

Muybridge's studies are very comprehensive, and include some detailed studies of men and women walking, running, jumping, and so on.

In 1878 an article in Scientific American published some of Muybridge's sequences, and suggested that readers might like to cut the pictures out and place them in a "zoetrope" so that the illusion of movement might be re-created. Intrigued by this, Muybridge experimented further, and in time invented the zoopraxiscope, an instrument which in turn paved the way for cine photography. This invention was greeted with enormous enthusiasm both in America, whilst in England a demonstration at the Royal Institution in 1882 attracted such people as the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister (Gladstone), Tennyson, and others.

In 1884 the University of Pennsylvania commissioned Muybridge to make a further study of animal and human locomotion. The report, "Animal Locomotion" was published three years later and still ranks as the most detailed study in this area. It contains more than twenty thousand images.

In 1900 Muybridge returned to Kingston, where he died a few years later. His zoopraxiscope, together with many of his plates, were bequeathed to the Kingston-upon-Thames Museum, where they are on display. Other plates are in the Royal Photographic Society's collection.

More on Eadweard Muybridge:

National Museum of American History
Muybridge's photos of motion "Freeze Frame."

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Collection of Muybridge's photos.






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