Eadweard Muybridge – Photographer, Pioneer of Motion Photography and Movies
|May 18, 2011||Posted by admin under Famous Photographers|
English Eccentric who made an indelible mark on photography was Edward James Muggeridge who was born in 1830 in Kingston, Surrey. Kingston got its name as the capital of the Saxon Kings a thousand years or so back, and Muggeridge got so caught up this history and its attached legends that he changed his name to what he thought was its Anglo-Saxon form, Eadweard Muybridge.
Like many others of his time, Muybridge went to America to seek his fortune. There in the early 1860′s he learned photography from the great landscape and survey photographer, Carlton E Watkins, becoming first his assistant and partner and later his competitor, photographing hundreds of scenes for the railway companies. Calling himself at first ‘Helios’ and later using his own name he became well known for his work, including some of the earliest pictures of the natural splendors of Yosemite and other areas of outstanding natural beauty.
However it was a commission from ex-Governor Leland Stanford in 1872 that led to his lasting fame. He was engaged to make a photographic study of motion of horses, possibly to settle a bet as to whether there was any time that a galloping horse had all four legs off the ground together. Given that the normal exposures with the wet plate process, then the fastest known, were several seconds, this was a daunting task.
Animated sequence of a race horse galloping. Photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge (died 1904), first published in 1887 at Philadelphia (Animal Locomotion).
Muybridge relied on photographing the horse against a white wall lit by strong sunlight, using relatively wide lens apertures. The plates were still greatly underexposed, but extended development produced faint silhouettes which could be printed and retouched.
American bison cantering - set to motion using photos by Eadweard Muybridge
The horse galloped past a series of cameras facing the white background. Each had a specially designed rapid shutter which was connected to a string across the track; as the horse galloped past it broke the string and released the shutter, thus taking its own picture. Dark lines on the background enabled the height of the hooves above the ground to be easily determined.
Muybridge’s progress on this project was slow, not helped by a spell in prison when he was charged with the murder of his wife’s lover. Acquitted following a brilliant performance by his lawyer he was able to continue his work. When his results were published, many refused to believe they were true. Muybridge was able to show that by viewing the pictures in rapid succession the horse’s motion could be reproduced – he was thus a pioneer of the movies also.
Later he was able to extend his work at the University of Pennsylvania. The newly introduced dry plates were much faster, making his work simpler and producing more detail. Banks of cameras, now fitted with clockwork controlled shutters, were used to photography human and animal movements from several viewpoints. This work was published in 1887 as Animal Locomotion, still the most extensive resource of its kind for artists and others. His work and the further books “Animals in Motion (1899) and “The Human Figure in Motion” (1901) attracted considerable interest and controversy at the time for its use of naked male and female models. He died in 1904 in his home town of Kingston where he had returned to on his retirement in 1894.
Other experimenters with motion photography at this time included the French Professor Etienne Marey. His work differed from Muybridge in that he used sequential exposures on a single plate, producing a single image not unlike the later and familiar stroboscopic pictures, for example those of Harold G Edgerton. Marey worked with continuous light and an intermittent shutter. A similar approach was taken by the American realist painter, Thomas Eakins, who worked at Pennsylvania University at the same time but independently of Muybridge.
Muybridge’s work has been regularly reprinted and is still available in several editions. A few years ago parts of it appeared on CD-ROM, allowing movement to be reconstructed from the image sequences – and isolated sequences have appeared in some encyclopaedias, as well as on the web and on laser disk. Unfortunately the image size and resolution are generally too low for this to be a good representation of his work. The original plates from the first edition are still the best available source. Muybridge’s other photographic work includes a fine 1871 panorama of San Francisco and work in Alaska and Central America.
There are more expensive (and better quality) reprints available thorugh Amazon.com – here I’ve chosen the more popular editions. Follow any link below and search on Muybridge for a complete listing.
Animals in Motion
Bargain edition of his classic work with over 4000 pictures
Horses & Other Animals in Motion
45 of Muybridge’s classic sequences in a bargain price publication
Human Figure in Motion
A large selection of Muybridge’s work – around 4500 pictures showing mainly unclothed men, women and children in sequences of simple actions.
Eadweard Muybridge & the Photographic Panorama of San Francisco Sandweiss, Eric / Harris, David
A fascinating document from the nineteenth century of a now-vanished cityscape.
Etienne-Jules Marey: A Passion for the Trace Dagognet, Francois
A heavy-going philosophical investigation into the varied aspects of Marey’s work which only the determined will complete. However it advances an interesting perspective, showing the wider implications of his work and pointing its influence on later movements.
- etienne jules marey