Eadweard Muybridge: the man behind static motion

by nathandowningsolent

Most of the notorious Eadweard Muybridge’s work, bases itself on a carefully-concocted formula of artistic creation, scientific study, personal reflection and a heightening of commercialism. Born in 1830, London, he was originally a book publisher and struggled to get by. In the late 1860’s Muybridge took up the practice of photography and continued on through to the late 1890’s, capturing a vast amount of photographs, as if an addiction.

Muybridge is nothing short of a master of photographic innovation. He recreated the American landscape documenting the monumental growth of the western coast of America including photographs of the Modoc War. He also created astounding images that captured the locomotion of humans and animals, sequencing a motion picture of scientific study that would take a pioneering role in the way we make and perceive photography.

The Horse in Motion, 1878, Eadweard Muybridge

The Horse in Motion, 1878, Eadweard Muybridge

Athletes Posturing, Plate 115, 1879, Eadweard Muybridge

Athletes Posturing, Plate 115, 1879, Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge’s most recognised accomplishment and one of the most remarkable steps in the development of photography. Was the capturing of a horse in motion, a difficult task with such technical limitations and variable subject extremities, none the less, after multiple attempts Muybridge was successful. Following a bet with his friend Leland Stanford, a bet he had initially turned down, Muybridge captured a series of sequenced images fluently depicting the instant-by-instant motion of a moving animal, with all four legs fully-levitated of the ground. A wondrous photographic achievement, later conveniently adopted by Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, meeting in 1888 to converse about collaboration.

This discovery of motion-capture planted a seed, a seed that would later grow to create what we refer to as, cinematography, a continuation of Muybridge’s work, now all so familiar to the masses through TV and cinema. In order for him to photograph the horse, he created a camera mechanism that paralleled his intricate, complicated and abnormally intelligent mindset. First, a sequence of 12 cameras were set side-by-side, the cameras were attach to a string that would release all the shutters in sequence. When the shutter was released, two boards would slide past each other, leaving an 8th of an inch opening, allowing for the 500th of a second it took to freeze the horse in motion. He later repeated this experiment with 24 cameras, the timing mechanism for this experiment required extremely technical and it is now held within the Smithsonian Institute.

Muybridge’s first photographic work was of a different manner however. Travelling with his negative plates, substantial collection of processing chemicals and his large format camera, Muybridge tasked himself with quite the physical challenge. He ventured across the western coast of new-world America, documenting its cultural transformation and the evident changes taking place within its topographic metamorphosis. In particular, the Yosemite Valley’s in California. This work holds connotations of, uncertainty and loneliness, some photos even incur a sense of vertigo when viewing. A disorientated perspective on the natural landscape, usually including lonely individuals, lost in a moment of self-contemplation, reflecting the chaotic sublimity of this new found world.

Contemplation Rock, Glacier Point, 1872, Eadweard Muybridge

Contemplation Rock, Glacier Point, 1872, Eadweard Muybridge

Fisherman's Bay, South Farallon Island, 1871, Eadweard Muybridge

Fisherman’s Bay, South Farallon Island, 1871, Eadweard Muybridge

The disturbing beauty and atmospheric loneliness that finds its way in to Eadweard Muybridge’s images had to have stemmed from somewhere. Maybe a dark, twisted story behind his awe-inspiring landscapes. Or perhaps a past he favoured to escape, seeping through the details in his depictions of the chaotic colonisation and historical happenings of the ‘Wild West’. It wasn’t so long before Muybridge’s overseas adventure, that he had carried out his very own demonstration of wild.

When living in London, he married a woman named Flora Shallcross Stone Muybridge. After marriage, Flora birthed a child. Muybridge was delighted and rejoiced at a child to call his own. Unfortunately one evening, he discovered a photo of the child with the name ‘Little Harry’ inscribed on the rear. After questioning his wife Flora, she revealed an affair with a man named Harry Larkins. In a passionate crime of uncontrollable rage, Muybridge proceeded to murder him at Larkins’ own home. After a long publicly crazed trial and much to Muybridge’s disbelief, he was acquitted of all charges. Shortly after the trial he travelled to America, these tragic occurrences are considered to have had an adverse effect on his representation of America under transformation.

Holding a number of photographic achievements under his belt, the name Eadweard Muybridge will ring in the ears of artists for years to come. His motion-capture pioneered the way we view, make, and perceive movement, allowing us to gain a detailed insight in to the locomotion of animals. Along with this formidable accolade he is also responsible for the documentation of a rapidly-growing America, a key moment in its history, a moment never to be relived, just one of many reasons for the importance and popularity of his work.

Bibliography:

Brookman, P, “Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change”, “Eadweard Muybridge”, 2010, Tate Publishing, a division of Tate Enterprises Ltd.

MacDonnell, K, “Eadweard Muybridge: The man who invented the moving picture”, 1972, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London

Malamud, R, “Eadweard Muybridge, Thief of Animal Souls”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2010, vol: 56, iss: 39

Nicholls, J, “Imagine: The Weird World of Eadweard Muybridge”, 2010 [Viewed 15 Feb 2015]

Tate Online, “Eadweard Muybridge”, 2010 [Viewed 15 Feb 2015]

Available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Awo-P3t4Ho

Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/eadweard-muybridge

Ward, J, P, “Eadweard J. Muybridge”, 2009, Oxford University Press [Viewed 15 Feb 2015]

Available at: http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=4192

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