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Out of the Past: Eadweard Muybridge - A Pioneer of Motion Pictures

By Jill Waterman


EDWEARD MUYBRIDGE, HEAD-SPRING, A FLYING PIGEON INTERFERING. PLATE 365, 1887. COLLOTYPE ON PAPER. CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C., MUSEUM PURCHASE, 87.7.350.
IMAGE MAKING ACROBATICS: In stop action sequences such as Head-spring, a flying pigeon interfering (above) from 1887, Muybridge broke new ground in the study of human locomotion.


Eadweard Muybridge (1830 – 1904)  

British photographer Eadweard Muybridge was an imaging pioneer in more than one sense of the word. 

Born in the U.K. as Edward Muggeridge, he immigrated to the United States in the early 1850’s, first working as a book seller in New York and San Francisco. After a serious stagecoach accident, he returned to England where he took up photography, arriving back in San Francisco to launch his photography career in the mid-1860’s.

Muybridge’s carefully orchestrated photographic sequences of humans and animals in motion are widely known and acknowledged as a groundbreaking first. Yet his many other projects—from stereo views and large format Yosemite landscapes (such as the 1872 view of Contemplation Rock pictured below) to multi-image panoramas of the burgeoning city of San Francisco in the 1870’s—show Muybridge as a visual innovator with a penchant for expanding beyond a single still frame.

A successful entrepreneur, Muybridge received numerous government commissions to photograph a wide range of subjects, from photographs of the new United States territory of Alaska in 1868 to a documentation of West coast lighthouses to a reportage on the Indian Wars’ Modoc campaign in 1873.

Yet, his most eventful assignment came from railroad baron, Stanford University founder and race horse owner Leland Stanford, who requested Muybridge use photography to solve the ongoing debate of whether a trotting race horse’s feet were ever entirely airborne in mid stride.

Muybridge’s experiments with multiple, electrically-activated shutters not only proved the point, they convinced Stanford to fund further research, leading the photographer to generate stop action image sequences of animals and humans in all types of activities. In 1879, Muybridge designed the Zoopraxoscope as an apparatus to project his images, which is widely considered to mark the beginning of motion pictures as we know and enjoy them today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2010, the traveling show Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change debuted at the Corcoran Museum of Art, organized by chief curator Philip Brookman. Notable as the first retrospective exhibition to examine all aspects of Muybridge’s work, an exhibition catalog containing essays by Brookman, Marta Braun, Andy Grundberg, Corey Keller, and Rebecca Solnit, was co-published by the Corcoran and Steidl. For further details click on the link above.


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PDN July 2014

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