Eadweard Muybridge: Capturing Movement

Born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston upon Thames in 1830, Eadweard Muybridge’s life spanned travel to multiple continents, numerous name changes and one scandalous murder trial. He was one of the great photographic thinkers and technical pioneers of all time, whose mind reached beyond still photography and anticipated the rise of moving picture.

Muybridge emigrated to the United States as a young man and during his first decade in America he worked as a bookseller both in New York and San Francisco. He began his photographic career as a landscape photographer, producing dramatic views of both Yosemite and San Francisco. Then in 1872, racehorse owner and former Governor of California, Leland Standford, hired Muybridge to photograph his horse galloping in order to discover whether all four of the animal’s hooves were lifted off the ground at the same time.

In order to photograph the horse at speed, Muybridge engineered a system of multiple cameras with trip wire shutter releases to capture each stage of the movement. The project took Muybridge five years, which proved to be a turbulent period in the artist’s life. In 1874 he shot his wife’s lover, but was subsequently acquitted of the crime as a ‘justifiable homicide.’ Four years after his trial, in the June of 1878, his photographs proved conclusively, for the very first time, that a galloping horse lifts all four hooves off the ground.

The effects of Muybridge’s discovery were seismic. Newspapers, although not able to reproduce photographs, depicted the images as woodcuts, and Scientific American published drawings of the photographs. Artists, including Edgar Degas and Thomas Eakins began to reference the photographs in order to make their paintings closer to life. Muybridge toured Europe with his photographs, where his astonished audiences included William Gladstone, Alfred Lord Tennyson and the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. However, when Leyland published The Horse in Motion, Muybridge’s role in the project was barely mentioned, and the relationship between the two immediately disintegrated.

Muybridge also invented the first machine to project moving photographic images. His device the ‘zoopraxiscope,’ could be used to animate entire sequences of photographs, anticipating the rise of cinema. He also went on to work on his project entitled Animal Locomotion from 1884 to 1887 at the University of Pennsylvania. He returned to Britain in 1894 as a hugely celebrated figure, lecturing extensively throughout the country. He died in Kingston upon Thames in 1904.

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