Eadweard Muybridge’s Collotypes

 

Throughout his career Eadweard Muybridge experimented with numerous photographic techniques. The pioneering photographer is remembered for his many contributions to the history of photography and in particular for his innovation and invention of new photographic techniques.

His earliest work was made while in England using the wet-plate collodion process, which was a popular early photographic technique. On his return to America in 1867, Muybridge settled in California where he continued to photograph, particularly in Yosemite Valley. During this time Muybridge also experimented with stereograms. Producing two images presented side by side viewed through a stereoscopic lens. His stereograms of Yosemite Valley demonstrate Muybridge’s early fascination with photographic sequences which would occupy him for the remainder of his career.

In 1884, funded by the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge embarked on his most enduring and influential body of work, Animal Locomotion. Completed over three years, the project became a wide-ranging systematic study of movement. Taking photographs of various subjects, from lions, sloths, camels and capybaras each image shows the subjects in sequential phases of one movement.

During this project, Muybridge greatly improved on the previous technical abilities of his equipment. Using a series of cameras operated on trip wire shutter releases, Muybridge was able to document the rapid or subtle motion of his subjects. Each camera contained a 4 x 5 inch glass plate which were then compiled into composite images. Muybridge’s collection of images was available to purchase to order and numerous universities and libraries could select an album of prints of their choosing to be compiled for use in technical, scientific and artistic research.

Using the New York Photogravure Company Muybridge’s photographs were printed using the collotype process. The collotype technique was a popular form of photographic printing at the time. The collotype glass plate is first coated with a substrate of gelatin or colloid which hardens on the surface. Following a second coating the plate is dried and then washed with water breaking down the surface into a finely grained pattern. The plate is then exposed in contact with the negative to a light source before it is washed in several cleaning baths and left to dry again before applying the ink used to transfer the image to paper. The collotype print was a popular process at the time for printing on paper for its ability to render fine detail, essential to Muybridge’s studies which depicted subtle shifts in movement.

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