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Eadweard Muybridge

Muybridge, believing it to be the original Anglo-Saxon form of his name Expatriate Englishman Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) was a brilliant and eccentric photographer, who gained worldwide fame by photographing animal and human movement imperceptible to the human eye. By the 1860s, Muybridge, born Edward James Muggeridge, had reinvented himself as Helios, one of San Francisco's most important landscape photographers. His fame brought him to the attention of Leland Stanford, former governor of California, who hired Muybridge to get a picture that would settle a hotly debated issue: Is there a moment in a horse's gait when all four hooves are off the ground at once? Muybridge took up the challenge in 1872.

It took six years to produce the photographs Stanford sought. Muybridge's experiments were interrupted in 1874 when he went on trial for the murder of his wife's lover. Acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide, he spent two years photographing in Central America before returning to Stanford's farm. In 1878, he succeeded in taking a sequence of photographs with 12 cameras that captured the moment when the animal's hooves were tucked under its belly. Publication of these photographs made Muybridge an international celebrity.

Muybridge used the wet plate process, a relatively slow method of photography. The resulting images were hardly more than silhouettes, but they showed what had never before been seen by the unaided eye.

In 1883, the University of Pennsylvania agreed to fund an even more complex investigation into animal and human locomotion. The University provost placed the grounds of the new Veterinary Department at Muybridge's disposal, and a university committee was formed to oversee the project. Muybridge began making photographs in the spring of 1884.

Muybridge photographed his subjects moving in front of a black wall marked off with a grid of white threads. He used up to 36 lenses with 12 to 24 cameras, placed at 30-, 60-, and 90-degree angles to his subjects. The two cameras placed at 30- and 60-degrees were able to hold up to 12 lenses each. The 90-degree angle was known as the lateral, or parallel, view, while the others Muybridge referred to as the front and rear foreshortenings. With this set up, a successful session could result in as many as 36 negatives. Muybridge contact-printed his negatives as cyanotypes, the working proofs.

The University of Pennsylvania provided a number of students and other men, women, and children as models for Muybridge's project. Many of the athletes, tradesmen, and teachers who were chosen to participate in this study of "the movements of everyday life" had a "well-earned record in the particular feat selected for illustration." Muybridge also photographed hospital patients to illustrate their abnormal movements, and animals and birds from the Philadelphia Zoo. Muybridge asked his human models to pose dressed and undressed, and to perform activities seemingly unrelated to the concerns of science. What physiological laws, for example, can be derived from a woman throwing herself on a heap of hay?

 

 

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