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Eadweard J. Muybridge ( ) (April 9, 1830 – May 8, 1904) was an English photographer, known primarily for his important pioneering work, with use of multiple cameras to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the celluloid film strip that is still used today.

Early life and career

Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge at Kingston upon Thamesmarker, Englandmarker. He is believed to have changed his first name to match that of King Eadweard as shown on the plinth of the Kingston coronation stonemarker, which was re-erected in Kingston in 1850. Although he did not change his first name until the 1870s, he changed his surname to Muygridge early in his San Franciscomarker career and then changed it again to Muybridge at the launch of his photographic career or during the years between.

In 1855 Muybridge arrived in San Francisco, U.S., starting his career as a publisher's agent and bookseller. He left San Francisco at the end of that decade, and after a stagecoach accident in which he received severe head injuries returned to England for a few years. He reappeared in San Francisco in 1866 as a photographer named Muybridge and rapidly became successful in the profession, focusing almost entirely on landscape and architectural subjects. (He is not known to have ever made a photographic portrait, though group shots by him survive.) His photographs were sold by various photographic entrepreneurs on Montgomery Street (most notably the firm of Bradley & Rulofson), San Francisco's main commercial street, during those years.

Photographing the West

Muybridge began to build his reputation in 1867 with photos of Yosemitemarker and San Franciscomarker (many of the Yosemite photographs reproduced the same scenes taken by Carleton Watkins). Muybridge quickly became famous for his landscape photographs, which showed the grandeur and expansiveness of the West. The images were published under the pseudonym “Helios.” In the summer of 1868 Muybridge was commissioned to photograph one of the U.S. Army's expeditions

Stanford and the galloping question

Muybridge's The Horse in Motion.
A set of Muybridge's photos in motion.
In 1872, former Governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse's hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with this assertion, called "unsupported transit", and took it upon himself to prove it scientifically. (Though legend also includes a wager of up to $25,000, there is no evidence of this.) Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question. Muybridge's relationship with Stanford was long and fraught, heralding both his entrance and exit from the history books.

To prove Stanford's claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge's technology involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an electrical trigger created by the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs.

Muybridge sequence of a horse jumping.
1877, Muybridge settled Stanford's question with a single photographic negative showing Stanford's racehorse Occident airborne in the midst of a gallop. This negative was lost, but it survives through woodcuts made at the time.

By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras. The first experience successfully took place on June 11 with the press present. Muybridge used a series of 12 stereoscopic cameras, 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by one horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. The cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires attached to each camera shutter triggered by the horse's hooves.

This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford Universitymarker or in Sacramento, Californiamarker (there is some dispute as to the actual location), is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that the hooves do all leave the ground — although not with the legs fully extended forward and back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse as it switches from "pulling" from the front legs to "pushing" from the back legs.

The relationship between the mercurial Muybridge and his patron broke down in 1882 when Stanford commissioned a book called The Horse in Motion as Shown by Instantaneous Photography which omitted actual photographs by Muybridge, relying instead on drawings and engravings based on the photographs and gave Muybridge scant credit for his work.

The lack of photographs was likely simply due to the printing constraints of the time but Muybridge took it as a slap in the face and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Stanford.

Murder and acquittal

In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife"; he then killed the Major with a gunshot.

Muybridge believed Larkyns to be his son's true father, although as an adult, the son bore a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge. Muybridge was put on trial for murder, but was acquitted as a "justifiable homicide." The inquiry interrupted his horse photography experiment, but not his relationship with Stanford, who paid for his criminal defense.

An interesting aspect of Muybridge's defense was a plea of insanity due to a head injury Muybridge sustained following his stagecoach accident. Friends testified that the accident dramatically changed Muybridge's personality from genial and pleasant to unstable and erratic. Although the jury dismissed the insanity plea, it is not unlikely that Muybridge had experienced emotional changes due to brain damage in the frontal cortex, often associated with traumatic head injuries. (For a description of Muybridge's suggested neurological injury, see Shimamura, 2002.)

After the acquittal, Muybridge left the United States for a time to take photographs in Central America, returning in 1877. He had his son, Florado Helios Muybridge (nicknamed "Floddie" by friends), put in an orphanage. As an adult, Floddie worked as a ranch hand and gardener. In 1944 he was hit by a car in Sacramentomarker and killed.

This episode in Muybridge's life is the subject of The Photographer, a 1982 opera by Philip Glass, with words drawn from the trial and Muybridge's letters to his wife.

Later work

At the Chicagomarker 1893 World's Columbian Expositionmarker, Muybridge gave a series of lectures on the Science of Animal Locomotion in the Zoopraxographical Hall, built specially for that purpose in the "Midway Plaisance" arm of the exposition. He used his zoopraxiscope to show his moving pictures to a paying public making the Hall the very first commercial movie theater.

Recent scholarship has pointed to the influence of Étienne Jules de Marey on Muybridge's later work. Muybridge visited Marey's studio in France and saw Marey's stop-motion studies before returning to the U.S. to further his own work in the same area. However, whereas Marey's scientific achievements in the realms of cardiology and aerodynamics (as well as pioneering work in photography and chronophotography) are indisputable, Muybridge's efforts were to some degree artistic rather than scientific. As Muybridge himself explained, in some of his published sequences he substituted images where exposures failed, in order to illustrate a representative movement (rather than producing a strictly scientific recording of a particular sequence).

Similar setups of carefully timed multiple cameras are used in modern special effects photography with the opposite goal of capturing changing camera angles with little or no movement of the subject. This is often dubbed "bullet time" photography.

Death

Eadweard Muybridge returned to his native England in 1894, published two further, popular books of his work, and died on May 8, 1904 in Kingston upon Thamesmarker while living at the home of his cousin Catherine Smith, Park View, 2 Liverpool Road. The house has a British Film Institute commemorative plaque on the outside wall. Muybridge was cremated and his ashes interred at Wokingmarker.

Legacy

Many of his photographic sequences have been published since the 1950s as artists' reference books. In 1985 the music video for Larry Gowan's single "(You're A) Strange Animal" prominently featured animation rotoscoped from Muybridge's work. In 1986 in the John Farnham music video for the song Pressure Down the galloping horse sequence is used in the background. In 1993, U2 made a video to their song "Lemon" into a tribute to Muybridge's techniques. In 2004, the electronic music group The Crystal Method made a music video to their song "Born Too Slow" which was based on Muybridge's work, including a man walking in front of a background grid.



A documentary of his life and work, titled Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer was made by filmmaker Thom Andersen, in 1974.

Composer Philip Glass's 1982 opera The Photographer is based on Muybridge's murder trial, the libretto including text from the transcript. A promotional music video of an excerpt of the opera dramatized the murder and trial and included a considerable number of Muybridge images.

Kingston Universitymarker, London, UK has a building named in recognition of his work as one of Britain's most influential photographers.

A collection of his equipment, including his original biunial slide lantern and Zoopraxiscope projector, can be viewed at the Kingston Museum in Kingston upon Thamesmarker.

Muybridge has influenced:

References

Further reading

  • Robert Bartlett Haas. Muybridge, Man in Motion, 1976.
  • Gordon Hendricks. Eadweard Muybridge, Father of the Motion Picture, 1975.
  • Stephen Herbert (Ed.) Eadweard Muybridge: The Kingston Museum Bequest, 2004 1-903000-07-6.
  • Anita Ventura Mozley (Ed.) Eadweard Muybridge. The Stanford Years 1872–82, 1972.
  • Arthur P. Shimamura. Muybridge in Motion: Travels in Art, Psychology, and Neurology, 2002, History of Photography, Volume 26, Number 4, 341–350.
  • Rebecca Solnit. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, 2003 ISBN 0-670-03176-3.


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