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The Photographer is a chamber opera by composer Philip Glass that is based on the homicide trial of photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The opera is based on words drawn from the trial as well as Muybridge's letters to his wife. Commissioned by the Holland Festival, the opera was first performed in 1982 at the Royal Palacemarker in Amsterdammarker.

Historical background

In 1872, businessman and former Governor of California Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to settle a question. Stanford claimed that there was a point in a horse's full gallop when all four hooves were off the ground. To answer this proposition, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous picture capture. Muybridge's technology involved prescriptive chemical bath formulas and an electrical trigger created by Stanford's electrical engineer, John D. Issacs.

In 1874, still living in the San Franciscomarker 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"; and shot and killed him. He was put on trial for the killing, but acquitted of the killing on the grounds that it was "justifiable homicide." This incident marked the last time an admitted murder in passion in Californiamarker was not to be punished except by reason of insanity.

Muybridge thought his wife's son had been fathered by Larkyns (although, as an adult, the young man bore a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge). After the acquittal, Muybridge left the U.S. for a time and photographed in Central America, returning in 1877.

By 1878, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of fifty cameras. Each of the cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse's, and each of the camera shutters were controlled by trip wires which were triggered by the horse's hooves. This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford Universitymarker, is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that, indeed, the hooves all leave the ground.


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