THE COMPLEAT EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE: FRANCIS GALTON
THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY July 21, 1882
INSTANTANEOUS PHOTOGRAPHY v. EYESIGHT.
MR. FRANCIS GALTON, whose researches in producing certain pictures each of which represented the average (so to speak) of a number of photographs, have been described and discussed in these columns, has recently - whether by what might be termed an act of inspiration or by a course of reasoning - hit upon an expedient which we do not hesitate to characterise as one of the most important and remarkable aids to ordinary vision that has ever been produced. Mr. Muybridge and Professor Marey have photographed the invisible; Mr. Galton has followed up their work by rendering visible to the eye the invisible.
To speak more plainly, the two former gentlemen have taken photographs of certain existing phenomena of motion which when produced are so rapidly superseded by succeeding phenomena that no human eye has ever been able to see them as isolated facts. Mr. Galton has given to anyone who likes to exercise it the powere of seeing these phenomena with the naked eye.
There is no gainsaying the fact that while photography is slowly but surely gaining a more exalted position, the photographs of Mr. Muybridge have taken the artistic world by storm. The carpers who would deny it a place among the fine arts are daily growing fewer in number; and the very fact that painters of repute have sat in judgement on the artistic merits of the photographs at the annual exhibitions of the "Parent" Society, speak more than pages of theoretical argument as to the true position of photography. Still there are few professors of pure photography who have been received by the leading painters of the day with the effusion that Mr. Muybridge has. But that gentleman has solved a long-existing problem. The question that has agitated artists and critics for years and years has had from him no hesitating or halting answer, and he has given irrefragible testimony, the results of which will at all times be available for those whose walk in art tends in the direction of that gentleman's studies.
Whenever a great battlepiece was painted or an equestrian subjects limned there would always arise some critic to point out the absurdity of the positions in the one or the impossibility of the representations in the other. Mr. Muybridge has put all that one a proper footing. There are his photographs; is there any parallel to them? The answer reveals at once whether correctness or incorrectness characterises the pictures., We are not exaggerating the importance of the effect produced, and as to the actual value of the photographs we have no doubt; but whether they will be useful as some one would have them to be is another question.
We feel uncertain whether many of the photographs of animals in motion will ever be made use of for direct reproductions by painters. The series will, we should imagine, be more particularly useful to give a knowledge of the actual path taken by an animal's limbs in the course of its stride, so that the artist may select such as would best represent the impression received by the eye, while he still adheres to rigid truth, or as near as may be; for artistic truth is not necessarilly mathematical truth, as it is frequently, to a great extent, the expression of emotion and psychological impression. An artist paints what he sees and feels or what another observer sees and feels - not what rule and compass declare to exist. Still, as we have said, such aids to observation as record, or enable us to individualise, specific acts almost instantaneous as to duration add to our knowledge and our power of portraying the effect of a series of such acts. Mr. Galton's discovery will enable us widely to extend that knowledge, and to obtain it under conditions where photography would be quite unavailable. the title of his paper, describing the instrument he uses and its principles, well describes its powers - A Rapid View Instrument for Momentary Attitudes. It is a most simple affair, and the wonder is that on one has ever discovered or invented it before, the more especially when we remember the labour and expense some artists have gone to in their endeavour (which has always been a vain one) to see, for example, the actions of a horse's limbs when in rapid movement. We learn that M. Meissonier went to the expense of laying down a track that he might be carried along at the same rate as a galloping horse and watch its actions; but he gained nothing, and was always foiled by the rapidity of the motions of the limbs.
Mr. Galton's instrument consists of a little box with a cone-shaped hole at one end, and at the other a small aperture about the size of the pupil of the eye capable of being rapidly opened and shut - that is all. He has tried any number of different forms with multiple levers and revolving discs, but "even the rudest of the instruments I have used," he says, "is sufficient for the purpose (showing the action of a horse); it will even show the wheel of a bicycle at full speed as a well-defined and stationary object." We are unaware of his having made any trial of instantaneous photographic shutters; we should think that some of the more rapid kind might be found useful, though, of course, Mr. Galton aims at a rapidity at times far in excess of present photographic possibilities.
It is well known, that the eye is capable of receiving luminous impressions for about the tenth of a second, and also that the time necessary for causing the impression is exceedingly brief. Mr. Galton will be able to calculate the latter with precision, and also the ration of the rapidity with which the image fades after being impressed. Entering into calculations which we need not here reproduce, he summarises their results in the following words:- "There is, therefore, no difficulty, theoretical or practical, about shortness of exposure and sufficiency of illumination. The power exists, and can be utilised, of seeing bodies in motion by a rapid-view instrument, showing the in apparent stillness, and leaving a sharply-defined image on the eye, that can be drawn from visual memory, which, in some persons, is very accurate and tenacious." Mr. Galton further looks upon observing the attitudes of a galloping horse as very easy, a "rude instrument" that he employs giving an exposure in effect about the one-five-hundreth part of a second.
It is obvious that, as the invenor states, an instrument could be devised giving a succession of images, one ingenious method that he employed for the purpose being a sort of drop shutter passing in front of two slits, the image sbeing separated from one another by two opposing prisms placed in front of the slits. One fact we expect will come out in strong relief when the instrument comes to be popularised - we should not be surprised to find it becomes a popular toy, and found in evey shop window in a short time - viz, the power the eye possesses of seeing to but a very small angular extent with any amount of clearness; to speak in photographic words, that only a very minute portion of the field of vision can be in focus at one instant of time. In conlusion: we may say that this little instrument, though n a sense a rival to photography can never usurp its functions, even in the direction Mr. Muybridge has made his own; but we do think in will be an aid to artists, limited in extent, as we have specified. We cannot but accord a high meed of praise to an instrument as simple in design as it is remarkable in adaptability.
The device was also the subject of an article in Nature [pdf download]
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