BIOGRAPHY


Draft. This version 'work in progress' and not yet fully fact-checked. December 2010.

'The Life of Eadweard Muybridge "Grandfather of Motion Pictures"', in Camera Comics No.4, Spring 1945, U.S. Camera Publishing Corporation, Chicago, Illinois. (Download here)

 

Born Edward James Muggeridge at Kingston-upon-Thames, England, on 9 April 1830, he emigrated to America in 1850, working in New York selling books and prints. He acquired an interest in photography, which developed after his move to California in 1855. His surname was now Muygridge. Recovering from a stagecoach accident he returned to England in 1860, where he invented a washing machine and a plate printing process. In 1865, now with the surname Muybridge, he became a Director of The Ottoman Comany and its associate company The Bank of Turkey, which failed (before trading) in the midst of the major banking crisis of 1866. A silver mine venture was also a financial disaster. Having failed to find success as a venture capitalist, he turned to photography. It seems that by this time he had learnt the wet collodion process.

Back in America, in 1867 - under the trade pseudonym 'Helios' - he set out to record the scenery of the far West with his mobile darkroom, The Flying Studio. He produced landscape photographs, most famously Yosemite Valley scenes, from large negatives, and notable stereoscopic views. He photographed many scenes in Alaska in 1868.

His reputation as a photographer of the first rank spread, and he was approached by the President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Leland Stanford, to attempt to photograph a horse trotting at speed, supposedly to settle a long-standing controversy among racing men as to whether a trotting horse had all four hooves off the ground at any point. In the Spring of 1872 (date claimed later), in Sacramemto, Muybridge photographed the horse Occident, but without any great success, as the current wet collodion process normally required several seconds for a good result. That summer, he travelled again to the Yosemite, and took a large number of 'mammoth' size plates.

Re-commencing his motion studies, in April 1873 he managed to produce some better negatives in which a recognisable silhouette of the horse showed all four feet above the ground at the same time; an engraving based on these photographs was published. The following month he photographed the Modoc Indians and US soldiers in the Lava Beds in northern California, during the Modoc War. Also in 1873 he photographed the newly built Pacific Railroads.

While Muybridge was away on a photographic trip, his young wife Flora had an affair with a Major Harry Larkyns. Muybridge - an imposing figure in broad-brimmed hat and lengthening grey beard - believing that Flora's child (Floredo, sometimes spelled Florado) was not his, confronted Larkyns, and shot him dead.

Tried for murder in February 1875, Muybridge was acquitted by the jury on the grounds of justifiable homicide; he left soon after on a 9-month trip to Central America, photographing the Guatemala plantations and scenes in Panama. On his return, he took up the action photography project once more. Using a new shutter design he had developed which operated in as little as 1/1000th of a second, in July 1877 he obtained pictures showing more detail.

At the same time he was engaged in photographing San Francisco in multi-section panoramic format. His largest panorama of 1878 comprises 13 panels.

Palo Alto 'studio' - graphic animation by Museu del Cinema, Gerona, Spain.

Muybridge then devised a new motion-photography scheme, which Stanford sponsored at his farm at Palo Alto, in 1878 and 1879. A long shed was constructed, containing twelve cameras side by side, facing a white background marked off with vertical, numbered lines. Each camera was fitted with Muybridge's high-speed shutter, released by an electromagnetic catch. Thin threads stretched across the track were broken by the horse as it moved along, closing spring electrical contacts which released each shutter in turn. Thus in about half a second, twelve photographs were obtained showing all the phases of the movement. For another method of setting of the shutters, electrical contacts embedded in the track could be triggered by the wheels of a sulky (horse-drawn vehicle) passing over them.

Later, twenty four cameras were used; plus portable 12-section cameras giving oblique views. Although the pictures were still little more than silhouettes they were very sharp, and engravings based on these sequences, published in scientific and photographic journals throughout the world, excited considerable attention. By an alternative method of triggering the cameras with a clockwork mechanism, releasing the shutters at regular intervals, Muybridge was able to take series showing other animals in motion, and athletes. He presented the work to Stanford in an album entitled The Attitudes of Animals in Motion, of which only a small number were produced.

Having adopted the final version of his name - Eadweard Muybridge - from 1880 he lectured in America and Europe, projecting his results in motion on the screen with his Zoopraxiscope projector (originally called the Zoogyroscope). This machine, described by the Illustrated London News as 'a magic lantern run mad (with method in the madness)' was basically a projecting phenakistiscope, with a contra-rotating shutter. The silhouette images, derived from his sequence photographs, were painted around the edge of a large glass disc. (Later, translucent coloured pictures were produced, but apparently never shown.) Many of the images were compilations integrating several different motion sequences. Following publication of Dr Stillman's book The Horse in Motion (sponsored by Stanford, and which barely mentioned Muybridge) while he was in Britain, his contribution to the project was questioned by the Royal Society, causing him much embarrassment, and he returned to the USA.

In August 1883 he received an invitation from the University of Pennsylvania to carry on his work there. During 1884 and 1885, using the superior gelatine dry plate process and new camera apparatus, with a newly developed electrical release timer mechanism, he produced over 100,000 sequence photographs, of which approximately 20,000 were reproduced as collotype prints (between 12 and 36 images on a plate) in the Animal Locomotion folios published in 1887. The subjects were animals of all kinds (some taken in the Philadelphia Zoo), and human figures, many nude, in a wide range of activities. Following numerous lectures in Britain and Europe in 1891-2, on 'The Science of animal locomotion in its relation to design in art', his motion sequences were projected in the Zoopraxographical Hall at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893. The following year Muybridge returned to his birthplace in England, but made at least one extended trip back to the USA. He wrote entries on animal locomotion for Funk & Wangalls' first Dictionary. His last publications wereAnimals in Motion (1899) and The Human Figure in Motion (1901), both comprising selections from the Animal Locomotion plates.

Muybridge died in Kingston on 8 May 1904. (Plaque at his last home.) His influence on the world of art was significant; the 'rocking horse' attitudes shown in earlier equestrian paintings disappeared. His work in pioneering the use of sequence photography was further developed by Professor Etienne-Jules Marey, Ottomar Anschutz, and others, and stimulated many inventors, notably Thomas Edison, to work which led to the introduction of cinematography in the 1890s. His sequence images continue to inspire artists from all disciplines, to this day.

Muybridge and his work defy categorisation. His experiments for Stanford, for instance, were certainly scientific and indeed groundbreaking, developing new camera techniques to enable us to see what was otherwise too fast for the human eye/brain to distinguish. His multi-camera arrangement was a more accurate method of capturing sequences of fast motion than the Marey Wheel camera (versions of which he tried and abandoned). With Muybridge's technique, a fast-moving horse is always central to the camera field of view when the shutter is released. With a single Wheel camera, the perspective angle and relative size of the subject changes as it approaches and recedes from the centre of view, making exact scientific analysis of moving limb positions impossible. Muybridge's procedure, a gradual improvement of techniques over several years, followed a meticulous and methodical scientific method. He developed his own presentation techniques - animated zoopraxiscope silhouettes - which initially were used as a graphic device to demonstrate the evidence captured by the camera. But then, Muybridge also used his photographic sequences and zoopraxiscope projections for narrative and artistic purposes, and this artistic use has confused some commentators into denying his very real scientific achievements.

This biography, by Stephen Herbert, incorporates material prepared by Brian Coe.


Perhaps the best 'potted biography' of Muybridge is the entry in the book Pioneer Photographers of the Far West. A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 , by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn (Stanford University Press, 2000). Inevitably this leans heavily on the full-length biographies of Henricks and Haas, but has been skillfully compiled, by authors with extensive knowledge of the subject.

A good online biography is on the absolute astronomy site,
here. (When you get there, scroll down to 'Encyclopedia'.)

A useful and authoritative WEBSITE ARTICLE, Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion Study: The Role of the University of Pennsylvania (University Archives and Records Center, University of Pennsylvania) is here http://www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/muybridge/muybridge.html#1

Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement 1901-1911 (published 1912) has a biography of more than one page, pp.668-669, written by Charles Welch. Includes perhaps the first mention that "In the grounds there [2 Liverpool Road, Kingston], he dug out a miniature reproduction to scale of the Great Lakes of America." Refs: The Bioscope, 1 Sept. 1910; Illust. London News 18 March 1882, 25 May 1889; Proc. Royal Inst. 1882 x.44-56, 1889 xii 444-5.

Biographies of key people in Muybridge's life [in preparation]

Eakins, Thomas

Muybridge, [George Down] Florado Helios

Stanford, Leland

Stone, Flora (nee: Downs, Flora)

Pepper, William

Rulofson, William

Stillman, J. D. B

Marey, Etienne Jules

Other photographers and chronophotographers

Anschutz, Ottomar

Albert Londe

Carleton Watkins

Models used by Muybridge at University of Pennsylvania

Here.

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