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Summary Article: Muybridge, Eadweard
from Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia

Edward James Muggeridge, later known to the world as Eadweard Muybridge, was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, on April 9, 1830. He had a flamboyantly odd personality and was known as an eccentric photographer, whose interest in biomechanics set the stage for the invention of the motion pictures.

Muybridge moved in his youth to the United States and became, after a New York commercial career in book binding and selling, a professional photographer. Known also by the artistic name of “Helios,” he specialized in landscape views of the American West after he moved to California in 1855. His outstanding stereoscopic pictures and stunning wet collodion shots of Yosemite Valley (1867, 1872) established his reputation as the top photographer of the West Coast. As official photographer for the government departments, he recorded pictures of Alaska (1868), of the Pacific Railroad, of armed conflicts between the United States Army and the Modoc Indians, and created uniquely detailed pictorial information in the panoramic pictures of San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake. After the tragic events in his personal life, when Muybridge was tried for murdering his wife's lover and then acquitted on the paradoxical grounds of justifiable deeds, he went into a self-imposed working exile and joined an expedition to Central America, which he richly documented in photos. After he returned, he dedicated his work almost entirely to high-speed photography and to the studies of motion.

In 1872, Muybridge was commissioned by the railroad baron Leland Stanford to settle an incisive dispute among racing men about the position of hooves during a horse's gallop. The scheme, constructed at Palo Alto, California, was designed to investigate the phases of rapid equine locomotion. Muybridge first used 12 cameras in a row along a track. He attached a high-speed shutter mechanism to each camera and used a long trip wire that he stretched across the track so Leland's trotting racehorse could trigger each shutter as it went past the cameras. These caught each phase of the movement in a series of 12 photographs. This experiment proved that the horse in swift movement lifted all four feet off the ground simultaneously at a given point during the gallop. For a more precise recording of movement, Muybridge used 24 cameras, as well as lateral cameras with oblique views and more sophisticated shutter-release methods that led to substantial motion studies on animals and even people. The automated shutters Muybridge used in high-speed photography were later adopted for the first movie cameras.

Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, also known as zoopraxinoscope or zoogyroscope, which was the projection version of the earlier spinning picture disk, the phenakitoskope. The zoopraxiscope was the forerunner of the movie projector and the first machine to project sequential images of animals, birds, and humans from a dinner-plate-sized rotating glass disk, which produced the illusion of animation by concatenating images into a primitive version of moving images. The zoopraxiscope was the most sophisticated projector of successive photographs at the time and preceded Étienne Jules Marey's chronophotographic gun or the shotgun camera and Thomas Edison's and William Kennedy Laurie Dickson's Kinetoscope.

By 1887, Muybridge's studies incited broad scientific interest, and in the same year he published an 11-volume summary of his experiments at the University of Pennsylvania entitled Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements. This was the most comprehensive and richly illustrated study on movement and is used even today as a primary work of reference. Muybridge lectured widely in America and Europe and used the zoopraxiscope for projections during his presentations. Additionally, he published other notable “dictionaries” of animal and human motion: Descriptive Zoopraxography or the Science of Animal Locomotion Made Popular (1893), Animals in Motion, an Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Progressive Movements (1899), and The Human Figure in Motion: An Electrophotographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Muscular Actions (1901).

The self-proclaimed artist-photographer retired to his birthplace and died on May 8, 1904. The complete collection of his photographic plates and lantern slides, his zoopraxiscope and other miscellaneous materials, preserved in London's South Kensington Museum, document the innovative spirit of the man who believed in the technological potential of the medium and also in the power of photography as an art form.

See also: Silent Era, The

  • Coe, Brian. “Eadweard James Muybridge. British Photographer.” Who's Who of Victorian Cinema, March 2004.
  • Katz, Ephraim. 1982. The International Film Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. Macmillan London, 1982: 844-85.
  • Mitchell, Leslie. “The Man Who Stopped Time.” Stanford magazine, May/June, 2001.
  • Pioneers of Early Cinema: 12, Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904).
  • Cristian, Réka M.
    Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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