Muybridge

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Eadweard Muybridge (1830 - 1904)



Edward Muggeridge was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, he changed his name to Eadweard Muygridge and later to Eadweard Muybridge believing it to be the original Anglo-Saxon form. He emigrated to America and became a celebrated landscape photographer. This he might have remained, but for meeting Leland Stanford, the railway magnate and governor of California.

Stanford's passion was racehorses, and controversy raged over the movement of horses' feet when trotting or cantering, as it was too fast for the human eye to see. An often repeated story is that Stanford commissioned Muybridge to photograph his horse so it would settle a bet. That's likely to be a myth - but it was a commonly held Victorian belief that when a horse galloped it always maintained one hoof in contact with the ground. He thought that photography could help to prove the point, and hired Muybridge. The first efforts used a single camera, but his real success came when his 'special exposing apparatus' was connected to a series of still cameras.

Muybridge's subject was Stanford's horse, and he used a number of exposing apparati, some mechanical and others electronic, usually fired by a trip-wire. He calculated that he needed 12 cameras 22 inches apart to record the separate parts of the horse's stride. As it ran across the trip wires, the horse pulled out a pin allowing the shutter to move and take a picture.

It sounds easy but there were complications. First, the whole point of the experiment was to capture a fast movement sharply - which on a modern camera would translate to a fast shutter speed - about 1/2000th of a second. That makes it difficult to separate the movement from a background. Muybridge's answer was to build a massive wooden back screen and paint it white, so the contrast of a dark horse against a white background was clearly defined.

In most 19th century cameras, a picture was taken when the photographer manually exposed the film in a large box camera. Making a fast shutter mechanism was another challenge for Muybridge. He built a cunning system which relied on a plank with a drilled hole sliding down past the lens. When a pin was pulled out from under the plank, it fell with gravity, and as the

hole went past the lens, the film in the camera was fleetingly exposed. Then came the remote shutter. Each pin was attached to a piece of string stretched across the runway. As the galloping horse ran through the string, it tugged the pin and took the picture.

Muybridge came to the Royal Institution in March 1882 to lecture before dignitaries including the Prince of Wales and Alfred Lord Tennyson, using his own complicated projector - the zoopraxiscope - with counter rotating discs. The results were stunning. The pictures clearly showed the horse with all four legs off the ground at the same time.

This was the first time that the motion could be properly analysed, and was the forerunner of all the slow-motion replays used today. He moved from horses to other animals, and then on to humans, publishing his photographs as a portfolio, Animal Locomotion, in 1887.

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