Thursday, 14 January 2010

EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE: FATHER OF CINEMATOGRAPHY

Muybridge (1830-1904)


Eadweard Muybridge was born in Kingston on Thames in 1830 - at which point he bore the somewhat duller name of Edward James Muggeridge.

At the age of 22 he left England for America to seek his fame and fortune. He first worked in New York as a bookbinder's agent and then moved on to San Francisco where his interest in photography bloomed. Using a mobile darkroom that was christened The Flying Studio, he produced many stunning stereoscopic views and also beautiful landscapes, such as this one from within a volcano…




But the greater fame that Muybrige desired was found when he came to be hired by the railroad baron, Leland Stanford, a passionate racing horse breeder who commissioned the photographer to solve the age old argument as to the whether or not a running horse ever lifts all of its four feet from the ground - and Muybridge was to prove that it did!





The ingenius method that Muybridge used was to set up several cameras, each one with its shutter attached to a thread. As the horse then passed by and broke each thread an instant exposure was produced.

The public were amazed to see the results and Muybridge went on to develop his art, producing a substantial body of work which was published into books entitled Animal Locomotion and The Human Figure in Motion.


 Muybridge's study of wrestlers


Francis Bacon's 'Two Fighters'


Such systematic studies of the science of animal motion went on to inspire Francis Bacon, as seen in the painting above. But in his own time Muybridge's work also inspired early film makers - many of whom would have been aware of his development of the Zoopraxiscope. This involved printing a series of images onto a circular base which was then made to spin around so as to give the illusion of movement. In other words, animation.


A Zoopraxiscope - click here to see the couple dancing



Such a sweet and romantic picture can be seen in the images above. But, Muybridge's own private life was beset by violence and tragedy.




He married somewhat late in life to Flora, a young woman half his age. And while Muybrige was often absent, travelling the land with his cameras, Flora was wooed and her virtue won by a certain Major Harry Larkyns.

When Muybridge discovered the affair he went to visit Larkyns in person, confronting his rival with the words: "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife."

The answer was a bullet. The major was shot dead on the spot.

There followed a murder trial but Muybridge was acquited on the grounds of justifiable homicide when his lawyers successfully argued that a head injury, recieved years before, had affected their client's rationality.

For Flora the nightmare had only begun. She was pregnant, and a baby boy was born and named as Florado. But when her husband refused to believe that this child could be his natural son the grieving woman was forced to endure the shameful stigma of divorce, soon after which she was to die while suffering from typhoid.

Still Muybridge had no compassion. He sent Florado to an orphanage. But how terribly cruel and ironic it was that when 'Floddie' had grown to be man, working as a ranch hand and gardener, he was said to bear such an uncanny resemblance to the famous Eadweard Muybridge.



That unhappy period in Muybridge's life has more recently inspired an opera by Philip Glass. Composed in 1982, The Photographer's libretto is drawn from transcripts of the trial, and letters that Muybridge wrote to his wife.  Act 1 - A Gentleman's Honour - can be heard here, on youtube.

In his later life Muybridge returned to Kingston on Thames where he died in 1904, bequeathing his original equipment and prints to the Kingston Museum.

Stephen Herbert also has an interesting blog based around the photographer's life and works.



And finally, this is Muybridge's historic image of a buffalo galloping over the plains - and how amazing it is to think of what this development in 'moving' photography would lead to in the following century.


You can watch the moving image here

10 comments:

  1. Hi Sarah, many years ago I wrote a novel (unpublished) about Muybridge. By a bizarre coincidence, I'm rereading it at the moment.

    I always thought it was an amazing story. I felt there was some connection between Muybridge's attempts to hold on to time and the fact that he ended up killing his wife's lover. A controlling instinct? I dunno. Great post.

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  2. Roger, how amazing! I had no idea about the murder of his wife's lover. Will you try and submit your novel again?

    I've been desperately trying to find an online link to Philip Glass's opera. (love his music and would think the taut, controlling repetition which colours his work would be the perfect background to such a poignant story.

    Essie

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  3. When was Glass's opera written? I didn't know about it. Or at least, I don't think I did. I have a goldfish memory. Someone might have told me and it slipped my mind. Sounds perfect, as you say.

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  4. Thank you, Neo Victorianist,

    I really love Philip Glass and that track sounds wonderful. I'll just put the link into the body of the post.

    Essie

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  5. This is a fascinating history. Thank you for the information! Obviously a very interesting albeit tragic life.

    And the music is beautiful -- thanks for posting the link.

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  6. Thank you, Stephanie - the music is beautiful. I now have the CD.

    Essie

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  7. That is one of the most fascinating posts I have read in a long while. I knew some of it, but there was much that was new which made powerful connections for me. A quick shimmy through suggests that the rest of your blog is as thrilling. I shall be back. Thank you.

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  8. So glad you enjoyed the post, Dave.

    Essie

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  9. I didn't know any of this. The father of animation. This has sparked my need to know more button! I will also be on the look out for Phillip Glass's Opera. Thank you for such an intriguing story from history.

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