Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), a brilliant and eccentric photographer, gained worldwide fame photographing animal and human movement imperceptible to the human eye. In 1872, the former Governor of California, Leland Stanford, asked Muybridge to photograph his horse, Occident, trotting at speed. The aim was to determine through photography whether in its trot the horse would have all four hooves off the ground at the same time. Muybridge’s first photographs were inconclusive. Undeterred, he designed an improved shutter to work at the astonishing speed of one-thousandth of a second, and used all his experience to sensitise his plates for the shortest possible exposure. When the resulting picture of Occident in arrested motion was published in July 1877 it created a minor sensation. He then set up a battery of 12 cameras fitted with electromagnetic shutters which were activated by strings stretched across the track. Later he expanded this to 24 cameras, allowing him to capture animals’ movement in a way that had never been done before, and his photographs were widely reproduced in publications throughout America and Europe.
In the 1880s the University of Pennsylvania sponsored Muybridge’s research using banks of cameras to photograph people in a studio, and animals from the Philadelphia Zoo, to study their movement. The human models, either entirely nude or very lightly clothed, were photographed against a measured grid background in a variety of action sequences, including walking up or down stairs, hammering on an anvil, carrying buckets of water, or throwing water over one another, eventually producing thousands of images of animals and humans in motion, capturing what the human eye could not distinguish as separate movements.
Muybridge thought of himself primarily as an artist but also saw the scientific and commercial aspects of his inventions. He spent much of his later years giving public lectures and demonstrations of his photography and early motion picture sequences, inventing the “zoopraxiscope”, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the flexible perforated film strip used in cinematography. This device was later regarded as an early movie projector, and the process as an intermediate stage toward motion pictures or cinematography.
In 1887 The University of Pennsylvania published 781 plates under the title Animal Locomotion in a series of eleven volumes. The album offered for sale, which contains 95 of these seminal photographs, was formerly in the collection of the Royal Scottish Museum and the Museum of Edinburgh. Muybridge’s influence was widely recognised by scientists and artists such as Thomas Eakins, William Dickson, Thomas Edison, Marcel Duchamp, Harold Edgerton, Francis Bacon, and others, all of whom acknowledged their debt to Muybridge’s pioneering work.