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A true artist and inventor. Muybridge was an innovator clearing the way for artists to come. His works in motion serve artists to this day. Clearly his work in motion photography predates and assumes the advent of motion pictures.
Eadweard J. Muybridge 9 April 1830 – 8 May 1904) was an English photographer who spent much of his working life in the United States. He is known for his pioneering work on animal locomotion in 1877 and 1878, which used multiple cameras to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the flexible perforated film strip. He went on to make many studies of animals and humans in motion.
Muybridge was born in Kingston upon Thames, England on 9 April 1830. He emigrated to the United States, arriving at the age of 25 in San Francisco in 1855. He started a career as a publisher’s agent and bookseller. He left San Francisco at the end of the 1850s, and after a stagecoach accident in which he received severe head injuries, returned to England for a few years.
He returned to San Francisco in 1866 and rapidly became successful in photography, focusing principally on landscape and architectural subjects; his business cards also advertised his services for portraiture. His photographs were sold by various photographic entrepreneurs on Montgomery Street (most notably the firm of Bradley & Rulofson), San Francisco’s main commercial street during those years.
Muybridge began to build his reputation in 1867 with photos of Yosemite and San Francisco (many of the Yosemite photographs reproduced the scenes taken by Carleton Watkins). Muybridge quickly gained notice for his landscape photographs, which showed the grandeur and expansiveness of the West; they were published under his pseudonym Helios. In the summer of 1873 Muybridge was commissioned to photograph the Modoc War, one of the US Army’s expeditions against West Coast Indians.
In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On 17 October, he sought out Larkyns and said, “Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here’s the answer to the letter you sent my wife.” He shot and killed the Major pointblank.
Muybridge was tried for murder. His defense attorney pleaded insanity due to a head injury that Muybridge had sustained following his stagecoach accident. Friends testified that the accident dramatically changed Muybridge’s personality from genial and pleasant to unstable and erratic. The jury dismissed the insanity plea, but he was acquitted for “justifiable homicide“. The episode interrupted his horse photography experiment, but not his relationship with Stanford, who paid for his criminal defense.
After the acquittal, Muybridge left the United States for a time to take photographs in Central America, returning in 1877. Having divorced his wife and been awarded custody, as was customary at the time, he had their son, Florado Helios Muybridge (nicknamed “Floddie” by friends), put in an orphanage during this time. Muybridge believed Larkyns to be the boy’s biological father but, as an adult, Florado bore a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge. Florado Muybridge worked as a ranch hand and gardener. In 1944 he was hit by a car in Sacramento and killed.
Muybridge often travelled back to England. On 13 March 1882 he lectured at the Royal Institution in London in front of a sell-out audience that included members of the Royal Family, notably the future King Edward VII. He displayed his photographs on screen and described the motion picture via his zoopraxiscope.
At the University of Pennsylvania and the local zoo, Muybridge used banks of cameras to photograph people and animals to study their movement. The models, either entirely nude or with very little clothing, were photographed in a variety of undertakings, ranging from boxing, to walking down stairs, to throwing water over one another and carrying buckets of water. Between 1883 and 1886 he made a total of 100,000 images, working under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. They were published as 781 plates comprising 20,000 of the photographs in a collection titled Animal Locomotion. Muybridge’s work stands near the beginning of the science of biomechanics and the mechanics of athletics.
Recent scholarship has noted that in his later work, Muybridge was influenced by the French photographer Étienne-Jules Marey. Muybridge visited Marey’s studio in France and saw his stop-motion studies before returning to the U.S. to further his own work in the same area. While Marey’s scientific achievements in the realms of cardiology and aerodynamics (as well as pioneering work in photography and chronophotography) are indisputable, Muybridge’s efforts were to some degree artistic rather than scientific. As Muybridge explained, in some of his published sequences, he substituted images where exposures failed, in order to illustrate a representative movement (rather than producing a strictly scientific recording of a particular sequence).
Today similar setups of carefully timed multiple cameras are used in modern special effects photography but they have the opposite goal of capturing changing camera angles, with little or no movement of the subject. This is often dubbed “bullet time” photography.
At the Chicago 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Muybridge gave a series of lectures on the “Science of Animal Locomotion” in the Zoopraxographical Hall, built specially for that purpose in the “Midway Plaisance” arm of the exposition. He used his zoopraxiscope to show his moving pictures to a paying public, making the Hall the first commercial movie theater.
Eadweard Muybridge returned to his native England for good in 1894, where he published two additional popular books of his work. He died on 8 May 1904 in Kingston upon Thames while living at the home of his cousin Catherine Smith, Park View, 2 Liverpool Road. Muybridge was cremated and his ashes interred at Woking in Surrey. In 2004 a British Film Institute commemorative plaque was installed on the outside wall of the house.