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Eadweard Muybridge

From Academic Kids

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Muybridge's The Horse in Motion.

Eadweard Muybridge (April 9, 1830May 8, 1904) was a British-born photographer, known primarily for his early use of multiple cameras to capture motion. Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge at Kingston-on-Thames, England. He changed his name because he believed it was the Anglo-Saxon original of his given name.

Muybridge started his career as an assistant to landscape photographer Carleton E. Watkins. He began to build his own reputation in 1867 with photos of Yosemite and San Francisco (many of the Yosemite photographs reproduced the same scenes taken by Watkins). Muybridge quickly became famous for his landscape photographs, which showed the grandeur and expansiveness of the West. The images were published under the pseudonym Helios.

In 1872, businessman and former California governor Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to settle a question (not a bet, as is popularly believed): Stanford claimed, contrary to popular belief, that there was a point in a horse's gallop when all four hooves were off the ground. By 1878, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of fifty cameras. Each of the cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse's, and each of the camera shutters were controlled by trip wires which were triggered by the horse's hooves. This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University, is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that, indeed, the hooves all leave the ground.

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Muybridge sequence of a horse jumping.

In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Colonel Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife"; and shot and killed him. He was put on trial for the killing, but acquitted of the killing on the grounds that it was "justifiable homicide." This episode in Muybridge's life is the subject of The Photographer, an opera by composer Philip Glass−with words drawn from the trial and Muybridge's letters to his wife. Commissioned by the Holland Festival, the opera was first performed in 1982 at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

Muybridge thought his wife's son had been fathered by Larkyns (although, as an adult, the young man had a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge). After the acquittal, Muybridge left the U.S. for a time and photographed in Central America, returning in 1877.

Later, he conducted research in order to improve the chemistry of his development methods to better capture motion in his photography. Hoping to capitalize upon the considerable public attention those pictures drew, Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope, a machine similar to the Zoetrope, but that projected the images so the public could see realistic motion. The system was, in many ways, a precursor to the development of the motion picture.

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Woman walking downstairs.

Muybridge used this technique many times to photograph people and animals to study their movement. The people were often photographed in little or no clothing in a variety of undertakings. From boxing, to walking down stairs, and even small children walking to their mother were sufficiently interesting to Muybridge to be the subject of his photographs. His work stands near the beginning of the science of biomechanics and the mechanics of athletics.

Similar setups of carefully timed multiple cameras are used in modern special effects photography with the opposite goal: capturing changing camera angles with little or no movement of the subject.

Eadweard Muybridge returned to his native England in 1894 and died in 1904 in Kingston-on-the-Thames.

In 1993, U2 made a video to their song Lemon into a tribute to Muybridge's techniques. In 2004, the electronic music group The Crystal Method made a music video to their song Born Too Slow which was based on Muybridge's work, including a man walking in front of a background grid.

In the summer of 2004, during the Summer Olympic games which were held in Greece, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts housed an exhibition highlighting ancient Greece and included 2 of Muybridge's photograph plates hanging next to more modern representations of athletes as part of the exhibit.

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