Photographer: Muybridge, Eadweard

Instructional Resource

Related Resources

Photographer: Muybridge, Eadweard

Instructional Resource

Photographic History Collection: Eadweard Muybridge

#nmahphc

This is a small sampling of Eadweard Muybridge Collections in the Photographic History Collection.  The collection contains stereoviews, a Yosemite portfolio printed by Chicago Albumen Works, collotypes, cyanotype proof prints, glass plate positives, Zoopraxiscope glass plates, lantern slides, a timing device, a patent model, shutter, and more.

For more, search collections.si.edu. 

Keywords:  stop action, stop motion, freeze frame, motion picture, cyanotypes, stereographs, Yosemite, Modoc Wars, California history, University of Pennsylvania, science and photography

See also the online exhibition at the National Museum of American History, Freeze Frame, https://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/freeze-frame-eadweard-muybridge%E2%80%99s-photography-motion



Expatriate Englishman Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), a brilliant and eccentric photographer, gained worldwide fame photographing animal and human movement imperceptible to the human eye. Hired by railroad baron Leland Stanford in 1872, Muybridge used photography to prove that there was a moment in a horse’s gallop when all four hooves were off the ground at once. He spent much of his later career at the University of Pennsylvania, producing thousands of images that capture progressive movements within fractions of a second.

By the 1860s, Eadweard Muybridge, born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, had reinvented himself as Helios, one of San Francisco’s most important landscape photographers. His fame brought him to the attention of Leland Stanford, former governor of California, who hired Muybridge to get a picture that would settle a hotly debated issue: Is there a moment in a horse’s gait when all four hooves are off the ground at once? Muybridge took up the challenge in 1872. In 1878, he succeeded in taking a sequence of photographs with 12 cameras that captured the moment when the animal’s hooves were tucked under its belly. Publication of these photographs made Muybridge an international celebrity.

It took six years to produce the photographs Stanford sought. Muybridge’s experiments were interrupted in 1874 when he went on trial for the murder of his wife’s lover. Acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide, he spent two years photographing in Central America before returning to Stanford’s farm. In 1878, Muybridge finally succeeded in photographing the horse in motion.

Muybridge used the wet plate process, a relatively slow method of photography. The resulting images were hardly more than silhouettes, but they showed what had never before been seen by the unaided eye.

Eadweard Muybridge traveled to Europe for a lecture tour in the fall of 1881. In Paris, Etienne-Jules Marey introduced him to the artistic and scientific luminaries of the age. This triumphal tour inspired Muybridge to seek additional funding to undertake an even more complex investigation into animal and human locomotion.

In the summer of 1883, the University of Pennsylvania agreed to fund such a project. University Provost Dr. William Pepper placed the grounds of the new Veterinary Department at Muybridge’s disposal, and a university committee was formed to oversee the project. Muybridge began making photographs in the spring of 1884.

Muybridge photographed his subjects moving in front of a black wall marked off with a grid of white threads. He used up to 36 lenses with 12 to 24 cameras, placed at 30-, 60-, and 90-degree angles to his subjects. The two cameras placed at 30- and 60-degrees were able to hold up to 12 lenses each. The 90-degree angle was known as the lateral, or parallel, view, while the others Muybridge referred to as the front and rear foreshortenings. With this set-up, a successful session could result in as many as 36 negatives.

The Cyanotypes
Muybridge’s cyanotypes are working proofs, the contact prints he made from the more than 20,000 negatives he took at the University of Pennsylvania. Since the original negatives no longer exist, the cyanotypes provide us with the opportunity to see the pictures Muybridge really made, before he edited and cropped them for publication.

The Process Muybridge used up to 36 lenses with 12 to 24 cameras, placed at 30-, 60-, and 90-degree angles to his subjects. The two cameras placed at 30- and 60-degrees were able to hold up to 12 lenses each. The 90-degree angle was known as the lateral, or parallel, view, while the others Muybridge referred to as the front and rear foreshortenings. With this set-up, a successful session could result in as many as 36 negatives.

Muybridge contact-printed his negatives as cyanotypes, the working proofs.

Using these cyanotypes as his guide, he enlarged each negative onto a separate piece of glass and assembled these positives into large glass plate composites (C). From these composites, the Photogravure Company, New York, produced a gelatin negative. The final print, called a collotype, was printed in ink from a plate prepared from this negative.

Over 800 sets of proofs exist in the unique collection found in the Photographic History Collection of the National Museum of American History. Comparisons between Muybridge’s working cyanotype proofs and his final collotype prints prove that he freely reprinted, cropped, deleted, or substituted negatives to make the assemblage of 781 collotypes in the portfolio Animal Locomotion. The Muybridge cyanotypes may be found in the online exhibit Freeze Frame: Eadweard Muybridge’s Photography of Motion.

The collection also includes prints from Muybridge’s five-month trip to the Yosemite Valley in 1867, which yielded 260 published views, 160 of them stereographs. His were among the most celebrated images taken of the Valley. By the late 1860s, the widespread circulation of Yosemite images had made the region a mythic American landscape, redolent of the grandeur, expansiveness, and power Americans had come to associate with the West and, by extension, the nation as a whole.

For more information on Eadweard Muybridge in the Smithsonian Collection see:

https://americanhistory.si.edu/muybridge/index.htm

http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=Muybridge%2C+Eadweard+cyanotypes

https://americanart.si.edu/artist/eadweard-muybridge-3475

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-19th-century-photographer-first-gif-galloping-horse-180970990/