Our lives in the 21st century are increasingly dominated by moving images - powerful camera and editing technologies makes it possible to endlessly manipulate (speed or slow frames) and accentuate certain actions, ultimately exposing the intricate movement of everything from humingbird wings in flight to the precise tongue flicks that a cat uses to lap milk. It's easy to take the accessibility of this visual information for granted, but 150 years ago, things that moved faster than the human eye and brain could register in sequence were mysteries left to artists to interpret.
In 1872, a popular debate arose regarding whether a running horse's feet were ever in fact all 4 off the ground (as they appeared commonly throughout Victorian horse-racing art), or whether the stride required at least one hoof on the earth at any given point. In an attempt to settle the issue with visual evidence made by a device that "couldn't lie" (the camera), former governor of California, and racehorse owner, Leland Stanford commissioned English photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge to produce proof. After much study, experimentation, and the development of new techniques involving multiple cameras and carefully placed triggers, Muybridge delivered an irrefutable answer in 1877: a single photographic negative (one in a series) of Stanford's trotting horse, Occident, clearly shows the horse "floating", not a single toe touching the ground below. Further photographic series' of Stanford's Thoroughbred, Sallie Gardner, proved that not only was there also an unsupported point in the stride of a galloping horse, but that it occurred while all 4 legs were tucked beneath the body, as opposed to stretched out front and back, as was the common artistic depiction. The success of Muybridge's efforts prompted many more studies, with many more types of animals and actions, generating hundreds of thousands of images. These experiments also resulted in the zoopraxiscope - a precursor to cinematography and the motion picture.
Today marks the 182nd anniversary of the pioneering Eadweard J. Muybridge's birth. Muybridge's work fascinated me as a teenager and prompted numerous animated animal projects using tracings of his photos, and original drawings based on the studies. As a kid enamoured with anatomy, Muybridge's massive volumes of stills exploring the various gaits of dozens of different creatures, were a goldmine of reference imagery and inspiration for me. To this day my copy of Animals In Motion remains a powerful tool for researching form and gesture... So, a proper hat tip to Mr. Muybridge, for his incredible - and prolific - contributions to early scientific imaging and the arts.
The fantastic little video above was made in conjunction with a 2010 Muybridge exhibition at the Kingston Museum. To read more, check out eye magazine's little commentary on Muybridge's role as an artist; explore social scandals and multiple name changes here; and go look something up today! - Google Doodle for the day is a lovely tribute.