Muybridge is best known for his demonstration that movement could be broken down into fluid sequences of individual moments. That insight was made use of by a succession of artists, from Auguste Rodin to Francis Bacon. Muybridge’s motion studies can be fairly credited as the forerunners of the cinema. There is also evidence that in 1888 he shared with Thomas Edison some thoughts on combining a new projection system he had invented—the zoopraxiscope—with Edison’s phonograph. And the grid pattern of his bestselling books on locomotion survives in the format of comic strips.When will this exhibit come to Chicago? I want to see this.
A travelling exhibition, which began at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and has now opened in London, reveals Muybridge as much more than simply the pioneer of motion, however. Good close attention is paid to his biography, even if there are still important gaps. The very first line of the opening wall panel admits: “Where Muybridge learned his skill as a photographer remains unknown.” Other parts of his life are more familiar, in particular the fact that he coldbloodedly killed his wife’s lover. He was acquitted in part because a jury could not believe that a man who could lug the heavy and cumbersome photographic equipment of the time up into the Yosemite Valley could be entirely sane.
Muybridge did not just invent another name for himself. He excelled in a new industry, and made up more than just its technology as he went along. He was adept, for example, at marketing himself along with his photographs, and there is plenty of evidence of that in this show, from his illustrated trade cards and well-designed logos, to the many photographs of himself, quite naked, posing as a model in some of the motion studies.
For each major undertaking Muybridge invented the appropriate kind of photography to suit. His investigation of galloping horses for Leland Stanford, a California politician and racehorse owner, is well known. In each stride horses lift all four hooves off the ground at once, something that George Stubbs, the most famous horse painter of the last 300 years, had guessed at but which, until Muybridge, had never been proved. The beautiful cyanotype proofs for “Animal Locomotion” have recently been restored and are being given their first public outing in this show. There are also examples of the work Muybridge did up and down the Pacific coast for the national body in charge of lighthouses, including a sequence of unusual large-format seascapes completed in the 1870s, at precisely the time that Thomas Stevenson (father of Robert Louis) was designing his lighthouses around the coasts of Scotland.
Oh yeah the galloping horse above well that's one of Muybridge's famous photographs.