Eadweard Muybridge – Building an Atlas

The gallery handout introduces this exhibition with a quote from Charlotte Cotton’s latest book, Photography is Magic:

Photography is a form of magic – or to put it another way, the photographic provides cerebral experiences for the viewer that are equivalent to magic.

And for the viewers of these photographs in the 1870’s it must have been a truly magical experience. Forty-five of Muybridge’s collotypes were on display for this exhibit. All the prints were made in the late 1880’s. What a feast! Muybridge was born in 1830 and is best know for his motion studies, which began in 1870 when he was asked by Leland and Jane Stanford to help demonstrate that at a certain point in time, all four legs of a galloping horse were off the ground. Muybridge did this by using a bank of view cameras to record the galloping horse’s movements. Each camera’s shutter was triggered using a thread as the horse passed. I find this process utterly fascinating knowing how long view cameras took to process an image back in the 1870’s. Admittedly, Muybridge had the help of  Leland Stanford’s crew of engineers and technicians from the Central Pacific Railroad to help him develop new high-speed mechanical camera shutters for his view cameras. Cameras did not have shutters at that time. After the galloping horse study, Muybridge expanded his project to study motion of other animals and people involved in various activities. His legacy of these studies has been passed on to the cinematographers.

Eadweard Muybridge - dogs playing
Eadweard Muybridge – dogs playing

The beauty in these old photographs lies in their technicality, the split second precision of an action captured. Could we do it better today? Most definitely – the technology has changed dramatically since 1870, and today we have Joe McNally with his impressive banks of flashes. Even so the quality of the Muybridge prints and the resolution is quite crisp and the subject matter fascinating. Muybridge has applied a very scientific or forensic approach to his photographs and I liked the way that he used different angles for a lot of his series photographs: side on views, frontal and rear views. The individual frames are quite small and the viewer is really drawn in to study the stop-motion flow closely.

Eadweard Muybridge - woman playing tennis
Eadweard Muybridge – woman playing tennis

Eadweard Muybridge [online] Wikipedia. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge [Accessed 20 March, 2016]

Equinox Gallery (2016). Eadweard Muybridge: Building an Atlas. Vancouver: Equinox Gallery

Solnit, Rebecca (2010) Eadweard Muybridge: Feet off the ground [online]. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/sep/04/eadweard-muybridge-exhibition-rebecca-solnit [Accessed 20 March, 2016]


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