A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

Note: Comments are moderated. If you include a link, your comment will not be published. As you will note, I do not accept ads on my website and that includes in comments.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Horsin' Around with Photography

Muybridge's "The Horse in Motion", 1878.  Image courtesy of the LOC.

In 1872 the popular question in some circles was whether a horse when running ever had all four hooves off the ground.  Most paintings of horses galloping showed the forelegs and hind legs extended out in their respective positions, but no one knew if this was true.  Enter former California governor, Leland Standford, who was then the owner of race horses.  He thought that "unsupported transit" was true, and hired Eadweard Muybridge, a well-known British photographer living in San Francisco, to prove it.

Eadweard Muybridge, circa 1900.

Muybridge (who was born Edward James Muggeridge) set up a course with a series of large cameras with glass plates in a line, and tripwires that were triggered by the horse as it ran by.  Later he came up with a clockwork device to shoot this. The images were copied in silhouette onto a disc, then shown in a machine called a "zoopraxiscope", which he invented in 1879.  This device is credited with inspiring Thomas Edison and William Kennedy Dickson's Kinetoscope, which was the first system for showing film.

Zoopraxiscope, 1893.

Muybridge settled the question in 1877 with a single of Stanford's horse "Occident" airborne.  (This negative is now lost, although there are woodcuts made of it from that time.)  A year later Muybridge did a series of photos of Stanford's horse "Sallie Gardner" which proved that all the hooves are off the ground, though not extended, but rather tucked in under the horse.

Another horse study by Muybridge of "Daisy".

Muybridge and Stanford had a falling out over the whole thing.  Stanford published a book, The Horse in Motion, without crediting Muybridge, causing the Royal Society to rescind their offer to sponsor Muybridge's stop-motion photography.  Stanford was unsuccessfully sued.

Muybridge's works are still published as reference books for artists and animators, and there are even flipbooks published using his sequences.  He is credited with influencing not only Edison and Dickson, but artists Francis Bacon, Thomas Eakins, and Marcel Duchamp, among others.

Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2", 1912.

But wait!  Was he the first to do use photography to study movement?  No, as it turns out.  He, in turn, was influenced by the rather unsung French pioneer of photography and chronophotography, Étienne-Jules Marey.

Étienne-Jules Marey, circa 1850.

Marey was a physiologist, and used photography in his pursuit of science.  He began his work in the field of cardiology, studying blood circulation in the body, then turned to analyzing heart beats, respiration, and movement of the body.  He developed instruments for measuring, such as the sphygmographe to measure the pulse.

Marey's sphygmographe.

In 1869 he built a delicate artificial insect to show how it flew.  This led to his investigation of flying creatures.  In the 1880s he developed chronophotography, a photographic technique that captures movement in several frames of print, which can then be subsequently layered in a single frame or arranged like animation cels. Although it was created to study movement scientifically, it  became the impetus for cinematography and moving film that involved a series of different cameras.

A 12-lens camera was used for chronophotography.

He published a volume of his work, Le Vol des Oiseaux (The Flight of Birds), in 1890 with lots of photographs, drawings, and diagrams.  He studied other animals as well, and wrote that a galloping horse had all four hooves off the ground for a brief moment.  Muybridge knew of Marey's work, had even visited him, and said that his "Photographic Investigation" with Stanford's horses was to prove Marey right.

A photo of a flying pelican by Marey, circa 1882.

Marey played with his chronophotographic images, comparing them to images of skeletons and muscles of the same creatures.  He produced a series of drawings showing a horse in the flesh, then as a skeleton, trotting and galloping.  He developed a chronophotographic gun in 1882, capable of taking 12 consecutive frames per second on the same picture.  Using this process he studied horses, birds, dogs, sheep, fish, elephants, donkeys, reptiles, and insects.

Marey's chronophotographic gun.

He conducted a study of the famous idea that a cat always lands on all fours.  He then applied that same study to a chicken and a dog.  The results?  All could do it about the same.  Marey went on to study human locomotion, and published another book, Le Mouvement, in 1894.

A pole vaulter, 1890.

Marey's research on capturing and displaying moving images helped the nascent field of cinematography.  He had made movies with excellent image quality at high speed - 60 images per second, and created almost perfect slow-motion cinematography.  His finale was to study inanimate forms, like a ball, and his observation and photography of smoke trails led to his creation of a smoke machine with 58 smoke trails, which became one of the first aerodynamic wind tunnels.

Print from 1901of his smoke machine.
Image courtesy of the Musée d'Orsay.

The difference between Muybridge and Marey was this:  Muybridge was interested in the art of images, while Marey was strictly interested in obtaining scientific knowledge.  Although Marey is largely unheard of, his work became important in the development of cardiology, aviation, and cinematography, as well as other fields.  Muybridge influenced art and photography.  I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they met.  Oh!  But then they might have used me for their motion studies!

Images, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of Wikipedia.

No comments:

Post a Comment