Eadweard Muybridge: Stop-action photographs or sequential photographs (1877)

Eadweard Muybridge was an Englishman, born in Kingston upon Thames in 1830, but immigrated to the United States of America as a young man. He remained obscure until 1868 when his large photographs of Yosemite Valley, California made him world-famous.

In 1872, the former governor of California, Leland Stanford had taken a position on a  popularly debated question of the day; whether all four feet of a horse were off the ground at the same time while trotting and during a gallop? Stanford sided with the assertion of “unsupported transit” in the trot and gallop, and decided to have it proven scientifically.

Stanford hired Muybridge to settle the debate, and in 1872 Muybridge produced a single photographic negative showing a horse airborne on a trot – settling the question.

By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiments, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse at a trot. He photographed the first ever ‘sequential photographs’  which is now the iconic images in which became Muybridge’s life work:

Eadweard Muybridge: 'The Horse in Motion'

Eadweard Muybridge: ‘The Horse in Motion’

In order to create these first sequential photographs, Muybridge placed 12 stereoscopic cameras in a line along the edge of the track; the shutter of each was triggered by a thread (a trip wire) as the horse passed. The path was lined with cloth sheets to reflect as much light as possible. He copied the images in the form of silhouettes onto a disc to be viewed in a machine he had invented, which he called a zoopraxiscope. This device was later regarded as an early movie projector, and the process as an intermediate stage toward motion pictures or cinematography.

The project became Muybridge’s life work, as he went on to produce a wealth of sequential photographs, by photographing anything he could think, animals and human performing a huge variety of different movements and actions.

An agreed definition of animation would be; ‘single-frame images viewed in rapid succession by some form of mechanism, to crate an illusion of movement’, therefore, combining his sequential photographs and his zoopraxiscope, the first form of animation was born.

Galloping horse, animated in 2006, using photos by Eadweard Muybridge.

Galloping horse, animated in 2006, using photos by Eadweard Muybridge.

Here’s a link to an Eadweard Muybridge’s Online Archive: www.muybridge.org

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