Eadweard Muybridge is a well-known pioneer when discussing the development of film. Muybridge is credited as the first person to manipulate photographs in order to make the images appear to be in motion while simultaneously projecting them onto a screen (Fabos & Martin 215-250). He completed this project by using multiple cameras to take consecutive photos of animals and humans in motion. His accomplishments is this field of study jumpstarted the evolution of film and his influence is still felt today. Although his projects seem very premature now, the works have been a foundation or building block for the future generations of filmographers.
Muybridge was birthed Edward James Muggeridge on April 9, 1830, to John and Susan Muggeridge of Kingston, England. At the age of 20, Muybridge moved from England to New York and then to San Francisco five years later where he established himself as a well know bookseller. Although he had a slight interest in photography, Muybridge did not devote his life to it until later (Muybridge 2016) At first, Muybridge focused on the scientific aspect of film study. He advanced the chemicals that are used to develop film. He made camera shutter speed faster and found ways to make photos elastic.
After running his book store in San Francisco for a period of time, Muybridge planned to travel the world. He even ran an advertisement saying that he was planning to sell his store and on May 15th, 1860, Muybridge embarked on his journey. While on the way, Muybridge’s stagecoach crashed in Northeast Texas (Phippen 2016). The vehicle went down a mountain and slammed into a tree completely destroying it. Muybridge, along with seven other passengers, were thrown for the stagecoach. One man died. Muybridge was severely injured. He hit his head so hard that he lost his senses of taste and smell. The first thing he remembered from the incident was waking up 150 miles away in Arkansas with a doctor telling him that he would never fully recover from his injuries. Muybridge spent six years recovering in England and nobody knows much about his time there. When he was recovered, he moved back to San Francisco in 1866. His life took a turn when he returned as he was now a masterful photographer. People raved over his landscapes. Eadweard was able to capture great landscapes with the help of his own invention, the “Sky Shade” (Phippen 2016). Muybridge shielded light from the sun which allowed for a more beautiful landscape but still had the sky’s majestic colors. He signed his photos under the Greek name, Helios.
In 1871, Muybridge married a younger woman by the name of Flora Shallcross Stone. A year later, Stanford contacted Muybridge and he began doing a project for them. The project involved his photography of horses and the motion of the creature. But in 1874, the project took a pause as Muybridge allegedly killed someone. After finding a note that his wife was trying to send to a well-known drama critic named Major Harry Larkyns, Muybridge freaked out. He began to believe that his child was not his and instead was little Harry’s (Phippen 2016). Larkyns was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. Muybridge was actually released from the charges as Muybridge pleaded insanity as his lawyers argued that his accident caused him to have radical changes in behavior.
Muybridge’s big break came when Leland Stanford, a former governor of California, questioned if all four of a horse’s legs are airborne when they are running. “In 1877, at a track in San Francisco, Muybridge strung a thread across the dirt at horse-chest height. It led to a trigger attached to his camera. Stanford had funded Muybridge’s work for years, and this was their most meaningful trial yet, so when Stanford’s horse trotted down the track at 40 feet per second, Muybridge was ready with his camera” (Phippen 2016). He was credited as being the first person to put photos into motion. Although a key figure in the development of film, Muybridge is somewhat forgotten as many have improved on his works but nonetheless, Eadweard paved the way for these future generations.
Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2017). Movies and the impact of images. H. Chester (Ed.), Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age (215-250). Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s.
Muybridge, Eadweard. (2015, September 29). A biography of Eadweard Muybridge. N.A, December 07, 2017.
Phippen, J. W. (2016, July 24). The Man Who Captured Time. Retrieved December 04, 2017.
Image Attribution: “A Cat Running By” by Wellcome Images Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Written by Barry McCormick, 2017