Muybridge, Eadweard 1830 - 1904


Eadweard Muybridge was the developer of motion photography. Muybridge was born as Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, on 9th April 1830. He was the second of four sons of John Muggeridge (1797–1843), corn chandler, of Kingston, and his wife, Susannah (1807/8–1874), daughter of the Smith barge-owning family of Hampton Wick.

Little is known about Muybridge's education and upbringing. He emigrated to New York in 1850, by which time he had changed his name to Eadweard Muybridge. He worked in New York importing English books, and came into contact with photography through his friendship with New York daguerreotypist Silas T. Selleck.

Muybridge moved to San Francisco in 1855, and established a book shop at 113 Montgomery Street. He became an active member of the literary community, serving on the board of the Mercantile Library Association and also selling photographs in his bookshop. His ingenuity in mechanical devices was demonstrated by his taking out a patent in 1860 for improvements to printing and another in 1861 for machinery for washing cloth.

Between 1860 and 1866 Muybridge travelled between England, New York, and the continent. Some time during this period a Kingston friend, Arthur Brown, taught him wet plate photography, and about 1866 he returned to San Francisco where he joined Silas Selleck in his photography business. By 1868 he offered views of Yosemite under the name of ‘Helios’.

Muybridge emerged as a talented photographer, building an extensive catalogue of views of the American west, recording the emerging San Francisco, and accepting various positions as photographer for government boards and expeditions. His reputation as a leading photographer led to an 1872 commission that changed his professional life. Former governor Leland Stanford, the wealthy president of the Central Pacific Railroad and an avid horse racer, hired him to provide scientific evidence whether a horse could ever have all four feet off the ground at once. By contriving a high speed shutter and speeding up his exposure by recording only a silhouette of the horse against white sheets, in May 1872 Muybridge made several negatives of Occident, Stanford's celebrated horse, as it trotted laterally in front of his camera at the speed of 38 feet per second. These experiments, which showed that the horse's four feet were at times all off the ground, were further developed in 1873.

In 1871 Muybridge married Flora Shallcross Stone (1851–1875). The birth of a son in 1874 led to his discovering that the true father was Major Harry Larkyns, an English drama critic and adventurer. Enraged, he shot and killed his rival. He was acquitted of the charge of murder, and quickly escaped to Central America, photographing for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. He was formally divorced in the same year.

In 1877 Muybridge again took up photographing horses in motion, now under Stanford's sponsorship at his stud farm in Palo Alto, California. His 1877 experiments carried out a suggestion first made by Oscar Gustav Rejdlander, of employing a number of cameras placed in a line, thus obtaining a succession of exposures at regulated intervals of time. Twelve electrically tripped cameras were arranged in a line, pointing at a measured backdrop. Six views were published in 1878 under the title of The Horse in Motion. In 1878 Muybridge patented his ‘method and apparatus for photographing objects in motion’. His battery of cameras was expanded to twenty-four and his subject matter extended, first to animals other than the horse, and by 1879 to the study of the human figure in motion. By then Stanford had spent more than $42,000 on supporting Muybridge's studies. Muybridge's work had captured the attention of the French scientist and photographer Étienne Jules Marey, professor at the Collège de France, and his active promotion of Muybridge's pioneering efforts did much to establish him in the scientific world.

In 1878 the editor of the Scientific American suggested mounting Muybridge's sequence photographs in a zoetrope. In 1869 Sir John Herschel, had prophesied that photographs might one day be used in the phenakistoscope to show continuous motion. A decade later Muybridge, using a device he called the Zoöpraxiscope, became the first to exhibit photographic motion pictures taken from life. It was a direct step towards modern film-making, and was a popular device. At Marey's home in Paris in September 1881 Muybridge lectured before the assembled men of science with his newly animated illustrations for the first time in Europe. He then lectured in London, before the Royal Institution, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Royal Society.

During a lecture tour of American cities in 1883 Muybridge circulated a prospectus for a massive reference work of animal locomotion. Numerous backers were found in Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania became his scientific home. Specially constructed apparatus allowed the photographing of a living, moving subject from several angles simultaneously. Improved photographic materials finally enabled him to give these photographs full tones, rather than work with the silhouettes he had previously been restricted to. In 1884–5 more than a hundred thousand photographic plates were obtained and embodied in a work published at Philadelphia in 1887 as Animal locomotion, an electrophotographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movement, 1872–1885. The work contains over two thousand figures of moving men, women, children, beasts, and birds, in 781 photo-engravings, bound in eleven folio volumes. The great cost of preparing and printing this work restricted its sale to a very few complete sets, and a selection of the most important plates on a reduced scale was published in London in 1899 as Animals in Motion.

For several years Muybridge alternated between England and America. In 1892 he lectured on animal locomotion in a specially built hall at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Legal problems continued to plague him, but from 1894, apart from a visit to America in 1897, he lived in his native Kingston, residing with a cousin at Park View, 2 Liverpool Road and actively corresponding with publications. He died on 8 May 1904, while digging a miniature scale reproduction of the Great Lakes in his garden. His cremated remains were buried at Woking.