Photographic Hero: Eadweard Muybridge
Legendary photographer created proto-motion pictures.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: April 9th, 2012
He was variously known as Eduardo Santiago, Edward Muygridge, Helios (after the Greek sun god), and finally Eadweard Muybridge.
f you’ve done a Google search today, you’ve probably noticed today’s Google Doodle, which is an animated gif comprised of a series of still photographs that, when viewed in quick succession, create a mini-movie of a running horse.
You’ve probably seen these photographs before, as they are among the most famous ever taken. And you might even know that the device through which they were intended to be viewed, the zoopraxiscope, was a key to the creation of motion pictures.
But you might not know much about the photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, who was notable not only for his groundbreaking photographs, but for his bizarre personality, which led to his being tried for the murder of his wife’s lover.
Muybridge was born Edward Muggeridge, but he gave himself a surprising number of name changes throughout his career. He was variously known as Eduardo Santiago, Edward Muygridge, Helios (after the Greek sun god), and finally Eadweard Muybridge, taking the unusual first-name spelling of King Edward’s name as it appeared on a monument in his home town of Kingston.
Muybridge was born in England, but spent most of his life in the United States, where he lived among the pioneers in the American West during the middle of the 19th century.
Four years before he took his legendary galloping horses photographs, Muybridge discovered a letter written to his wife by her lover, Major Harry Larkyns. Rather than confront his wife about her affair, Muybridge went to Larkyns’ door, and upon seeing him, said “Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here’s the answer to the letter you sent my wife.” Muybridge then shot and killed the Major at point blank range.
Muybridge was tried, and his attorney offered an insanity plea, claiming the photographer’s personality had been altered by a head trauma suffered some years earlier. The jury didn’t buy the insanity plea, but decided the cold-blooded revenge killing was “justifiable homicide.” Such was justice in the Wild West.
After his acquittal, Muybridge resumed work on his process for photographing a horse in motion. He had set out to settle a bet made by a race-horse owner who believed that at some point during its trot, all four of a horse’s hooves are off the ground at once. This was a much-debated matter at the time, and Muybridge set out to help his friend win his bet.
He set up a series of cameras along a track, which were triggered by a small thread that would be pulled as the horse ran past. He then developed the zoopraxiscope, which used a small glass disc on which photographs were printed. As the machine spun the disc, the images were projected in a sort of high-speed slide show.
It was this projection machine that inspired Thomas Edison and William Kennedy Dickson to develop the kinescope, which was the prototype for the modern movie projector.
In addition to his influence in photography and motion pictures, Muybridge’s trial inspired Philip Glass’ 1983 opera, The Photographer.
Today is the 182nd Anniversary of Muybridge’s birth.