Eadweard James Muybridge was an English photographer important for his pioneering work in photographic studies of motion, and early work in motion-picture projection. He adopted the name Eadweard Muybridge, believing it to be the original Anglo-Saxon form of his name.
He immigrated to the United States as a young man and became a bookseller. He returned to England in 1861 and took up professional photography, learning the wet-plate collodion process, and secured at least two British patents for his inventions. He went back to San Francisco in 1867, and in 1868 his large photographs of Yosemite Valley made him world famous. Today, Muybridge is known for his pioneering work on animal locomotion in 1877 and 1878, which used multiple cameras to capture motion in stop-motion photographs, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the flexible perforated film strip used in cinematography.
In 1874 he shot and killed Major Harry Larkyns, his wife's lover, but was acquitted in a jury trial on the grounds of justifiable homicide. He travelled for more than a year in Central America on a photographic expedition in 1875. In the 1880s, Muybridge entered a very productive period at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, producing over 100,000 images of animals and humans in motion, capturing what the human eye could not distinguish as separate movements. He spent much of his later years giving public lectures and demonstrations of his photography and early motion picture sequences, travelling back to England and Europe to publicise his work. He also edited and published compilations of his work, which greatly influenced visual artists and the developing fields of scientific and industrial photography. He returned to his native England permanently in 1894, and in 1904, the Kingston Museum, containing a collection of his equipment, was opened in his hometown.
Born Edward James Muggeridge, he was of partial Dutch descent. As an adult in the United States, Muggeridge changed his name several times, starting with "Muggridge". In the 1850s in the United States, he used the surname "Muygridge".
After he returned from Britain to the United States in 1867 he used the surname "Muybridge". In addition, he used the pseudonym Helios (Greek god of the sun) to sign many of his photographs. He also used this as the name of his studio and made it the middle name for his only son, Florado Muybridge, born in 1874.
While travelling on a photography expedition in the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America in 1875, the photographer advertised his works under the name "Eduardo Santiago Muybridge" in Guatemala. After an 1882 trip to England, he changed the spelling of his first name to "Eadweard," the Old English form of his name. The spelling was probably derived from the spelling of King Edward's Christian (first) name as shown on the plinth of the Kingston coronation stone, which had been re-erected in the town in 1850. He used "Eadweard Muybridge" for the rest of his career, but his gravestone carries his name as "Eadweard Maybridge".
Early life and career
Muybridge was born in Kingston upon Thames, England, on 9 April 1830 to John and Susan Muggeridge; he had three brothers. His father was a grain and coal merchant, with business spaces on the ground floor of their house, and family living spaces above. After his father died in 1843, his mother carried on the business. His cousin Norman Selfe who also grew up in Kingston upon Thames moved to Australia and, following a family tradition, became a renowned engineer.
Muybridge emigrated to the United States at the age of 25, arriving in San Francisco in 1855, a few years after California became a state, and while the city was still the "capital of the Gold Rush." He started a career as a publisher's agent for the London Printing and Publishing Company, and as a bookseller. At the time, the city was booming, with 40 bookstores, nearly 60 hotels and a dozen photography studios. Later in his life he wrote about also having spent time in New Orleans and New York City during his early years in the United States.
Serious accident and recuperation
By 1860, Muybridge was a successful bookseller. He left his bookshop in care of his brother, and prepared to sail to England to buy more antiquarian books. However, Muybridge missed the boat and instead left San Francisco in July 1860 to travel by stagecoach over the southern route to Saint Louis, by rail to New York City, and then by ship back to England.
In central Texas, Muybridge suffered severe head injuries in a violent runaway stagecoach crash which injured every passenger on board, and killed one of them. Muybridge was bodily ejected from the destroyed vehicle, and hit his head on a rock or other hard object. He was taken 150 miles to Fort Smith, Arkansas for treatment (his earliest memories post-accident were there), where he stayed three months, trying to recover from symptoms of double vision, confused thinking, impaired sense of taste and smell, and other problems. He next went to New York City, where he continued in treatment for nearly a year before being able to sail to England.
Arthur P. Shimamura, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has speculated that Muybridge suffered orbitofrontal cortex injuries, which may have led to some of the emotional, eccentric behavior reported by friends in later years, as well as freeing his creativity from conventional social inhibitions. Today, there still is little effective treatment for this kind of injury.
While recuperating in England and receiving treatment from Sir William Gull, Muybridge took up the new field of professional photography sometime between 1861 and 1866. Muybridge later stated that he had changed his vocation at the suggestion of his physician. He learned the wet-plate collodion process in England, and may have been influenced by some of the great English photographers of those years, such as Julia Margaret Cameron. Also during this period, Muybridge secured at least two British patents for his inventions.
Photographing the American West
Muybridge had left San Francisco in 1860 as a merchant, but returned in 1867 as a professional photographer, with highly proficient technical skills and an artist's eye. He would use the surname "Muybridge" for the rest of his life. He rapidly became successful in photography, focusing principally on landscape and architectural subjects, as did other prominent men, when the West was the land of imagination. He converted a light carriage vehicle into a portable darkroom to carry out his work. His business cards also advertised his services for portraiture. His stereographs, the popular format of the time, were sold by various galleries and photographic entrepreneurs (most notably the firm of Bradley & Rulofson) on Montgomery Street, San Francisco's main commercial street during those years. Early in his career, Muybridge was hired by Robert B. Woodward (1824–1879) to take extensive photos of his Woodward's Gardens, a combination amusement park, zoo, museum, and aquarium which opened in San Francisco in 1866.
Muybridge established his reputation in 1867 with photos of the Yosemite Valley wilderness (some of which used the same scenes taken by his contemporary Carleton Watkins) and areas around San Francisco. Muybridge quickly gained notice for his landscape photographs, which showed the grandeur and expansiveness of the West; if human figures were portrayed, they were dwarfed by their surroundings, as in Chinese landscape paintings. He signed and published his work under the pseudonym Helios, which he also used as the name of his studio.
Muybridge took enormous physical risks to make his photographs, using a heavy view camera and stacks of glass plate negatives. A spectacular stereograph he published in 1872 shows him sitting casually on a projecting rock over the Yosemite Valley, with 2,000 feet (610 m) of empty space yawning below him.
In 1868, Muybridge travelled to the newly acquired American territory of Alaska to photograph the Tlingit Native Americans, occasional Russian inhabitants, and dramatic landscapes for the US government. In 1871, the Lighthouse Board hired Muybridge to photograph lighthouses of the American west coast. From March to July, he travelled aboard the Lighthouse Tender Shubrick to document these structures. In 1873, Muybridge was commissioned by the US Army to photograph the Modoc War against the Native Americans in northern California and Oregon. Many of his stereoscopic photos were published widely, and can still be found today.
During the construction of the San Francisco Mint in 1870–1872, Muybridge made a sequence of images of the building's progress, using the power of time-lapse photography to document changes over time.
In 1878, Muybridge made a famous 13-part 360° photographic panorama of San Francisco, to be presented to the wife of Leland Stanford. Today, it can be viewed on the Internet as a panorama or as a QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) panorama.
In 1872, the former governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, hired Muybridge for some photographic studies. He 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. The same question had arisen about the actions of horses during a gallop. The human eye could not break down the action at the quick gaits of the trot and gallop. Up until this time, most artists painted horses at a trot with one foot always on the ground; and at a full gallop with the front legs extended forward and the hind legs extended to the rear, and all feet off the ground. Stanford sided with the assertion of "unsupported transit" in the trot and gallop, and decided to have it proven scientifically. Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question.
In 1872, Muybridge settled Stanford's question with a single photographic negative showing his Standardbred trotting horse Occident airborne at the trot. This negative was lost, but the image survives through woodcuts made at the time (the technology for printed reproductions of photographs was still being developed). He later did additional studies, as well as improving his camera for quicker shutter speed and faster film emulsions. By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiments, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse at a trot; lantern slides have survived of this later work. Scientific American was among the publications at the time that carried reports of Muybridge's groundbreaking images.
Stanford also wanted a study of the horse at a gallop. Muybridge planned to take a series of photos on 15 June 1878 at Stanford's Palo Alto Stock Farm. He placed numerous large glass-plate cameras in a line along the edge of the track; the shutter of each was triggered by a thread as the horse passed (in later studies he used a clockwork device to set off the shutters and capture the images). 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 study is called Sallie Gardner at a Gallop or The Horse in Motion; it shows images of the horse with all feet off the ground. This did not take place when the horse's legs were extended to the front and back, as imagined by contemporary illustrators, but when its legs were collected beneath its body as it switched from "pulling" with the front legs to "pushing" with the back legs.
Murder, acquittal and paternity
In 1872, Muybridge married Flora Shallcross Stone, a divorcee 21 years old, and half his age. In 1874, Muybridge discovered that his young wife Flora's friend, a drama critic known as Major Harry Larkyns, might have fathered their seven-month-old son Florado. On 17 October, he travelled north of San Francisco to Calistoga to track down Larkyns. Upon finding him, Muybridge said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here's the answer to the letter you sent my wife", and shot him point-blank. Larkyns died that night, and Muybridge was arrested without protest and put in the Napa jail.
He was tried for murder. His defence attorney pleaded insanity due to the severe head injury which Muybridge had suffered in the 1860 stagecoach accident. At least four long-time acquaintances testified under oath that the accident had dramatically changed Muybridge's personality, from genial and pleasant to unstable and erratic. During the trial, Muybridge undercut his own insanity case by indicating that his actions were deliberate and premeditated, but he also showed impassive indifference and uncontrolled explosions of emotion. The jury dismissed the insanity plea, but acquitted the photographer on the grounds of "justifiable homicide", disregarding the judge's instructions. The episode interrupted his horse photography studies, but not his relationship with Stanford, who had arranged for his criminal defense.
Today, the court case and transcripts are important to historians and forensic neurologists, because of the sworn testimony from multiple witnesses regarding Muybridge's state of mind and past behavior. The modern American composer Philip Glass also found the story fascinating, and composed an opera, The Photographer, with a libretto based in part on court transcripts from the case.
Shortly after his acquittal in February 1875, Muybridge left the United States on a previously planned 9-month photography trip to Central America, as a "working exile". By 1877, he had resumed work for Leland Stanford, as described above.
Flora tried to get a divorce, and was initially unsuccessful, but her second petition received a favorable ruling and an order for alimony in April 1875. While Muybridge was in Central America, she became ill and died in July 1875 at the age of 24. She had placed their son, Florado Helios Muybridge (later nicknamed "Floddie" by friends), with a French couple. After Muybridge returned, he had the boy moved from a Catholic orphanage to a Protestant one in September 1876, paid for his care, but otherwise had little to do with him.
Photographs of Florado Muybridge as an adult show him to have strongly resembled Muybridge. Put to work on a ranch as a boy, he worked all his life as a ranch hand and gardener. In 1944, Florado was hit by a car in Sacramento and killed, at approximately the age of 70.
Muybridge often travelled back to England and Europe to publicise his work. The opening of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, and the development of steamships made travel much faster and less arduous than it was in 1860. On 13 March 1882 he lectured at the Royal Institution in London in front of a sell-out audience, which included members of the Royal Family, notably the future King Edward VII. He displayed his photographs on screen and showed moving pictures projected by his zoopraxiscope.
Muybridge and Stanford had a major falling-out concerning his research on equine locomotion. Stanford had asked his friend and horseman Dr. J. B. D. Stillman to write a book analyzing The Horse in Motion, which was published in 1882. Stillman used Muybridge's photos as the basis for his 100 illustrations, and the photographer's research for the analysis, but he gave Muybridge no prominent credit. The historian Phillip Prodger later suggested that Stanford considered Muybridge as just one of his employees, and not deserving of special recognition.
However, as a result of Muybridge not being credited in the book, the Royal Society of Arts withdrew an offer to fund his stop-motion studies in photography, and refused to publish a paper he had submitted, accusing him of plagiarism. Muybridge filed a lawsuit against Stanford to gain credit, but it was dismissed out of court. However, Stillman's book did not sell as expected. Muybridge, looking elsewhere for funding, was more successful. The Royal Society later invited Muybridge back to show his work.
In the 1880s, the University of Pennsylvania sponsored Muybridge's research using banks of cameras to photograph people in a studio, and animals from the Philadelphia Zoo to study their movement. The human models, either entirely nude or very lightly clothed, were photographed against a measured grid background in a variety of action sequences, including walking up or down stairs, hammering on an anvil, carrying buckets of water, or throwing water over one another. Muybridge produced sequences showing farm, industrial, construction, and household work, military maneuvers, and everyday activities. He also photographed athletic activities such as baseball, cricket, boxing, wrestling, discus throwing, and a ballet dancer performing. Showing a single-minded dedication to scientific accuracy and artistic composition, Muybridge himself posed nude for some of the photographic sequences, such as one showing him swinging a miner's pick.
Between 1883 and 1886, Muybridge made more than 100,000 images, working obsessively in Philadelphia under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. During 1884, the painter Thomas Eakins briefly worked alongside him, to learn more about the application of photography to the study of human and animal motion. Eakins later favoured the use of multiple exposures superimposed on a single photographic negative to study motion more precisely, while Muybridge continued to use multiple cameras to produce separate images which could also be projected by his zoopraxiscope. The vast majority of Muybridge's work at this time was done in a special sunlit outdoor studio, due to the bulky cameras and slow photographic emulsion speeds then available. Towards the end of this period, Muybridge spent much of his time selecting and editing his photos in preparation for publication.
In 1887, the photos were published as a massive portfolio, with 781 plates comprising 20,000 of the photographs, in a groundbreaking collection titled Animal Locomotion: an Electro-Photographic Investigation of Connective Phases of Animal Movements. Muybridge's work contributed substantially to developments in the science of biomechanics and the mechanics of athletics. Some of his books are still published today, and are used as references by artists, animators, and students of animal and human movement.
Recent scholarship has noted that in his later work, Muybridge was influenced by, and in turn influenced the French photographer Étienne-Jules Marey. In 1881, Muybridge first visited Marey's studio in France and viewed stop-motion studies before returning to the US to further his own work in the same area. Marey was a pioneer in producing multiple exposure sequential images using a rotary shutter in his so-called "Marey wheel" camera.
While Marey's scientific achievements in the realms of cardiology and aerodynamics (as well as pioneering work in photography and chronophotography) are indisputable, Muybridge's efforts were to some degree more artistic rather than scientific. As Muybridge explained, in some of his published sequences he had substituted images where original exposures had failed, in order to illustrate a representative movement (rather than producing a strictly scientific recording of a particular sequence).
Today, similar setups of carefully timed multiple cameras are used in modern special effects photography but they have the opposite goal of capturing changing camera angles, with little or no movement of the subject. This is often dubbed "bullet time" photography.
After his work at the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge travelled widely and gave numerous lectures and demonstrations of his still photography and primitive motion picture sequences. At the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Muybridge presented a series of lectures on the "Science of Animal Locomotion" in the Zoopraxographical Hall, built specially for that purpose in the "Midway Plaisance" arm of the exposition. He used his zoopraxiscope to show his moving pictures to a paying public, making the Hall the first commercial movie theater.
Retirement and death
Eadweard Muybridge returned to his native England permanently in 1894, and continued to lecture extensively throughout Great Britain. He returned to the US once more, in 1896–1897, to settle financial affairs and to dispose of property related to his work at the University of Pennsylvania. He retained control of his negatives, which he used to publish two popular books of his work, Animals in Motion (1899) and The Human Figure in Motion (1901), both of which remain in print over a century later.
Muybridge died on 8 May 1904 in Kingston upon Thames of prostate cancer at the home of his cousin Catherine Smith. Muybridge was cremated, and his ashes were interred at Woking in Surrey. For unknown reasons, his headstone is engraved with the name "Eadweard Maybridge".
In 2004, a British Film Institute commemorative plaque was installed on the outside wall of the former Smith house, at Park View, 2 Liverpool Road. Many of his papers and collected artifacts were donated to the Kingston Library, and eventually passed to the Kingston Museum in his place of birth.