Excavating Muybridge on the Web

Muybridge and his work have appeared on the web from the first days of wide public access. About a year ago I posted a blog entry entitled Way Back on the Web. Here’s an update.

There are currently (March 2010) around 250 million websites worldwide. In the autumn of 1995, there were something like 50,000 – including at least three (accepting my definition of web site) dedicated to Muybridge.

Firstly, how do we define a ‘website’ ? For the purposes of this initial investigation, let’s say – several web pages about one specific subject under a suitable title, hyperlinked together. So it wouldn’t need its own URL, but would be more than a page or two.

Using this definition, the first Muybridge websites included the following (in no particular order).

Michael Linder’s site, online circa. autumn 1995.

Kingston Museum’s site, online before 21 October 1995.

Discovery Channel’s site, copyright 1995.

No pages from these sites were archived by the Wayback Machine prior to 1997/8, so the earliest versions of the pages have been lost. Nevertheless, much remains from updated (1997 onwards) versions, or versions archived elsewhere, to reconstruct to some extent what these sites looked like – which is what I have attempted to do here. Some pages are still ‘live’, some have been sourced from the Wayback Machine.

oo00OO00oo

Michael Linder.

(c) Michael Linder. This screen grab is from a 1999 version of the site. Reproduced here for purposes of review.

[Click on pictures to enlarge]

This site was an extraordinary achievement. In November 2008, Michael explained how it came about, in a response to a request to use the material for an educational project, from someone who’d found the pages on the web:

“This is truly amazing […] Seeing these pages, I’d long thought lost, brings back many memories…

My Muybridge project was born in the very first days of the Internet in 1995. There were no HTML page composition programs and the great debate was over whether Web images should be JPG or GIF in a world where 28.8 modems were the primary source of connectivity.

The first GIF animation program had just come out and the notion of actually animating images was as exciting then as the later arrival of streaming video and Flash movies. It seemed a miracle at the time. I’d always been interested in Muybridge’s photography for its iconic value. There was something significant to me in the gridline images of people and animals in motion that seemed a mix of poetry and science. A few years earlier, a friend had given me a book of Muybridge images and the idea of actually seeing these still sequences move once more was too intriguing to pass up.

I believe I was the first person to animate the images and put them on the Internet. I’d never before seen them actually move in any medium, though I’m at a loss to explain the reason why. After my site premiered, there was enormous interest in Muybridge’s work and I was deluged with email from filmmakers and advertising agencies looking for guidance on copyright issues. My research indicated all the images are now in the public domain.

To me, Eadweard Muybridge was a new media maker for his day, and I was inspired by the parallels in his innovative use of photography. It seemed a perfect echo of the thrill and excitement of the early days of the Internet. Were there lessons for us to learn from Muybridge’s work? That’s what I wanted to learn as I researched his life.

As new technologies came along, I applied them – just as Muybridge moved from stereopticon photography to photo journalism to panoramas and motion. The first tools that allowed stitching of panoramas allowed me to recreate what I believe would have been Muybridge’s vision from a century earlier.

The wild, adventuresome live Muybridge lived was equally fascinating and I proposed a movie about his life to the U.S. public broadcasting network, PBS. They declined, but I’m still fascinated by the idea of seeing a modern recreation of Muybridge’s galloping horse experiments. Perhaps some day…

Hope this helps, and I am so delighted that a new generation, just opening their eyes to the wonders of imaging, will have an opportunity to be exposed to this media pioneer.

Bravo!

Michael”

http://oficinamultimedia.blogs.sapo.pt/2008/11/

Animated GIFs first became usable by the public in early October 1995, with the beta release of the Netscape Navigator 2.0 browser.

(c) Michael Linder

As Michael says he was quick to adopt the new web possibilities as they became available. This included “roll your mouse over this” images, plus a rolling panorama.

With its striking graphics, suitably condensed but comprehensive and accurate text, and excellent selection of archive images, it isn’t surprising that this website won the Webby Award for Art and Design in 1997.

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Kingston Museum.

(c) Kingston University / Kingston Museum. Reproduced here for purposes of review.

http://www.kingston.ac.uk/Muybridge/muytext0.htm

The Muybridge website put together by Paul Hill at Kingston Museum was created in the summer of 1995. With no access to a scanner, the images were snapped by myself (a volunteer), from the Museum’s illustrated catalogue file cards. About 22 were used, which are listed and illustrated here:

http://www.kingston.ac.uk/Muybridge/muycapt.htm

The 35mm negative film was developed by Boots, who offered a simultaneous transfer to Photo-CD, which is how the pictures were delivered to the technician at Kingston University (name forgotten, I’m afraid) who actually made the web pages. These photographs appeared on the web pages as very grainy thumbnail GIF images, but (possibly later) were linked to bigger, though still grainy, JPG versions. By some unlikely stroke of serendipitous luck, I recently found the original flyer for the website, which is here:

http://www.stephenherbert.co.uk/webfax.htm

It is from a fax copy dated 21st October 1995. I also found an accompanying letter [remember letters?] (dated 21.10.1995), in which Paul states:

“…I understand from the University that the number of visits can be counted in their hundreds and we have received at least one enquiry about the collection at Kingston from some French researchers who saw us on the net.
It works very well as a presentation, but I am finding it hard to encourage other institutions to link up with us by hypertext etc, because I don’t have constant access to a server myself. So, if you know anyone…..”

I’m fairly sure that the website went online in September, or possibly some weeks earlier. I wasn’t online myself at that time, and saw the website on one occasion only, at the University I believe, before finally going online at home some time in 1996.

Very basic, with no design aspirations, but a useful start for someone searching for Muybridge on the web in 1995/6.

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Discovery

(c) Helfand & Drenttel / Winterhouse / Discovery Communications. Reproduced here for purposes of review.

Apparently created (written? and designed) by website design pioneers Jessica Helfand & William Drenttel (Discovery Channel Online, c.1995). An early version of their website explains:

“Launched in 1994, Discovery Channel Online was designed to evolve in complexity as the (then-new) technology grew to support it. Combining daily story postings, programming highlights, interactive games and great storytelling (a profile on Edweard [sic] Muybridge, for example) it was designed to embrace new narrative opportunities: shorter, non-scrolling text screens, hyperlinks edited for brevity and impact, and images optimized for fast downloading.”

http://www.jhwd.com/indiscov2.html

More on these designers on this blog:

http://jessicahelfand.blogspot.com/

Also involved in some way, apparently, was designer Anne Hyun Jin Kim (Anne Kim Design). The site has a 1995 copyright notice. Most of the content is still accessible, archived by Anne Kim. (I have been unable to contact Anne Kim.)

http://annekim.net/graphicdesign/web/images/muy/lateryearsslide2.html

The site includes several very small animated GIFs, from Animal Locomotion sequences.

According to an unrelated website of June 1996, an animated GIF of 186K would take 3 to 6 minutes to download on a 28.8 modem. (The animated GIFs on the Discovery website were each 56kb.)

So the Linder website, and the Discovery website, both apparently included animated GIFs from the start, which would most likely date them after early October 1995 (when the first commercial browser to display animated GIFs, a beta version of Netscape 2, was launched).

The Kingston website, which did not include animations, was probably online before October 1995. Paul Hill noted in his letter to me – 21 October – that he had been on holiday for a while; and the fact that a first report on visitors to the site had already been received from the University, suggests that the site probably went online before October.

Although I’m not trying to start a “who was first” debate (they tend to get boring), it seems possible that:

*  Kingston’s site was the first to go online, and the first by a non-profit organization.

* Either Michael Linder’s site (the first by a private individual) or the Discovery site (the first by a commercial organization) was the first to include animations.

Of course it may be that I’m way off beam here, and another site or sites got there first but the evidence hasn’t yet appeared, although this seems unlikely.

And finally (emulating that postscript tagged onto the end of American Graffiti, giving potted destinies of the main characters…..)

I have been unable to establish when the Discovery Channel’s Muybridge website went offline (with its original server – much of it is still archived elsewhere), but it does not appear to have ever been updated.

Michael Linder’s site apparently developed over two or three years, but seems not to have been updated after 1999.

Kingston University’s site remained essentially as it was first set up, but added some links around 2000, including a link to its successor, a set of Muybridge pages at the Kingston Museum webpage section of Kingston Borough Council’s website.

Stephen Herbert

PPS:

Maybe animated Muybridge GIF files are older than we think…..

http://www.zzzptm.com/ani1.html

[Corrections, additional information, comments, welcomed]

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One comment on “Excavating Muybridge on the Web

  1. Regarding the Discovery Channel site, the person you should contact is Melissa Tardiff, who was running my studio at that time as I was on maternity leave. I’m pretty sure you can contact her through Digitas in New York.

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