Taschen book – a handsome addition to the Muybridge bibliography

It’s some weeks now since the new Taschen book popped through my letter box. Or rather, was heaved up to my front door by a gasping delivery man. At 804 large-format pages, it’s some tome. I’ve now had a chance to look through it, and Eadweard Muybridge – The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs certainly lives up to expectations. Hans-Christian Adam’s introductory essay, a comprehensive and contextual overview of Muybridge’s life and work is in English, German and French, with alternative illustrations for each, allowing glimpses of the unique cyanotypes, large format landscapes, and stereoviews that are not part of Muybridge’s motion sequence work.

Next comes what, for me, is the most useful part of the book – the entire 200-plus plates from the rare album The Attitudes of Animals in Motion (1881). Some are shown somewhat reduced, four to a page; others are enlarged, one to a page. This arrangement has meant that some juggling has been necessary, so the plates are not is strict order – but a plate that’s out of sequence is only a page-turn away. The large reproductions of the skeleton horse are especially stunning. Muybridge’s 1879-80 Palo Alto work has never before been republished, and with less than 20 original albums in existence, has always been rather difficult to get to see. All of the images are on the web, but not in a way that is easy to access, so this section of the book alone is worth the price.

The following section comprises the complete 1887 Animal Locomotion, all 781 plates. Some have a page to themselves, others are arranged with either two or four plates to the page, and there are some extra whole-page close-up views showing parts of sequences. It’s more than 30 years since Dover published all of the University of Pennsylvania work in three large volumes, so this new publication by Taschen, despite the reduced size of some plates, is very welcome. Finally an edited version of my Chronology (also in English, German and French), a select Bibliography, and an Index of Plates complete the volume.

Beautifully printed – and the publication of this magnificent and very affordable book means that a quality trove of Muybridge’s motion photography will be accessible to all who have an interest in the subject.

Taschen Fall/Winter 2010 catalogue pages

The published title was different from that shown on Amazon. (Two or more names for one Muybridge book isn’t unusual – which is kind of fitting.)

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

Photographing Motion: Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton

©The Harold & Esther Edgerton Foundation, 2001

Reading Public Museum (Pennsylvania) is currently showing an exhibition comprising the instantaneous photography of two ‘Time Lords’ – Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton. The text below is a review in the Reading Eagle.

Originally Published: 12/12/2010
Art review: Where art and technology intersect
By Ron Schira
Reading Eagle correspondent

Photographing Motion: Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton

[illustration not shown here] Harold Edgerton’s “Bullet Through Playing Card”

“In what can be termed an interesting crossover between art, science and photography, the pairing of two unrelated photographers, separated by time and location yet working in similar modes, surprisingly congeals very well for an exhibit of photography on view at the Reading Public Museum.

Titled ‘Photographing Motion: Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton’, the photos contend with the idea of high speed or strobe photography, in which moving objects are captured frozen in mid-movement, in some cases extraordinarily fast with such things as birds caught in flight or bullets bursting through fruit.

Rachael Arauz from the University of Pennsylvania curated the exhibit, having worked previously with the Reading Public Museum on the Keith Haring exhibit of 2006 and the 2008 exhibit of the Masters of American Photography. The Muybridge prints, an amazing 781 black-and-white photographs, have been in the museum’s collection since it opened its doors in 1904, but upon receiving a recent gift from the Edgerton Family Foundation of nine photos, it appeared a sound idea to pair their similarities. A carefully chosen selection of Muybridge’s “Animal Locomotion” series and the entire Edgerton gift are on display in the second-floor science gallery through Jan. 16.

By utilizing sequentially positioned and up to 36 timed cameras at strategic locations, Muybridge invented a method of catching his subjects: trotting horses at first, then people as they were walking, riding in carriages, smoking cigarettes or engaging in other forms of movement. The photos, all of which were taken in the late 1800s, were framed and placed gridlike in multiples that extrapolated those details ordinarily unnoticed by the naked eye.

Expanding upon those principles 50 years later, “Doc” Edgerton was trained as an electrical engineer and originally used stroboscopic flashes to research the movement of fast-moving machinery. This however found its way into other applications, freezing time so to speak in one-millionth-of-a-second flashes. A girl jumping rope in overlapping leaps and a split-second tumbling acrobat are included, as well as the famous full-color image of a bullet passing through an apple in one and a banana or playing card in others, as the photos documented all the actions of an object or person in real time.

Given the impression of incredibly slow motion, the actual photos took less than a second or two to take, not regarding the intensive consideration, preparation and equipment involved, while presaging high-definition nondigital work by many years. Edgerton is also credited with “Corona,” the timeless image of a drop of milk suspended in midair, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art but unfortunately not in this show.

As such, the photographs are historical documents and incur an intriguing dialogue of where art and technology intersect. All of the skills of classical photography are utilized, with some invented, to pursue the goals of these scientific and moderately experimental artists to document the subtle passages of time, the fluid gracefulness that glides by too fast and silently for us to neither recognize nor appreciate.”

Contact Ron Schira: life@readingeagle.com.

Copyright, Reading Eagle (PA).

The Reading Public Museum is located at 500 Museum Road. Call 610-371-5850 or visit http://www.readingpublicmuseum.org for hours and additional information.

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

For this blog post, I have used a different illustration (not from the current exhibition), an image from the collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Department of Photographs :

Death of a Lightbulb/.30 Caliber Bullet
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation
Image Copyright:
©The Harold & Esther Edgerton Foundation, 2001, Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
Accession Number:

Capturing the motion on wetplate – now!

Photograph (c) Ian Ruhter 2010

Making History

Photographer Ian Ruhter’s blog reveals details of a current experiment in capturing motion using wet plate photography, as Muybridge did in 1878-79.

“Over the last six months of shooting, testing, and experimenting with wet plate collodion I didn’t realize that it had been leading up to this shoot with Levi Brown. I never thought I would do something that has never been done before but this was in the back of my mind. Photography has been around for over 100 years and it still seemed to be an almost impossible feat. I have been looking into the works of Eadweard Muybridge, which is where the inspiration for the shoot came from…. I wanted to see if I could do what he did.

Ian Ruhter: Capturing Motion on Wetplate, from What the Fleet on Vimeo.

I set out to see if this was possible using modern day equipment. I took a few weeks of planning and asking for a ton of favors. It finally came down to shoot day. We started setting up and everyone was excited to see what was going to happen. I explained to Levi that this might not work out– I didn’t want to waste his time. I had never worked with him and I knew he has a busy schedule. He is a professional skateboarder for Element and was about to go on tour, so his time was limited. Levi said, “This will work, you just have to be positive.” This may sound kind of hippy, but I believed him—the power of positivity. I was stoked on all the good energy. I asked him to stand in so I could get a light meter reading. I had to ask him to wear sunglasses because the light was going to be very intense– I didn’t want to damage his eyes. I fired the strobes (he said could feel the heat from the flash). To do this, you need a tremendous amount of light– much more light than I had ever used before. Everyone stepped aside and I hooked up the camera to the lights. I tested it once to see if they would all fire at the same time. It sounded like a bomb went off. One of the flash heads had exploded right in front of Levi and my assistant Mark. Glass was propelled from the light like a shotgun– right at their faces. Somehow, it did not hit anyone. My first thought was “this is going to be really bad…” but there is something to be said about having positive energy. No one from my crew had ever seen anything like this happen before. I thought Levi was going to be hesitant about going through with it after that. He wasn’t even fazed by it. He said, “lets do this!” and we all went about our business like nothing happened.

(c) Ian Ruhter 2010

I set up and we shot the first photo. I had no idea what was going to happen. I grabbed the plate and ran back to the portable dark room. I poured the developer onto the plate and an image started to appear. I was so excited to see a faint image start to emerge. It was very light, so I knew needed more light; that was a crazy thought but we added more. I shot another photo and ran back to the dark room. This time it worked. I felt proud as I walked out of the darkness holding this image. Everyone was super stoked on it. Our glory was short-lived when Levi made a good point. He said, “If you really want to do this, then I have to be moving while you shoot.” I knew he was right. We set up in a new location for this shot. We were pretty limited. Because of the power situation, we had to stay close to the studio. After we finished setting up, we made history. It worked!”

(c) Ian Ruhter 2010

Interesting experiment, great photographs. If skateboarding had been around in the 1870s or 80s, perhaps it would have featured in The Attitudes of Animals in Motion, or Animal Locomotion. Of course Muybridge was working without the benefit of high-power flash, using sunlight instead. Maybe someone will experiment with the chemistry, to see how he managed to make his wet plates so sensitive.

Posted here by Stephen Herbert


{ California Historical Society } photographs on view

The California Historical Society has always been important to Muybridge researchers. The CHS published new research before the first biographies, in articles such as ‘Eadweard Muybridge’s Yosemite Valley Photographs, 1867-1872’ by Mary V. Jessup Hood and Robert Bartlett Haas, (The California Historical Society Quarterly, March 1963.) A recent blog posting gives details of items currently on loan to Muybridge exhibitions.

Stereoview, 'Watch Tower', CHS Collection

“In June 2009, CHS was invited by the Corcoran to lend fifteen works by Muybridge plus an additional photo album from its permanent collection for the exhibition, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change. Organized by the Corcoran’s chief curator, Philip Brookman, this first major retrospective of over 300 items from thirty-six lenders examines Muybridge’s career and extensive pioneering work in areas such as The Geology of Time: Yosemite and the High Sierra; War, Murder, and the Production of Coffee: the Modoc Wars and the Development of Central America; Motion Pictures: the Zoopraxiscope; and Animal Locomotion.

CHS stereo card with the classic image of Contemplation Rock, Glacier Point, 1871, was chosen as one of two images selected to illustrate Muybridge’s work in the Washington Post review of the exhibition, on view this last spring and early summer at the Corcoran Gallery. Three small works from CHS group were shipped to the exhibition’s second venue at the Tate Gallery [Tate Britain] in London and are currently on view there. The Helios exhibition will travel to its last venue, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, [early in 2011] for fourteen weeks of viewing. We hope you will visit Helios at SFMOMA, and visit CHS where more works by Muybridge from our permanent collection will also be on view during that time. More works by Muybridge are available for viewing in our North Baker Research Library, where we welcome visitors from around the world.

Cheryl Maslin, CHS Registrar/Collections Manager.”


The current CHS headquarters at 678 Mission Street accommodates the administrative offices, North Baker Research Library and the exhibition galleries. Galleries are open to the public from 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. The California Historical Society has over 3,100 dedicated members. The Society publishes “California History”, a quarterly journal and keeps an active public program schedule, including exhibitions, lectures, book talks and other events. The Society holds one of the richest collections of primary and secondary materials in the state on the social, cultural, economic, and political development of California. The North Baker Research Library provides public access to the collection, Wednesday through Friday, 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. questions or comments: californiahistoricalsociety@gmail.com

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

Weird Adventures airs on BBC tv

Andy Serkis. Photo (c) BBC

Apart from re-enactments in a 1960s US programme introduced by Ronald Reagan, Eadweard Muybridge as a character of considerable importance in the story of the creation and recording of the modern world has been absent from television. The Weird Adventures of Eadweard Muybridge is the first programme to attempt to tell the full story. It does touch on most aspects, leaving out the bits with very little visual material – the five years spent as a bookseller in New York, totally avoided in the commentary – and his various activities during the five ‘lost years’ back in Europe in the 60s. But for a one-hour programme, it packs a lot in.

Philip Brookman talks with Alan Yentob. Photo (c) BBC

The talking heads include Philip Brookman, whose exhibition in Washington did so much to introduce Muybridge to a wider public; author Rebecca Solnit, in splendid hat, musing on Muybridge in San Francisco as she wanders through the harbour; print collector Michael Wilson marvelling at the artistry of the travel photographs; Jonathan Miller not getting it at all, and insisting that Muybridge was simply an entertainer; recent biographer and long-time chronophotography specialist Marta Braun talking about the Animal Locomotion sequences; art curator Ann Dumas of the Royal Academy of Arts explaining the connection with the ballet dancers of Degas; and Kingston Museum curator Peta Cook introducing the sacred scrapbook, and zoopraxiscope discs.

A nice touch was Stanford Red Barn (Palo Alto) horse trainer Rachel Williamson confirming that the 1870s horse photos are still used today in the equestrian world.

Rachel Williamson. Photo (c) BBC

I got my fair share of the running time, mostly talking about the complexities of the image projections at a Muybridge lecture, and I also managed to get the last word in. [voice from across the room – “you always do…”]

‘Andy Serkis as Muybridge’ said the blurb, and he appeared reading Muybridge’s own words, wearing just a hint of period costume, but no stick-on beard. Serkis was also one of the expert talking heads, since he’s very familiar with the subject, having been developing a Muybridge feature film project for some years. And of course, he’s best known for being Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy – his physical image altered by CG techniques, in a modern development of the motion capture and image manipulation used by Muybridge for converting his photo sequences to painted animations.

No recent news on the feature movie, but perhaps it will happen someday.

Posted here by Stephen Herbert