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

Revolutions opens at Kingston!

Lantern slide. Courtesy: Kingston Museum

Muybridge in Kingston: Muybridge Revolutions
18 Sept 2010 – 12 Feb 2011

Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself the wonderful exhibition at Kingston Museum – now running.

I was pleased to be asked to give a talk on the opening night (yesterday), following a shadow-play workshop by Zannie Fraser, and a magic lantern show by Mervyn Heard.

Large Muybridge in Kingston posters greeted us as we walked to the Museum from the Station; an impressive promotion.

From the first glance, it’s obvious that this is a very special exhibition. The quality of the design, build, (by James Rowlands) and of course the academic work by Peta Cook and Alexandra Reynolds that very clearly underpins the display will, I feel, be evident to any visitor.


Photo courtesy Peta Cook

Late night installation by James Rowlands and team.

And the artefacts look wonderful – even to those of us familiar with them. At last, this world-class Muybridge collection can be seen for what it is, even though two important objects – the 17ft long panorama of San Francisco, and the original Zoopraxiscope – are at Tate Britain. (There’s a faithful replica Zoop in the Kingston show.) But this exhibition is about the images that Muybridge showed on the screen, explained and displayed in detail – complete with animations – for the first time. Congratulations to Kingston Museum on fully achieving the objective. And I understand that an extra section, in the old Muybridge Gallery on the ground floor, will open around 1st October.

Lantern slide. (c) Kingston Museum

No time to properly absorb everything last night, so a full review – with actual details rather than just superlatives – some time soon, after a second visit.

Mo and I were invited to join a dozen or so for a meal afterwards, and we sat by the River in a restaurant/bar on the ground that was once the garden-yard of the Muggeridges, behind their home in the High Street, where one hundred and sixty years ago young Edward said goodbye to his family and set off on an adventure to the New World.

This exhibition places Muybridge’s unique discs within the context of both his career and the history of moving image projection. Displayed alongside the discs are some of the original photographic sequences that informed them, represented as collotype prints and images on glass. The relationship between the original photographic sequences and the discs form an integral part of a new interpretation of his work, the result of new research into the Kingston Muybridge collection.

Other items on display include examples of Muybridge’s rare and intriguing ‘coded’ lecture slides, some of his equipment and a unique scrapbook charting his phenomenal career.  Many of these objects have never been seen on public display before, providing an exciting opportunity to provide people with rare access to new knowledge through this important collection.

To accompany the original objects, a beautiful replica of the Zoöpraxiscope forms a central part of the exhibition, alongside a specially commissioned set of animations which emulate the original experience afforded Muybridge’s audience through the Zoöpraxiscope.

Also open now is the contemporary work ‘Dance of Ordinariness’ by Trevor Appleson, at the Stanley Picker Gallery.

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

Setting Time in Motion

Now here’s a treat – a preview of the short video made by Chocolate Films, for the Muybridge Revolutions exhibition at Kingston Museum.

“Chocolate Films is an award-winning video production company specialising in documentaries. We produce high quality films for cinema, television, commercial and community clients. Founded as a not-for-profit enterprise, we combine our commercial work with courses and projects, which enable children, young people and community groups to make films.”

Check out the video on their new website.

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

Muybridge and Will Day

Brochure announcing Will Day's book

I recently downloaded Muybridge’s book Animals in Motion – available here:

and The Human Figure in Motion, here:

Dr. Stillman’s magnificent (though flawed) The Horse in Motion is also available, here:

These copies all belonged to Will Day.

The Chapter details shown here are from the two-volume book 25,000 Years to Trap a Shadow, by Wilfred E. L. Day. The picture of the book is an artist’s impression – it was never published.

Will Day (1873-1936), for those who haven’t come across him, was involved in the early days of cinema as a travelling showman, became a major figure in the British cinema equipment industry – and tried his hand much less successfully in production. Fascinated , to the level of obsession necessary for a dedicated collector without substantial financial resources, he accumulated a large collection of material relating to pre-cinema and the early days of the film industry. In the 1920s this was shown in a back room of his shop in London’s Lisle Street. He was the foremost champion of the claims of William Friese Greene to be acknowledged as the ‘inventor’ of cinema.

Zoöpraxiscope disc displayed in London's Science Museum in the 1930s

Day went into the radio business in the 20s, and was a key player in the very early days of television, in partnership with John Logie Baird, and was at one time co-patentee of television. All the time his interest in the origins of cinematography continued, his collection eventually being displayed in a special gallery in the Science Museum, London. The prestige enabled Day to add many items. The collection included several Muybridge publications.

In 1931, Day gave a speech at the unveiling of the memorial tablet in Kingston Museum, and around that time donated a zoetrope to the museum, with a copy of an original picture strip of a silhouette sequence of a Muybridge galloping horse.

Zoetrope, Kingston Museum Collection

He was keen that the motion aspects of Muybridge’s work should be seen by visitors, and suggested that the zoetrope could be worked by a handle. It was never installed. I believe that a phenkistiscope moving image disc (mid 19th-century) in the Kingston Collection was also provided by Will Day.

Day’s collection at one time included a lens that had purportedly been used by Muybridge – I’m currently researching that particular item.

His book was compiled during the same period, but Day was not a professional writer and it never did quite shape up into a publishable script. He tried to sell his collection in the mid 30s, and a catalogue was compiled and printed, but the sale didn’t happen. Day had sold out his television patent after becoming exasperated by Baird and perhaps realizing that it would not be a paying business for many years. He helped at the Forty Years of Cinema celebrations at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London in the spring of 1936, but by then he was tired and ill. He died just weeks later. In the fifties his sons offered to sell his collection to the nation, but the necessary funding was not made available. It was purchased by the French Government, and now forms an important part of the French national collections on early and pre-cinema.

The manuscript and typescripts of the book (in several drafts) are in the Bibliotheque du film (BiFi) in Paris and accessible to researchers. I have not read the Muybridge chapter.

Zoopraxicope disc, Cinématheque française

‘Le mouvement continué’ catalogue number 1201. Inv. AP-95-1731 (W. Day) Glass disc painted with 11 phases of a horse and rider in motion. Accompanied  by a metal shutter disc, with 12 slots.

A 16-inch Zoopraxiscope disc, once displayed in the Will Day section of the Science Museum, went to France with his collection, and is now on display in the Cinema Museum in Paris. It is not known how this came to be released from the Kingston Collection. The disc, showing a cantering horse, is seen in Day’s catalogue (there were two editions). The illustration here is from a book by Laurent Mannoni.

I have bumped into the ‘ghost’ of Will Day on many occasions over the years – as I posed in front of that same 1931 memorial tablet when the Muybridge exhibition opened at MOMI London in 1992; researched cinema pioneers in his documents at BiFi; Viewed David Robinson’s exhibition of Day’s life and work at the Pordenone silent film festival some years ago; and examined his lecture slides (about the development of cinematography) at the Cinémathèque archives in Paris. I was even roped in to project a film on a Lumière Cinématographe at London’s Polytechnic – now Westminster University – (as Day had tried to do half a century earlier) for the Centenary of Cinema celebrations in 1996. Also in 1996 I was commissioned to provide two small motorised zoetropes for the new Muybridge Gallery at Kingston Museum – sixty years after Day’s attempt to arrange a working zoetrope. (They have been creaking around in the cabinet to this day, and are due to be removed for a replacement exhibit layout next month.)

Will Day’s achievements have always been prominently acknowledged by those who now hold his collections of equipment, books, lantern slides, films, and documents – and, notwithstanding his shortcomings as a historian, his efforts will always be remembered by media researchers. As Stephen Bottomore has written, “In an age before cinematheques and film museums existed he saw the importance of this work, and today’s film historians have much to thank him for.”


Laurent Mannoni, Le Mouvement continué. Catalogue illustré de la collection des appareils de la Cinémathèque française
This catalogue describes (accurately) and illustrates all of the items of equipment (including phenakistiscope discs, etc) from the Will Day Collection.

Laurent Mannoni, ‘”Whither wilt thou lead me?”: en suivant l’ombre de Will Day’, Cinémathèque, no. 6 (Autumn 1994)

Will Day, ‘The joys of operating twenty years ago’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 1 March 1917

Will Day, ‘The Portrayal of Movement. History of Cinematography. From Camera Obscura to the Living picture’. The Times, 19 March 1929.

Will Day, 25,000 Years to Trap a Shadow. The Birth and Biographical History of Moving Pictures (unpublished)

Michelle Aubert, Laurent Mannoni and David Robinson (eds.), ‘The Will Day Historical Collection of Cinematograph & Moving Picture Equipment’, special issue of the journal 1895, October 1997
This publication includes essays on the books, films, and other items in the Will Day Collection, researched in recent years by French scholars.

Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema website:

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

Time and The Times: Muybridge Sells in the 1940s

Burlington Mills

It seems that Muybridge’s galloping horses can sell anything. This Burlington Mills advertisement from 1948 explains in a sentence how Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope prompted the invention of Hollywood (how neatly these copywriters can eliminate complexities).

Soon afterwards Thomas Edison saw the machine and grew curious about applying it more widely to “moving pictures”. The results we see all around us.

The text switches quickly to the less specific, intermediate subject of “Freedom”, and then immediately from Freedom to a product that couldn’t have existed without it.

In this same climate of Freedom, Burlington Mills was free to be curious about the new man-made fiber, rayon. What were its commercial possibilities? How could it be improved? For what new uses could it be employed? Experimentation along these lines eventually brought rayon into the daily life of every person in America.  Today this same freedom is an incentive for Burlington, one of the world’s largest producers of rayon textiles, to continue to exercise its curiosity in seeking new and better uses for rayon in the future. Time 16 August 1948

G.B. Equipments

More specific to the subject of the moving image, this British advertisement is a graphic treat from the Second World War. The ad, for the GeBeScope 16mm sound film library (‘over 750 titles’) appeared in The Times (London) in 1943. But it wasn’t all about selling the idea of film rental. Thanks to Muybridge we have Cinematography, and Cinematography would be applied to “the many problems of post-war development“. Hoorah!

The antique look of the engraving is typical of the ‘nostalgia’ drawings of the 40s and 50s. Does anyone know who the artist was?

photo: The Times

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

The Last Zoopraxiscope Show?

Photographer / publisher: William Vick, Ipswich, England. Date: c.1890.

Original cabinet card in ‘California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection’,

The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Nothing is known about the reception of Muybridge’s presentations in his Zoopraxographical Hall at the Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in 1893. A summer lecture, in one of the other buildings, was reported in the Chicago Daily Tribune on 3 August:

TALK TO EMPTY SEATS. TECHNICAL LEARNING IN MANY CONGRESSES FAILS TO ATTRACT – In the evening the Congress on Painting and Sculpture listened to an address on “Copperplate Engraving” by Frederick Keppel of New York, illustrated by the stereopticon, and a paper on “The Science of Animal Locomotion in Its Relation to Design in Art,” by Edward Muybridge. The attendance was not large.

The following summer (1894), Muybridge was back in England, and in May 1895 he sent out a brochure, The Motion of the Horse and other animals, in Nature and in Art, announcing a lecture season ‘from October next [i.e. 1895] until March 1896′, to be illustrated with ’40 new zoopraxiscopic projecting discs’.

Later that year he sent out a circular dated October 1st 1895, stating that he could accept ‘no further engagements … before February 96.’

I have been able to find very few references to lectures during this 1895 season. Some time ago I discovered brief details of a previously unknown lecure: On 14 October ’95 he presented ‘Animals in Motion’ at a school in the South of England. (Research on this lecture still continuing.) That same month, advertisements appeared in the Ipswich Journal, and a promotional paragraph:

Ipswich Journal Saturday October 12, 1895 p.5

Through the instrumentality of Mr. W. Vick and a local committee, a unique entertainment will take place in the Ipswich Town Hall, on Wednesday, October 16th. It will consist of a lecture and demonstration by Mr. Eadweard Muybridge, of the University of Pennsylvania, on the motion of men and other animals in art; and illustrated with the Zoopraxiscope [etc].

‘Mr. W. Vick’ was local photographer William Vick, who had photographed Muybridge – most likely during his previous visit in 1890.

I have recently found a report of the lecture:

East Anglian Daily Times Thursday 17 October 1895 p.5

In art there has always been a great uncertainty as to the exact motions of animals and the manner in which they are executed. It was, in fact, left to photography to definitely settle the question. Instantaneous photography of today cannot lie, and bringing this to his aid, Mr. Eadweard Muybridge, of the University of Pennsylvania, has established a number of interesting facts. These he placed before a fairly large audience on Wednesday night in the Ipswich Public Hall, the Mayor (Dr. J.H. Bartlet) presiding. In introducing Mr. Muybridge, Dr. Bartlet remarked that he lectured in Ipswich five years ago, when everyone present derived the greatest pleasure, with the exception perhaps of those among the audience who discovered that in their animal painting they had committed many mistakes….[etc]

A cordial vote of thanks was passed to the lecturer on the proposition of Mr. D. Favel Goddard, M.P., seconded by Mr. Herman Biddell.

The Zoopraxiscope was used during the lecture. Despite Muybridge stating in his May ’95 brochure that lectures would include ‘40 new zoopraxiscopic projecting discs’, there is no mention of this in the lecture report. Since the new discs were in colour, and different from those shown in Ipswich in 1890 (and this would have been a selling point for those promoting the lecture), it seems safe to conclude that Muybridge did not show the colour discs. A few years later, he tried to arrange for the negatives of the new discs to be destroyed.

It seems then, that Muybridge used his earlier black-and-white discs exclusively, right up to the end of his lecturing career. Muybridge was ‘accepting no further engagements until February 1896’, but early in 1896 he was in Boston on business concerning the Animal Locomotion negatives, did not apparently give lectures in the USA at that time, and would not return to England until (circa) May 1897.

Some time during the Summer or early Autumn of 1897, Muybridge gave his last known talk to the St Ives Arts Club, Cornwall, but this was almost certainly a slide show only – without the Zoopraxiscope.

It may be that this recently discovered Ipswich booking in October 1895 was in fact his last public lecture with the Zoopraxiscope, as no further references to lectures during this period have been found.