Photographing Motion: Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton

┬ęThe 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:

Copyright, Reading Eagle (PA).

The Reading Public Museum is located at 500 Museum Road. Call 610-371-5850 or visit 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:
┬ęThe Harold & Esther Edgerton Foundation, 2001, Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
Accession Number: