Biography of Eadweard Muybridge, the Father of Motion Pictures

EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE COLLECTION/Getty Images

Eadweard Muybridge (born Edward James Muggeridge; April 9, 1830–May 8, 1904) was an English inventor and photographer. For his pioneering work in motion-sequence still photography he became known as the "Father of the Motion Picture." Muybridge developed the zoopraxiscope, an early device for projecting motion pictures.

Fast Facts: Eadweard Muybridge

  • Known For: Muybridge was a pioneering artist and inventor who produced thousands of photographic motion studies of humans and animals.
  • Also Known As: Edward James Muggeridge
  • Born: April 9, 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, England
  • Died: May 8, 1904 in Kingston upon Thames, England
  • Published Works: Animal Locomotion, Animals in Motion, The Human Figure in Motion
  • Spouse: Flora Shallcross Stone (m. 1872-1875)
  • Children: Florado Muybridge

Early Life

Eadweard Muybridge was born in 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England. Born Edward James Muggeridge, he changed his name when he immigrated to the United States, where the majority of his work as a professional photographer and innovator occurred. After several years in New York City, Muybridge moved west and became a successful bookseller in San Francisco, California.

Still Photography

In 1860, he made plans to return to England on business and began the long stagecoach journey back to New York City. Along the way, Muybridge was badly injured in a crash; he spent three months recovering in Fort Smith, Arkansas and did not reach England until 1861. There, he continued to receive medical treatment and eventually took up photography. By the time Muybridge returned to San Francisco in 1867, he was a highly skilled photographer educated in the latest photographic processes and printing techniques. He soon became famous for his panoramic landscape images, especially those of Yosemite Valley and San Francisco.

In 1868, the U.S. government hired Muybridge to photograph the landscapes and native people of Alaska. The journey resulted in some of the photographer's most stunning images. Subsequent commissions led Muybridge to photograph lighthouses along the West Coast and the standoff between the U.S. Army and the Modoc people in Oregon.

Motion Photography

In 1872, Muybridge began experimenting with motion photography when he was hired by railroad magnate Leland Stanford to prove that all four legs of a horse are off the ground at the same time while trotting. But because his cameras lacked a fast shutter, Muybridge's initial experiments were not successful.

Things came to a halt in 1874, when Muybridge found out that his wife might have been having an affair with a man named Major Harry Larkyns. Muybridge confronted the man, shot him, and was arrested and placed in jail. At trial, he pleaded insanity on the grounds that trauma from his head injury made it impossible for him to control his behavior. While the jury ultimately rejected this argument, they did acquit Muybridge, calling the killing a case of "justifiable homicide."

After the trial, Muybridge took some time off to travel through Mexico and Central America, where he developed publicity photographs for Stanford's Union Pacific Railroad. He resumed his experimentation with motion photography in 1877. Muybridge set up a battery of 24 cameras with special shutters he had developed and used a new, more sensitive photographic process that drastically reduced exposure time to take successive photos of a horse in motion. He mounted the images on a rotating disk and projected the images via a "magic lantern" onto a screen, thereby producing his first "motion picture" in 1878. The image sequence "Sallie Gardner at a Gallop" (also known as "The Horse in Motion") was a major development in the history of motion pictures. After exhibiting the work in 1880 at the California School of Fine Arts, Muybridge went on to meet with Thomas Edison, an inventor who was, at the time, conducting his own experiments with motion pictures.

Muybridge continued his research at the University of Pennsylvania, where he produced thousands of photographs of humans and animals in motion. These image sequences depicted a variety of activities, including farm work, household labor, military drills, and sports. Muybridge himself even posed for some photographs.

In 1887, Muybridge published a massive collection of images in the book "Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Connective Phases of Animal Movements." This work contributed greatly to scientists' understanding of animal biology and movement.

The Magic Lantern

While Muybridge developed a fast camera shutter and used other state-of-the-art techniques to make the first photographs that show sequences of movement, it was the zoopraxiscope—the "magic lantern," his pivotal invention in 1879—that allowed him to produce that first motion picture. A primitive device, the zoopraxiscope—which some considered the first movie projector—was a lantern that projected via rotating glass disks a series of images in successive phases of movement obtained through the use of multiple cameras. It was first called a zoogyroscope.

Death

After a long, productive period in the United States, Muybridge finally returned to England in 1894. He published two more books, "Animals in Motion" and "The Human Figure in Motion." Muybridge eventually developed prostate cancer, and he died in Kingston upon Thames on May 8, 1904.

Legacy

After Muybridge's death, all of his zoopraxiscope disks (as well as the zoopraxiscope itself) were bequeathed to the Kingston Museum in Kingston upon Thames. Of the known surviving disks, 67 are still in the Kingston collection, one is with the National Technical Museum in Prague, another is with Cinematheque Francaise, and several are in the Smithsonian Museum. Most of the disks are still in very good condition.

Muybridge's greatest legacy is perhaps his influence on other inventors and artists, including Thomas Edison (the inventor of the kinetoscope, an early motion-picture device), William Dickson (the inventor of the motion picture camera), Thomas Eakins (an artist who conducted his own photographic motion studies), and Harold Eugene Edgerton (an inventor who helped develop deep-sea photography).

Muybridge's work is the subject of the 1974 Thom Andersen documentary "Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer," the 2010 BBC documentary "The Weird World of Eadweard Muybridge," and the 2015 drama "Eadweard."

Sources

  • Haas, Robert Bartlett. "Muybridge: Man in Motion." University of California Press, 1976.
  • Solnit, Rebecca. "River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West." Penguin Books, 2010.