The anti-cinema of Eadweard Muybridge
The eternal orphan ever in search of its true technological forbear, the movies for a long time assigned that role to an Englishman transplanted in America, Edward James Muggeridge aka Eadweard James Muygridge aka Eadward James Muybridge.
In the spring of 1879, Muybridge gave his initial Zoopraxiscope demonstration of "real motion on the screen", a horse projected in sequences of painted images based on his photos, as well as sequences of birds, men, and women. Cantering, trotting, leaping, the horse was the highlight of the show. As exciting as the evening was for its apparent scientific revelation of the actual position of the creatures legs when in motion, the demonstration was no less successful as entertainment. Fifteen years before the Muybridge, revelation, a Lieutenant L.Wachter published a book containing a series of ten sketches that predicted Muybridge's photographic results, drawings created for viewing on a Phenakistoscope.
Thomas Edison initially observed the work of Muybridge first hand on 25 February 1888 at a demonstration of the Zoopraxiscope at West Orange, New Jersey, site of the Edison laboratory. The two men met twice in the spring of that year.
William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, the man who did much of the actual development work on the cinematograph for Edison, was probably familiar with the work of Muybridge as well as that of Etienne-Jules Marey. For his part Edison likely had seen descriptions of the work of Muybridge in Scientific American, La Nature and journals specializing in photography.
Edison might have attended a demonstration of Etienne-Jules Marey's chronophotography the following summer in Paris. Marey had developed a technique for the analysis of motion in precise temporal units which he displayed at the Paris exposition.
Edison met Marey and the Lumieres at a dinner commemorating the 50th
anniversary of photography.
In the work of Marey, whose chronophotography pre-dated both the Lumiere camera and the multi-barrelled Gatling gun, we find the beginning of the verbal affinity of cameras and guns, of pictures and weapons that are "shot":
"In 1874 the Frenchman Jules Janssen took inspiration from the multi-chambered Colt (patented in 1832) to invent an astronomical revolving unit that could take a series of photographs. On the basis of this idea, Etienne-Jules Marey then perfected his chronophotographic rifle, which allowed its user to aim at and photograph an object moving in space."
Edison had visited Janssen's lab.
Marey had begun to use photography to study movement in the early 1880s, something he had first tried twenty years earlier. The true form of movement, said Marey, "escapes the eye." The idea of using photography occurred to him in 1873, inspired by the efforts of astronomers like Janssen to capture the phases of the sun and the movement of the planet Venus. In 1886, Marey developed a hunting weapon-like photographic gun to record the flight of birds. The camera lens was contained in the barrel, the plates carried on a revolving cylinder changed by the trigger action, generating sixteen exposures each minute.
Said one observer of an early Muybridge horse-in-motion projection: "Nothing was wanting but the clatter of the hoofs upon the turf and an occasional breath of steam from the nostrils to make the spectator believe that he had before him genuine flesh-and-blood steeds."
A later commentator, wondering whether it was at all correct to call Muybridge the father of motion pictures, observed that that was precisely what his demonstration lacked. The work of Muybridge, whose initial influence was felt by painters interested in the depiction of motion, seems to have fallen in the crack between photography and cinema: "...his horse galloped on the spot. The illusion was of the ground being moved under the horses feet, as in the zoetrope."
The Muybridge projections of the horse in motion without progress shot from a fixed distance against a fixed background conveyed an analysis of motion. Altering the angle of view, as in Edison's going-to-the-fire and battle fake subjects placed the spectator in an entirely different relation to the horse in motion; moving steadily at the viewer, in the direction of the camera, from out of the frame depth and exiting in a bottom corner, the horse enacted a drama of subjective involvement, the transformation of motion into action. The impatient historiographic fast-forward from the early realizations of screen motion to the story film has obscured the fact that what the cinema celebrates is not the movement in moving images but the action.
Built into Muybridgean motion studies was an apparent desire, perhaps unconscious, to use photography against photography, to erase photography's subjectivity and replace it with what seemed scientific pictures, objective images of motion independent of the spatial-temporal specificity of the on-the-scene photograph and the constructed subjective presence of newsreel footage. The motion study work of Muybridge was other than cinema. It may not be enough to say that cinema soon after its beginnings took the route painting had taken 300 or so years earlier, that cinema always imagined itself to be documentary, which is to say composed of a rhetoric of there-and-then-ness, modified for fiction, exaggerated for actuality work. The Muybridge animations, like Edison's Black Maria subjects, medieval icons and oriental landscape painting, lacked the temporal-spatial immediacy that renders the viewer, whose gaze is needed to complete the image, an engaged presence. There was of course no necessary link between the abandonment of the Black Maria's Muybridgean production method and the trend to projection or the shift to shooting in depth. Depth photography is accessible on a smaller, reduced surface, a postcard, an iPod or a mobile phone screen.
Muybridge's photographs, shot in San Francisco and the wilderness are in some way virtually oriental, the vistas inn perspective beyond the middle distance hazy, perhaps the idealization allegedly sought by Victorians to replace the world lost to cities and machines.
The work of Muybridge, like other photographic technologies before motion pictures, has tended to be understood as a closed system isolated from society. Perhaps, or so goes one claim, Leland Stanford organized the Muybridge experiments less in the interests of science or art than to celebrate the entrepreneurial elite and the growing mechanization of industry, that the horse of real interest to Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad, was the iron horse. The machine, said Stanford anticipating Jean-Luc Godard, cannot lie. The Muybridge photographs, which contributed to the mechanization of labour, contained no examples of men at work, only frozen images of athletic movement and the submissive horse.
Ken Jacobs used the term eternal in referring to the photographs of Muybridge: "I think I was saying Muybridge, by recording the gestures of his models, had made the ephemeral permanent. I've since made further use of this word...and even patented a computer program for making on-going motions that go nowhere while maintaining any direction they're headed in, something that can't happen in real life and can't be imagined until seen. Which I've called eternalisms"...They are on view in Jacobs's RETURN TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME, a re-visiting of his 1969 TOM, TOM, THE PIPER'S SON, also in CELESTIAL SUBWAY LINES/ SALVAGING NOISE and NEW YORK CITY FISHMARKET 1903.
Advanced filmmaking leads to Muybridge" said Jacobs whose work is based on "closing in on ever-smaller pieces of time", inventing imaginary spaces rather than filming actual ones.
In comparison to E J Muybridge, E J Marey may indeed, as one account has it, have been the more talented inventor and dedicated man of science. There is the claim that Muybridge's work did not in fact represent a scientific study of motion, that he inserted, edited images from one series into a second series, that. " ...these pictures are inconsistent with what we understand to be a scientific analysis of locomotion".
For his photographic studies of human motion at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid 1880s, Muybridge selected the male figures from a pool of university athletes possessed of "magnificent physiques" and "records of achievement in the feats to be photographed". Given the university's all-male student population, the women needed to be found elsewhere. They were artists's models, one a professional dancer and some Philadelphia society ladies. Perhaps they, though nameless, were the first movie stars. The endeavor, Muybridge explained, "has been in all instances to select models who fairly illustrate how - in a more or less graceful or perfect manner - the movements appertaining to everyday life are performed." The men, college men uninvolved in and undamaged by industrial America, were described as in some way exceptional, whereas the women were typical, captured in "absurd poses": "The single-sex nature of higher education promoted a differential treatment of the models, resulting in the aestheticization of the male model and the theatricalization of the female model."
In posing the photographic studies of the unclothed female in motion, Muybridge seems to have been encouraged by the painter Thomas Eakins to draw on situations from paintings by Jean-Leon Gerome that depicted nude oriental women surrounded by groups of men, Phyne before the Areopagus (1870), The Slave Market (1867) and A Roman Slave Market (1884) a work contemporary with the motion studies. "Eakins and Muybridge shared a sense of 'human classification', racial typing, and ethnography, which converged in their photographic work on the nude". The resemblance of Gerome's 'slaves' and Muybridge's 'woman disrobing another' suggests that Muybridge modeled his motion studies after the conventions of academic painting"... In the America of the 1880s, the oriental slave might have been ancestor of factory and sweat shop workers.
We may never learn the circumstances in which those Philadelphia society ladies agreed to pose nude in the roles of oriental slave women, if they understood the source of the poses, or left any record of the experiences in diaries or correspondence, or if as a consequence of the experience they formed a lasting social connection, if they discussed the experience before, during or after with each other or others, if they asked for or received prints of the photos, if so what they did with those prints, who they might have shared them with, if anyone.
The Muybridge women were followed onto the screen by the vaudeville dance performers Annabelle Moore and Loie Fuller and Fatima filmed in Edison's Black Maria for Kinetoscope exhibition, soon to be joined in motion picture quasi-stardom by the women leaving the Lumiere factory in Lyon, the plump showgirls in tights Georges Melies planted on papier mache stars, Edwin Porter's dutiful daughters and square dance babes, and D W's teen women in a man's world.
Beaumont Newhall, "Muybridge and the First Motion Picture", Image, Vol.V, No.1 (January 1956), pp4 -11; see too Newhall, "The Horse in Gallop", Image, Vol, I, No.4, (April 1952),p.3.
Information supplied in an e-mail by Paul Spehr.
For an insightful treatment of the Edison-Dickson-Muybridge-Marey connection, see Paul Spehr, "Edison, Dickson and the Chronophotographers: Creating an Illusion", in Albera, Braun, Gaudreault (eds.) Stop Motion, pp.189-221; also Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904), The Univ. of Chcago Press, 1992.
Paul Virilio, War and Cinema, trans. by Patrick Camiller, Verso, 1989, p.11.
Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command, Norton, 1969, p.21.
Newhall, "Muybridge and the First Motion Picture", p.4.
Alexander Black, Time and Chance, Farrar and Rinehardt, 1937, p.120.
Rebecca Solnit, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, Viking Penguin, 2003, pp.18-24.
John Ott, "Iron Horses, Leland Stanford, Eadweard Muybridge, and the Industrialized Eye", in Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 28, No.3, October 2005, pp.407-428. The money that financed the Muybridge work came by an indirect route from the rush on the gold fields of California. "...how logical, that the Central Pacific Railroad, builder of half the transcontinental line, should been financed by the little sacks of gold paid by California miners in exchange for the picks and shovels and miscellaneous hardware..." Maddow, A Sunday Between Wars, p.116.
Ken Jacobs, e-mail, 25 June, 2007; also Program notes, "Muybridge to Brooklyn Bridge: The Nervous System Performances of Ken Jacobs, University of California at Berkeley, 12 October 1999.
See Braun, Marey, pp.237; 247-249.
Janine A. Mileaf, "Poses for the Camera: Eadweard Muybridge's Studies of the Human Figure"
American Art, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Autumn 2002), pp. 31-53.
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