Wednesday, May 02, 2007

River of Shadows - Eadweard Muybridge

Rebecca Solnit's book River of Shadows about the pioneering photography Eadweard Muybridge is an absorbing read.

Muybridge was quite the character to say the least. Inventive, at times driven, ambitious, taking a knock on the head that probably drove him a little bit crazy - and he got away with murder - literally - after killing his wife's lover. And I think he's the only photographer to have an opera written about him? As well as being the influence for Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase No.2.

Starting off in England as the rather more mundane Edward James Muggeridge; Muybridge pretty much re-invented himself after making his way west. And while he is probably best known for his stop motion pictures of, first, horses and then people, he did much else besides. He set up shop with a studio in San Francisco selling his Mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite. Took some intriguing panoramic photographs of the growth of San Francisico, taken one plate at a time (in a way foreshadowing his motion studies) - of which Mark Klett has produced one of his re-photographic topographics thingy's. Muybridge also documented the little remembered but grinding and bloody Madoc Indian Wars in Orgeon and photographed in Central America after his acquittal for murder.

But it is his motion studies that Muybridge is still remembered for . Originally devised and taken to settle a bet by horse race owning Governor Leland Stanford, Muybridge proved once and for all the horses had been depicted in motion incorrectly by generations of artists. After which Muybridge pretty much became obsessed with documenting all forms of motion from various animals, to athletes, to women bathing

In doing all this Muybridge invented various shutter mechanism to capture the motion with the slow and clunky cameras of the day. He also invented various devices for depicting motion - the Zoopraxiscope and the Zoetrope. But most of all, despite being a photographer, Muybridge's ideas and experiments were instrumental int he development of what was to become the Motion Picture - with California at the heart of the movie industry.

Solnit's book is a well written and interesting read on all this reminding us how influential Muybridge still is (among other things, books of his motion studies remain in print and are still a guide for artists) as well as depicting this period of California's history - where a lot of photographers were at work during this time. I should add that a number of Solnit's other writings about photography are also worth searching out.


stanco said...

You can't make it out that clearly,
but that turn of the century photo of San Francisco (part of a much larger panorama) features a rather fantastic monument to man's eternal pettiness.

The house of a certain rich guy marred the grand view of one even richer guy. The latter asked to buy the former out, and was very much refused. The bigger fish responded by building a three story high, three sided wall surrounding the offending house, practically entombing it!

tim atherton said...

I was goign to mention that - though I thought the guy was a chinese grocer who refused to sell out? But the big house owners felt he was spoiling ht eview so they fenced him in?

tim atherton said...

okay, here it is:

Croker's spite fence

he was a Chinese undertaker

stanco said...

Thanks! Love it the most, to say the least! Aint man grand!