Part 3 Traces of Time

John Szarkowski Photographic Historian and Curator of MOMA (1962-1991).

‘There is in fact no such thing as an instantaneous photograph. All photographs are time exposures of shorter or longer duration, and each describes a discrete parcel of time. This time is always the present. Uniquely in the history of pictures, a photograph describes only that period of time in which it was made’- John Szarkowski The Photographers Eye

The earliest pictures took hours to expose (The first recorded image by niepce in 1827 took 8 hours of exposure time) By 1839 ‘the official invention of photography’ the Daguerreotype reduced exposure time to minutes, but still was not sufficient to capture the moving image.

Not until 1877 with improvements to film speeds and electronic shutters was it possible to capture movement as a still image.

Edweard Muybridge-1830-1904

I am going to make a name for myself. If I fail, you will never hear of me again.”-Eadweard Muybridge

Born in Kingston upon Thames on April 9th 1830, Eadweard Muybridge (formerly Muggeridge) at the age of 20, emigrated to the US firstly to New York and then to San Francisco where he became a successful bookseller.

During a stagecoach accident on route back to England, Muggeridge sustained head injuries causing double vision and behavioural changes. After a period of recovery Edweard returned to San Francisco where he established himself as a full time photographer, changing his name to Muybridge (possibly the original form of Muggeridge) and began to record the landscape of the West with his mobile darkroom including Yosemite and the Tlinglit people of Alaska.

During the late 1800s as his reputation grew, Eadweard was approached by former californian Governor and racehorse owner Leland Stanford with a view to help him settle a bet.  The Governor was curious to know whether all four hooves of a running horse were off the ground at the same time. Stanford believed that they did but the motion was too fast for the human eye to detect. In 1872 muybridge began to record galloping horses but the results were inconclusive resulting in Stanford funding the project for a better outcome.  Five years later in 1877 Muybridge was able to prove that a galloping horse did indeed have all four feet off the ground at one time by devising a system where the horses triggered trip wires to activate shutters.

Eadweard Muybridge was invited to continue his studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he produced many studies of the human and animal form in sequences of motion. Showing for the first time the fractions of time that were invisible to the human eye.

Muybridge’s motion sequences along with AM Worthington’s series of splashes and Harold Edgerton’s 1939 pictures of a milk coronet (published in Life Magazine) are credited with being pivotal moments in the ability to freeze motion in a fraction of a second and the photographers that created them, pioneers.




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