Eadweard Muybridge was a pioneering photographer during the 19th century, whose breakthroughs in the documentation of movement paved the way for early cinema. He worked as a photographer throughout his career, recording significant moments in American history, before going on to develop pioneering means of photographing movement in a series of sequential images. These in turn led him to invent the spinning zoopraxiscope, a cylindrical device containing still images side by side, which when spun at a high speed could convey the sensations of movement. We celebrate Muybridge’s vast and substantial legacy with a list of his most famous photographs.
1. Mirror Lake, Valley of Yosemite, 1872
Eadweard Muybridge began his career as a landscape and architectural photographer, working with some of the first cameras to be invented. Early in his career he travelled to Yosemite to take a series of scenic photographs of a wilderness that most of America’s population had never encountered, due to its difficult, inhospitable terrain. This image is one of many Muybridge took in Yosemite National Park, which pay tribute to the true, sublime wonder of nature. His landscape photographs of Yosemite and Northern California proved so popular he was able to secure a regular income from their sales. However, they were often the result of artistic license – Muybridge would sometimes cut away large trees if they blocked the best view, or even add in rocks and trees to his printed photographs through darkroom manipulation.
2. Panorama of San Francisco, 1878
This wide-angle panorama demonstrates Muybridge’s early interest in constructing photographic images from multiple parts. In a sweeping series of 13 prints joined together into a singular whole, Muybridge creates a broad, 360-degree view across the expanding city of San Francisco during the late 19th century. He made these photographs using large-format plates, which allowed him to pick up tiny architectural details, making the image an important historical document, as much as a striking work of art.
3. Horses. Gallop; thoroughbred bay mare (Annie G) with male rider, 1872-1875
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Sequential photographs of galloping horses became Muybridge’s greatest legacy. He was asked by former California governor and railroad tycoon Leland Stanford to document a galloping horse in order to settle Stanford’s bet with a friend that a horse’s all four hooves lift off the ground when running. This was no small task, given how limited photographic material was at the time. It took Muybridge around five years to put together the required photographic material in order to document a horse galloping along a racetrack with a series of 12 cameras in a line. But the hard work paid off – his project was a great success. As you can see in this multi-part image, Stanford was correct, that a horse does indeed ‘fly’ when running at a high speed!
4. Jumping; standing high jump, 1872-1885
Building on the success of his horses in motion, Muybridge went on to photograph a series of people and animals with the same sequential camera set up. Through these photographs taken in quick succession, he was able to record the sensations of motion in photography for the first time, producing images that no one had ever seen before. In 1879, Muybridge conceived of the zoopraxiscope, a rotating device for bringing his sequential images such as this one to live. He unveiled his discoveries during a series of public lectures between 1880 to 1895.
5. Men Boxing, 1887
Over time the subjects of Muybridge’s photographs became increasingly complex and sophisticated, demonstrating his growing ambition with photographic material. In this group of sequential studies he records two men in a boxing match, capturing the conflicting bodily movements between the two men as they engage in physical contact against one another.