Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

July 1997 No. 22

The Shootist

Edward Muggeridge spoke English, but his second language was the image. He described in images, documented in images, examined and proved in them. And, as a by-product, he lead to their movement.

Of course we know Muggeridge today as Eadweard Muybridge, but this is just the best-known of several names he gave himself (E. J. Muygridge, Helios). It was as Edward James Muggeridge that he entered the world on April 9, 1830 in Kingston on-Thames, England. When he was twenty a coronation stone was placed at Kingston, commemorating the seven Saxon Kings of England. Two of the kings had been named Edward, and the memorial used the old spelling - Eadweard. Perhaps their namesake saw the stone and the spelling caught his fancy. If he felt that an interesting name would lead to an interesting life - he was extremely prescient.

He also apparently felt the New World was more interesting than the Old, for he set off for the United States in either 1851 or 1852 (sources vary). By 1856 he was established in San Francisco as bookseller and publisher's agent E. J. Muygridge. In 1860 or 1861 (a hard man to pin down) while he was off for a visit to England, his stagecoach overturned in Texas and he nearly died of a fractured skull. While recuperating back in England he took up a new interest.

It was less than ten years before, in 1851, that Matthew Brady had won a medal exhibiting his daguerreotypes at London's Great Exhibition. Muybridge, being of a curious turn of mind, was probably not unaware of the wonders being introduced at the exposition - may have even been to see them. Brady had opened studios in New York and Washington in 1858. In 1860 the first aerial photograph was made, capturing the image of Boston from a balloon. And several months earlier, when a French expeditionary force set off for Lebanon to protect Christians threatened by Druze tribesmen, photographer Felix Bonfils was among the expedition personnel. Obviously a glamorous new field. It was match; E. J. was hooked.

He began tinkering. He invented a special kind of photographic plate-printing process; while he was at it he also turned out a machine for washing clothes. By 1866 he was presenting himself as a professional photographer and soon returned to the United States. He felt at home in the American West and after the Civil War it was there that exciting work was being done in the young medium. Muybridge made a trip to Yosemite in 1867, capturing it on photographic plates long before Ansel Adams was born. Capturing any image in the field at that time was not for the faint-of-ambition or the weak-of-back. The process, known as wet collodion, involved finding your subject, placing the camera, making your lens adjustments, hauling out a glass plate and coating it with chemicals immediately, popping it into the plate holder and making the exposure. No point-and-click here. To carry all this paraphernalia Helios - his new trade name - would load everything into his "Flying Studio", a horse-drawn covered cart, or sometimes onto a mule train, and head for the hills. (For many years anything that moved very fast was described as "flying".)

The Yosemite pictures made the reputation of the young Englishman and he would return there in 1872, this time often using plates that measured 20 by 24 inches. Although a photographic enlarger had been invented in 1843, the quality was necessarily poor; for acceptable results you had to use negatives the size of the desired image. He would make many forays into the west, both alone and with survey teams. While he did not accompany the great teams of the period, the Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, Clarence King, John Wesley Powell, and George M. Wheeler surveys, he managed to keep very busy, traveling to Alaska in 1868, documenting the U. S. military's war against the Modoc Indians in 1873, traveling to Central America in 1875, and producing a Panorama of San Francisco in 1877.

A successful photographer by 1872 he apparently decided to put down a few roots, marrying divorcee Flora Shallcross Stone. In April of 1874 she presented him with a son. It would seem likely that Eadweard had a hand in the naming of Floredo Helios Muybridge. It also would seem, at least to Muybridge, that Flora may have creatively amused herself while he was off "shooting" Modocs, and that perhaps Floredo was not his. He was convinced enough to put a fatal bullet into his wife's lover, Harry Larkyns, on October 17, 1874. He was imprisoned until his trial the following February, when his attorney Wirt Pendegast got an acquittal on the grounds of insanity. Then it was off to Central America, to let the ruckus die down and to take some photographs. As if all this weren't enough, Muybridge had taken on a new client and a new project.

California, with its background of conquistadors and caballeros, had always been horse-mad. Polo and the big racetracks wouldn't really catch on until the Hollywood era, but racing was always one of the more popular pastimes. Mania might be a more apt description. One of the best known steeds was Occidental, belonging to railroad president, millionaire and former governor Leland Stanford. A controversy entertained the horsey set in the early 1870s. Painters had often portrayed horses, front legs thrust forward and rear legs to the back, all four hooves off the ground. But there were those observers who doubted such a posture ever occurred. Stanford, familiar with Muybridge through work the latter had done for the railroads, hired the photographer and offered Occidental as a test model. Then he had to wait for his new contractor to get out of jail and return from his brief exile. Finally, with Muybridge back in the States, it was time to begin.

Settling in at Stanford's stables in Sacramento, Muybridge had Occidental photographed by a row of 12 cameras as he was ridden past. Caught in the dilemna of extremely slow shutters and the need for brief exposures, the results were disappointing to both men. It looked like all four feet were off the ground, but it wasn't absolutely certain. It has been claimed more recently that those photos were then doctored. Whether or not this was the case, more experimentation was needed.
Muybridge began tinkering. He added twelve more cameras to the row, then another six. Instead of depending on manually operated shutters, experiments were made using trip wires, touched off by the horse or its sulky. Finally, in 1878 and 1879, working now in Palo Alto, the final attempts were made. A battery of 24 automatically operating cameras in a long shed with controlled lighting, triggered as the horse broke strings attached to each shutter, resulted in a series of good images. Stanford's point was proved. The hooves were suspended underneath the horse, rather than being thrust out behind and in front, but they were all off the ground.

Back to the tinkerer's bench. His next device was intended to project the sequential images onto a wall, one right after the other. He called it a Zoopraxiscope, from the Greek words for animal and rotate. With his slides and his new invention Muybridge was off to Europe for several years of touring and lecturing. One result of his new-found fame was a friendship with the U. S. painter Thomas Eakins. When Muybridge returned to the States, Eakins used his own influence at the University of Pennsylvania to arrange a grant there for his English friend. Muybridge began using new dry plates, allowing for improved definition, and a motor clock to synchronize three different cameras, shooting the same subject from three angles. During 1884 and 1885 he took more than 20,000 photographs - men, women, children, birds, animals - all in motion. The men and women, mostly from the Philadelphia Athletic Association, all wore authentic early Greek athletic costumes, which is to say, nothing at all. He published his results in a series of books that still serve as models for artists and anatomy students today.

For some reason he never made the mental leap from his Zoopraxiscope to a reel of film holding a continuous series of projectable images, but we can be quite certain that a meeting with Thomas Edison put a bug in the Menlo Park inventor's ear, if it wasn't already there.

Eadweard Muybridge retired to his birthplace in 1894, dying in Kingston on May 8, 1904 at the age of 74.

Ninety-two years later Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority construction workers at the new Union Station headquarters erected a $50,000 photo montage. Among the mural's past and present buses, cars, trolleys, and trains, and NASA pictures of the planets, could be seen a reproduction of one of Muybridge's Human Locomotion series, portraying a male nude, running. A few MTA employees complained. A typical remark: "I would not want to bring my daughter in to see this type of art". Workers draped a black plastic sheet over the mural.

Muybridge still leads an interesting life.


A few dates in the history of photography during the first twenty-four years of Muybridge's life.


Mar 8
Photographer Felix Bonfils is born, in St.-Hippolyte-du-Fort, France.


Charles Wheatstone invents a "stereoscopic viewing device".


Louis Daguerre invents a process to fix images on a light-sensative silvered plate.


Hippolyte Bayard introduces direct-positive images on sensitized paper.

Mar 7
U. S. painter-inventor-photographer Samuel F. B. Morse visits Daguerre in Paris.

Aug 18
The French Academy makes the Daguerre photographic process public.

Sep 27
The first Daguerreotype made in the U. S., by Morse and Dr. John W. Draper.


Alexander S. Wolcott is issued the first photography patent, for his camera.

Aug 19
The first class photo is taken, by Morse, of the reunion of Yale's 1810 class.


William Henry Fox Talbot patents the Calotype process.


Western photographer William Henry Jackson is born in Keeseville, New York. ** D. O. Hill and Robert Adamson open portrait studio in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Photographer David Octavius Hill documents the plight of New Haven, Connecticut, fishermen in their unsafe vessels. ** Photographer Raja Deen Dayal is born in Sardhana, India.

Nov 10
Photographic pioneer Alexander S. Wolcott dies.


Matthew B. Brady begins making portraits of the celebrities of his time.


C. F. A. Niepce de Saint-Victor uses albumen on glass plates for producing negatives.


Maxime Du Camp travels to Egypt to photograph its monuments.


Talbot demonstrates the first split-second photography, taking a picture of printed paper as it revolves on a wheel.


Talbot patents a process that will become the forerunner of half-tone reproduction and photogravure. ** Swiss police begin collecting mug shots of criminals.


A.-E. Disderi patents carte-de visite (visiting card) portraiture.


If you have Web access you might want to surf on over to Pacific Interactive Media's Eadweard Muybridge: Father of Motion Pictures site. Recent browser versions will support samples of Muybridge's photography, animated by your computer. One caveat - if you find even non-purient nudity offensive - Don't go there. It's all pretty quaint however.

EB SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (more detailed versions available)

Muybridge, Eadweard (various editions)

I hope you've enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends.

David Minor


© 1997 David Minor Eagles Byte