Echoes of Muybridge – Photographic Pioneer

Do the four jackdaws taking off across the left-right diagonal here remind you of anything?

Jackdaws taking off
Was Muybridge inspired by their ancestors?  Click for larger image.  (Photo: Tim Jones, Darkroommatter.com)
Eadweard Muybridge
Eadweard Muybridge (Photo: WikiCommons)

For me, the regular spacing and apparent connected motion of the birds is reminiscent of  the work of nineteenth century photography pioneer, Eadweard Muybridge.

Born in 1830, Muybridge photographed many sequences of birds in flight like the one below.  But he’s probably better known for his animations of galloping horses, revealing for the first time that, at certain points, horses literally fly.

Eadweard Muybridge's Bird in Flight
Eadweard Muybridge’s Bird in Flight

Muybridge’s techniques revealed an animal’s true motion, knowledge that until his arrival had been lost in a blur of busy limbs.

Before photography, the motion of horses in motion was often mis-represented. Baronet with Sam Chifney Up, by George Stubbs.  (Photo: Tim Jones of a painting at Huntington Library)
Before photography, the motion of horses in motion was often mis-represented. Baronet with Sam Chifney Up, by George Stubbs. (Photo: Tim Jones of a painting at Huntington Library)

I should explain that Muybridge made sequenced compilations of stills taken of a single animal, while my picture is a happenstance capture of several birds taking off in close proximity and in apparent sequence: reminiscent of an airfield scramble or ducks flying up a wall.  So I’ve got an illusion evocative of Muybridge, not a simulation, and the motions of different birds cannot be linked. (Or can they? Formation take-off?  I’m reminded never to under-estimate the Corvidae family!)

By another happenstance, it turns out Muybridge was born and raised in the town where I now live: Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey.  And while he spent most of his working life in America, Muybridge left the materials of his important photographic legacy to his home town, where they reside in the Kingston Museum and Archive, five minutes walk from where I’m sitting.

A good selection of Muybridge material is normally on display in the museum, representative of his animal and human figure work, but also featuring his definitive 1878 panorama of San Francisco (link to America Hurrah website).

Muybridge’s San Francisco Panorama (Photo credit: America Hurrah)

And if you’d like to find out more about Muybridge and his legacy, there couldn’t be a better time.  Beginning this week, Wednesday 8th September, the Tate Britain will launch a Muybridge retrospective, and our own Kingston Museum will, from September 18th, host the Muybridge Revolutions exhibition, featuring unseen exhibits like Muybridge’s collection of Zoöpraxiscope discs.  The Kingston exhibition is part of a broader range of Muybridge related activities being coordinated by Kingston University with Kingston Council.

Fallow deer.  (Photo:Tim Jones, Darkroommatter.com)

But returning to my jackdaws in a more romantic frame.  I like to ponder Muybridge walking the same routes I take  today as I photograph the wildlife of Home Park; his meeting the ancestors of present-day jackdaws, deer and rabbits; and with his frustration at the unfathomable rapidity of their movements, the seed of motion photography being sown….

Update 12 October 2010

The powers that be are projecting Muybridge animations onto the side of Kingston on Thames police station. Very nice.

Muybridge on Kingston upon Thames police station
Muybridge on Kingston upon Thames police station (Photo:Tim Jones)
Muybridge on Kingston upon Thames police station
Muybridge on Kingston upon Thames police station (Photo: Tim Jones)
Muybridge on Kingston upon Thames police station
Muybridge on Kingston upon Thames police station (Photo: Tim Jones)

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Tim Jones

Freelance science communicator who researches, strategises, writes, markets, in an atheistic, artistic, married, enthusiastic way....

2 thoughts on “Echoes of Muybridge – Photographic Pioneer”

  1. Interesting photo sequence, certainly. I was hoping to get a bit more detail on the wing motion sequence of birds. I am a volunteer at the Museum of Science, Boston, MA USA and we have a short pathway, perhaps eight feet long, which is bordered on either side by curved rails. A child walking through can put his (or her) arms out so that the hands can follow the curves, which represent the wing motion of a bird flying down the same pathway. Although all is probably correct, I am not convinced and I wonder if it is backwards, that is, the entrance is at the wrong end. I am looking for a graph representing the path of a point on the birds wing as it goes through the flight sequence. Do you know where I might find this? Any information you can tell me will be well appreciated , Bob magee

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