The story about Muybridge and Leland Stanford, whether apocryphal or not, is a satisfactory one: Stanford, former Governor of California and a serious horse fancier, allegedly bet a friend, one Frederick MacCrellish, twenty-five thousand dollars that a running horse at one point in his stride had all four feet off the ground simultaneously. Since the issue was not resolved by direct observation, Stanford commissioned Muybridge, a California photographer famous chiefly for his landscapes, to settle the issue through photography, which could not lie.
Six years later, after several near-successes (and an interruption during which Muybridge was being tried for the murder of his wife's lover), the photographer proved conclusively that Stanford was right about the four-feet-off-the-ground question, although the horse's position --- with his feet bunched beneath him --- was doubtless as much of a surprise to Stanford as to everyone else. Considering the length of time Muybridge had spent on the project, plus the expense of photographic equipment and legal fees, it is questionable whether Stanford profited from his bet, but he probably derived great satisfaction from being proved right.
The issue was then less academic than it seems today; painters of the time frequently included horses in their pictures, and like Stanford they also wanted to be right. Within months of the publication of Muybridge's pictures, the hobby-horse convention that had been honored by artists for centuries was abandoned, except on that last bastion of conservatism, the carrousel.
Muybridge's most important motion studies were published in 1887 as Animal Locomotion, a collection of 781 plates that described, in sequential frames, human beings and other creatures engaged in diverse characteristic activities. As the distinguished art historian E. H. Gombrich has made clear, artists had never really painted what they saw; they painted rather what they had learned to paint. The most talented among them had challenged some part of the convention that they had inherited, and had modified and enriched it. By the nineteenth century a properly trained painter knew how to draw a head or a hand in as many as ten or twelve perspectives, each of which looked as true as ancient wisdom. Muybridge's work, on the other hand, recorded many thousands of individual optical facts, almost all of which looked unfamiliar. Perhaps nothing since Daguerre had so unsettled the painter's established certainties.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
The 4,789 photographs in this definitive selection show the human figure - models almost all undraped - engaged in over 160 different types of action: running, climbing stairs, tumbling, dressing, undressing, hopping on one foot, dancing, etc. Children walking, crawling and many dozens of other activities.
Definitive selection of 3,919 photographs, plus author's observations on animals' movements. Incredible true-action shots cover 34 different animals and birds in 132 characteristic motions. Horses, goats, cats, gnus, eagles, gazelles, sloths, camels, many others shown walking, running, flying, leaping, more.
This resplendent book traces the life and work of Muybridge, from his early thinking about anatomy and movement to his latest photographic experiments, and is copiously illustrated with his complete locomotion plates as well as biographical pictures and texts.
This striking assertion is at the heart of Rebecca Solnitfs new book, which weaves together biography, history, and fascinating insights into art and technology to create a boldly original portrait of America on the threshold of modernity.