Eadweard J. Muybridge (April 9, 1830 – May 8, 1904) was an English
photographer, known primarily for his early use of multiple cameras
to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting
motion pictures that pre-dated the celluloid film strip that is
still used today.Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge at
Kingston upon Thames, England. He is believed to have changed his
first name to match that of King Eadweard as shown on the plinth of
the Kingston coronation stone, which was re-erected in Kingston in
1850. Although he didn't change his first name until the 1870s, he
changed his surname to Muygridge early in his San Francisco career
and then changed it again to Muybridge at the launch of his
photographic career or during the missing years between.
In 1855 Muybridge arrived in San Francisco, starting his career as a
publisher's agent and bookseller. He left San Francisco at the end
of that decade, and after a stagecoach accident in which he received
severe head injuries returned to England for a few years. He
reappeared in San Francisco in 1866 as a photographer named
Muybridge and rapidly became successful in the profession, focusing
almost entirely on landscape and architectural subjects. (He is not
known to have ever made a photographic portrait, though group shots
by him survive.) His photographs were sold by various photographic
entrepreneurs on Montgomery Street (most notable the firm of Bradley
& Rulofson), San Francisco's main commercial street, during those
Muybridge began to build his reputation in 1867 with photos of
Yosemite and San Francisco (many of the Yosemite photographs
reproduced the same scenes taken by Carleton Watkins). Muybridge
quickly became famous for his landscape photographs, which showed
the grandeur and expansiveness of the West. The images were
published under the pseudonym “Helios.” In the summer of 1868
Muybridge was commissioned to photograph one of the U.S. Army's
expeditions into the recently territorialized Alaska purchase.
In 1871 the California Geological Survey invited Muybridge to
photograph for the High Sierra survey. That same year he married
Flora Stone. He then spent several years traveling as a successful
photographer. By 1873 the Central Pacific Railroad had advanced into
Indian territory and the United States Army hired Muybridge to
photograph the ensuing Modoc Wars.
In 1872, former Governor of California Leland Stanford, a
businessman and race-horse owner, had taken a position on a
popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse's
hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford
sided with this assertion, called "unsupported transit", and took it
upon himself to prove it scientifically. (Though legend also
includes a wager of up to $25,000, there is no evidence of this.)
Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question.
Muybridge's relationship with Stanford was long and fraught,
heralding both his entrance and exit from the history books.
To prove Stanford's claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for
instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge's technology
involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an
electrical trigger created by the chief engineer for the Southern
Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs. It is important to underscore
Muybridge's collaboration with John D. Isaacs. The design for the
trigger to set off each camera was what eluded Muybridge for so long
and without Isaacs' help, Muybridge's contraption would never have
come into existence.
In 1877, Muybridge settled
Stanford's question with a single photographic negative showing
Stanford's racehorse Occident airborne in the midst of a gallop.
This negative was lost, but it survives through woodcuts made at the
By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge
had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series
of twenty-four cameras. The first experience successfully took place
on June 11 with the press present. Muybridge used a series of 12
stereoscopic cameras, 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by
one horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. The
cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires
attached to each camera shutter triggered by the horse's hooves.
This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University, is
called The Horse in Motion, and shows that the hooves do all leave
the ground — although not with the legs fully extended forward and
back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at
the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse, as it
switches from "pulling" from the front legs to "pushing" from the
The relationship between the mercurial Muybridge and his patron
broke down in 1882 when Stanford commissioned a book called The
Horse in Motion as Shown by Instantaneous Photography which omitted
actual photographs by Muybridge, relying instead on drawings and
engravings based on the photographs, and which gave Muybridge scant
credit for his work.
The lack of photographs was likely simply due to the printing
constraints of the time but Muybridge took it as a slap in the face
and filed an unsuccessful law suit against Stanford. In 1874, still
living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his
wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he
sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge
and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife"; he then
proceeded to fatally shoot the major.
Muybridge believed Larkyns to be his son's true father, although, as
an adult, he bore a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge. He was put
on trial for murder, but was acquitted as a "justifiable homicide."
The inquiry interrupted his horse photography experiment, but not
his relationship with Stanford, who paid for his criminal defense.
An interesting aspect of Muybridge's defense was a plea of insanity
due to a head injury Muybridge sustained following his stagecoach
accident. Friends testified that the accident dramatically changed
Muybridge's personality from genial and pleasant to unstable and
erratic. Although the jury dismissed the insanity plea, it is not
unlikely that Muybridge did experience emotional changes due to
brain damage in the frontal cortex, often associated with traumatic
After the acquittal, Muybridge left
the U.S. for a time to take photographs in Central America,
returning in 1877. His had his son, Florado Helios Muybridge
(nicknamed "Floddie" by friends), put in an orphanage. As an adult,
Floddie worked as a ranch hand and gardener. At 29 he was hit by a
car and did not survive his injuries.
This episode in Muybridge's life is the subject of The Photographer,
a 1982 opera by Philip Glass, with words drawn from the trial and
Muybridge's letters to his wife.
Several of his photographic sequences were published in 1980 as
coffee-table books under the title Studies of Animal Locomotion.
Hoping to capitalize upon the considerable public attention those
pictures drew, Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope, a machine
similar to the Zoetrope, but that projected the images so the public
could see realistic motion. The system was, in many ways, a
precursor to the development of the motion picture film. His
presentations, in Europe and the United States, were widely
acclaimed by both the public and specialist audiences of scientists
At the Chicago 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Muybridge gave a
series of lectures on the Science of Animal Locomotion in the
Zoopraxographical Hall, built specially for that purpose in the
"Midway Plaisance" arm of the exposition. He used his zoopraxiscope
to show his moving pictures to a paying public making the Hall, the
very first commercial movie theater.
At the University of Pennsylvania and the local zoo Muybridge used
banks of cameras to photograph people and animals to study their
movement. The models, either entirely nude or with as little
clothing as a cache-sexe, were photographed in a variety of
undertakings, ranging from boxing, to walking down stairs, to
throwing water over one another and carrying buckets of water.
Between 1883 and 1886 he made a total of 100,000 images, working
under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. They were
published as 781 plates comprising 20,000 of the photographs; a
collection titled Animal Locomotion. Muybridge's work stands near
the beginning of the science of biomechanics and the mechanics of
Recent scholarship has pointed to the influence of Étienne Jules de
Marey on Muybridge's later work. Muybridge visited Marey's studio in
France and saw Marey's stop-motion studies before returning to the
U.S. to further his own work in the same area. However, whereas
Marey's scientific achievements in the realms of cardiology and
aerodynamics (as well as pioneering work in photography and
chronophotography) are indisputable, Muybridge's efforts were to
some degree artistic rather than scientific. As Muybridge himself
explained, in some of his published sequences he substituted images
where exposures failed, in order to illustrate a representative
movement (rather than producing a strictly scientific recording of a
particular sequence). Also, his creation of images of nude women in
all manner of poses seems rooted in prurient rather than scientific
Similar setups of carefully timed multiple cameras are used in
modern special effects photography with the opposite goal: capturing
changing camera angles with little or no movement of the subject.
Eadweard Muybridge returned to his native England in 1894, published
two further, popular books of his work, and died on May 8, 1904 in
Kingston upon Thames while living at the home of his cousin
Catherine Smith, Park View, 2 Liverpool Road. The house has a
British Film Institute commemorative plaque on the outside wall.
Muybridge was cremated and his ashes interred at Woking.