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Eadweard J. Muybridge, photo genius, killer, gets a Google Doodle

April 09, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • English photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge was a motion picture pioneer.
English photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge was a motion picture pioneer. (Eadweard Muybridge / SFMOMA )

Eadweard J. Muybridge, pioneer of motion photography and Google Doodle recipient, was so unique that he couldn't stick with his given name, Edward.  And that was long before the days of Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) and Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta).

The English photographer was an original whose stunning accomplishments were dimmed -- at least for a time -- by sordid, bloody happenings in his personal life.

Muybridge, born 182 years ago today in England, changed his name from Edward James Muggeridge because he wanted to adopt the original Anglo-Saxon form of his name, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica. Answers.com says, in fact, that he wanted to match the spelling of King Edward (962-79) as shown on the ancient Kingston coronation stone, re-erected in his hometown of Kingston in the 1850s. 

Showing the extent of his chutzpah, Muybridge also used the pseudonym Helios -- Greek god of the sun -- on many of his photos, as well as for the name of his studio and as the middle name of his child. He later came to believe that child was not his, but more about that later.

Muybridge gained worldwide fame in the late 1860s with his panoramic photos of Yosemite. But it was his attempts to set photos into motion that made him a legend. 

He was hired by railroad baron Leland Stanford in 1872. The wealthy racehorse owner wanted to prove that, as a horse is trotting, there's a point at which all four of the animal's legs are off the ground at once.  This was apparently a contentious issue, says Answers.com.  Muybridge tried to capture the moment with his camera, but lack of shutter speed got in his way.

Then a much-more-serious event interfered with his work on the project.  He was arrested and prosecuted in 1874 in the slaying of Harry Larkyns, the drama critic for the San Francisco Post.

Muybridge had married Flora Stone in 1872; she was 22 years his junior. While Muybridge was off taking pictures in the U.S. Northwest, apparently Flora and Larkyns began an affair. 

The Muybridges welcomed a son, Florado Helios Muybridge, in April 1874.  The photographer later found a picture among his wife's belongings that had the words "Little Harry" written on the back, according to a 2010 article by We Love D.C. about an extensive exhibition of Muybridge's work at the Corcoran.

Muybridge believed Larkyns was the father of the baby. In October 1874, Muybridge shot and killed Larkyns.  

The murder trial was juicy.  Muybridge's lawyer entered a plea of insanity against his wishes, but the jurors ultimately acquitted Muybridge. They found that the killing was justifiable homicide. 

After the trial, Muybridge went to work taking photos in Central America for two years.  While he was away, Flora died and Florado was placed in an orphanage. 

Life went on for Muybridge, who resumed his attempt to photograph Stanford's horses in motion.  Using 12 to 24 cameras and a shutter he had developed with an exposure of 2/1000 of a second, Muybridge succeeded in capturing the motion of the horse -- proving Stanford's firmly held notion.

He then gave a series of lectures, "Science of Animal Locomotion," in the U.S. and Europe with the help of his lantern-like device the Zoopraxiscope.  As Art Daily describes it, Muybridge "projected his images of suspended motion to create the illusion of movement."  It is this point to which many trace the origin of cinema.

Next, at the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge studied movement, photographing animals and people with banks of cameras. The human models were often naked, or nearly so, running, carrying buckets of water or pouring  water on one another, walking down stairs.  It was a "visual compendium of human movements," Britannica says, for artists and scientists. 

Muybridge retired to England in 1894 and died May 8, 1904. His work is said to have influenced artists such as Francis Bacon and Thomas Eakins, film pioneer Thomas Edison, high-speed photographer Harold Eugene Edgerton and filmmaker John Gaeta (whose slow-motion sequence in "The Matrix" features Keanu Reeves dodging bullets). 

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