Eadweard Muybridge was born Edward Muggeridge to a merchant family in Kingston upon Thames, England on April 9th 1830. Before his death in 1903, Muybridge would emigrate to America, change his name three times, come close to death and suffer brain damage in a carriage accident. Perhaps most sensationally, he would also be acquitted for the murder of Major Harry Larkyns, his wife’s lover, and the true father of his presumed son Floredo Helios Muybridge.
In fact, Muybridge enjoyed a professional life which may even have surpassed his sensational personal biography. He gained fame through adventurous and progressive landscape photography before working as a war and official government photographer; something which took him from the Lava beds of California during the Modoc War to Alaska and Central America.
Furthermore, Muybridge was instrumental in the development of instantaneous photography. To accomplish his famous motion sequence photography, Muybridge even designed his own high speed electronic shutter and electro-timer, to be used alongside a battery of up to twenty-four cameras!
While Muybridge’s motion sequences helped revolutionise still photography, the resultant photographs also punctuated the history of the motion picture. Muybridge actually came tantalisingly close to producing cinema himself with his projection device the ‘Zoöpraxiscope’. With this device, Muybridge lectured across Europe and America, using the Zoöpraxiscope to animate sequences from his motion studies.
One of the most fascinating things about Muybridge however, and something we hope to highlight here, is the relation of his body of work and working attitude to the equally astounding times in which he lived.
The 19th century, undoubtedly one of the most formative of the modern Western world, was as bent on progress, invention and innovation as Muybridge. Muybridge’s capacity for entrepreneurialism and progressive practice meant he invented photographic and moving image projection techniques which have helped build the motion picture industry we enjoy today. However, it also meant he documented some of the major events, and more subtly, the cultural and social landscape of the 19th century.