“Only photography has been able to divide human life. into a series of moments, each of them has the value of a complete existence.” –Eadweard Muybridge


Eadweard Muybridge began life in England near the place monarchs were historically crowned. He changed his name from Muggeridge to Muybridge to, perhaps, recognize his Saxon identity. He moved to New York in 1852 then moved again to San Francisco where he opened a profitable bookstore.

In 1867 he photographed the Yosemite Valley, the same year that America purchased Alaska in the transaction known as “Seward’s Folly.” Muybridge was invited to document the new territory with his cameras. He photographed the Pacific railroads and lighthouses along that coast of the U.S. By 1868 he was named the director of photographic surveys for the government. In 1869 he invented one of the first camera shutters. He went on to document California winemaking in 1872.

Motion studies

Portrait of Eadweard Muybridge
Eadweard Muybridge

Also in 1872, Muybridge accepted a commission from Governor Leland Stanford to photograph the gait of his moving racehorse, Occident. This was no small challenge. The question of when the feet of a running horse touched the ground was perplexing, especially to painters depicting them on canvas.

The commission was delayed by a murder charge of which Muybridge was acquitted. He left the country for Central America where he continued making photographs of Mexico, Guatemala and Panama.

By 1877, Muybridge had returned and took up the commission. His first effort was rejected on the grounds that the images had been retouched — a common practice of the time. He repeated the project, with 12 cameras during a press conference so there would be no doubt that the photos were real. Each camera had an electrical device that would trip the shutters in sequence as the horse galloped by. On July 19, 1878, Governor Leland’s racing mare Sallie Gardner sped past the cameras. The result was a great success.

Muybridge went on to make sequences of movement diverse subjects from horses to birds to people climbing and descending stairs. In all, he produced over 100,000 photographs of animals and humans in motion.

Leland's racehorse, Occident, photographed by Eadweard Muybridge. The horse is moving at 36 feet per second. Its motion was frozen by one of Muybridge's shutters at 1/1000th of a second
Leland’s racehorse, Occident, is moving at 36 feet per second. Its motion was frozen by one of Muybridge’s shutters at 1/1000s.

Eadweard Muybridge — father of motion pictures

In 1880, Muybridge projected moving pictures of up to a hundred individual frames on a screen at the California School of Fine Arts. He named his projector the zoopraxiscope. He later met Thomas Edison who was working on the phonograph. Edison ultimately created the kinescope the predecessor to the movie camera. Muybridge did it first. He is unquestionably the father of the movies.

A zoopraxiscope disk by Eadweard Muybridge
One of Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope disks.

Eadweard Muybridge’s bio from the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.

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