Monday, March 28, 2011

On the sculpture trail: meet Edward James Muybridge , the “father of cinema,“ in San Francisco


The sculpture of Eadward James Muybridge, the “father of cinema,” has been placed only a few steps away from the sculpture of Philo Farnsworth, the “inventor of television.” Eadweard Muybridge conducted photographic experiments with trotting horses on the Palo Alto Stock Farm at Stanford, south of San Francisco, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He wanted to prove his theory that, at one point in its steady gait, a trotter has all four feet off the ground. The relief of horse-riding snapshots, designed half-way around the middle part of the sculpture, are referring to those first advances in capturing moving objects at speed—the early days of film making.

Rebecca Solnit passionately portraits Muybridge and his time, during which discoveries in science and technology were still connected with art, yet in most cases depending on successful business, sponsorship and funding as today. A time of both roughness and freedom: opportunities did not simply appear for free. She gave her fascinating account the fitting subtitle “Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West,” weaving together biography, history and Californian landscapes [1]: Edward James Muggeridge [his name varies, depending on source text, and was also changed by himself] was born on April 9, 1830, in Kingston-upon-Thames not far from London in England. He was forty-two when his love for bodies in locomotion resulted in motion studies. Muybridge called himself a “photographic artist” and is often described as flamboyant or odd, an outlandish character novelists wish they had invented [2].

By the way, Muybridge's motion subjects were not just horses. His film strips also show female dancers as well as nude male walkers and disk throwers.

References and suggested reading
[1] Rebecca Solnit:
River of Shadows. Penguin Books Ltd, London, England, 2003.
[2] Mitchell Leslie: The Man Who Stopped Time [Stanford Magazine].

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