Muybridge and the Moving Picture

When an argument between Clarence Wellesby and Dickie Chalmers turned to fisticuffs at the Garrick Club, strangely named photographer Eadweard Muybridge offered a solution that would ultimately change the world.

Wellesby believed his beloved mare, Aphrodite, could run so fast she could fly, which Chalmers called bull on. It was agreed that flying should be defined as all four of the animal’s legs being clear of the ground at the same time. Unfortunately, human eyesight wasn’t good enough to prove the answer accurately. Muybridge had been hired by the Garrick for membership portraiture, and was able to offer his rational technical advice to solve the dilemma, for a small commission plus expenses.

Muybridge’s solution was to mount a series of 15 cameras at equal intervals down the side of Wellesby’s racing track. String was drawn across the track connected to each camera. When the string was broken the shutter would open and expose the photographic plate. Aphrodite galloped through, breaking the strings, resulting in 15 separate images produced showing the movement of the horse’s flight. These revealed that, for a split second, all four of Aphrodite’s legs were indeed clear of the earth, as all horse’s are. There was nothing special about Aphrodite, no matter how much Wellesby crowed.

Unable to cope with the humiliation of losing the bet, Dickie Chalmers did the honourable thing and shot himself. Clarence Wellesby’s triumph was short-lived however, as just a few weeks later his corpse was discovered in Aphrodite’s stables, his jodhpurs round his ankles and skull stoved in. Aphrodite was never seen again.

Eadweard Muybridge went on to build a successful career photographing all types of animal and human locomotion. When the photographic images were stuck on a revolving disc and passed in front of a light the flickering projection gave the semblance of natural movement. This machine was called the zoopraxiscope, and was the world’s first movie projector.

Motion pictures were therefore created to show just that – motion. Emotion would be added later with the introduction of narrative.

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