Defining Muybridge

As was pointed out here recently, this is turning out to be the year of Eadweard Muybridge. The sequence photographer whose work laid paths both technological and intellectual towards motion pictures isn’t enjoying a centenary of any sort, but nevertheless we have a major exhibition now running Washington until July, moving to Tate Britain in London in September, and San Francisco in February 2011; a new critical biography by Marta Braun to be published in September; other events, exhibitions and symposia (there was a one-day event at the BFI South Bankon May 21st); and now a new website: Eadweard Muybridge: Defining Modernities.

The website has been produced in collaboration by Kingston University and Kingston Museum in the UK, Kingston being Muybridge’s home town. It sets out “to provide a definitive research resource surrounding the work of 19th Century photographer Eadweard Muybridge”, and it has gone about its task in a particularly handsome way. The site is divided into four main sections: Collection Map & Database; Muybridge: Image & Context; Comparative Timelines; and Bibliography.

The Collections Map & Database lists “all known physical collections of Muybridge’s work housed in cultural organisations around the world; as well as selected collections of rare books published by Muybridge during his lifetime”. The search form on the front page suggests that the research will be able to locate individual items in these collections through a single database, but in fact you are pointed to a more basic collection guide with indication of number of Muybridge-related items held. You can refine your research by country and category, and see the collections arranged on a world map.

‘Boy. Child without legs. Getting off chair’, from

Muybridge: Image & Context is a set of useful short essays on key aspects of Muybridge’s work, beautifully illustrated with slide shows (Muybridge remains an absolute gift to any designer). Themes include The Modern City, Landscape, Foreign Bodies, and The Human Figure in Motion.

Comparative Timelines is a browsable timeline of the Muybridge era, 1800-1907 (he lived 1830-1904). It allows you to trace events in his personal life, film history, invention, photography, US history and world history side-by-side. Finally there is a bibliography, with a surprisingly brief supplementary list of web links.

Eadweard Muybridge: Defining Modernities is a pleasure to look at and easy to navigate. It has ambitions to become the definitive resource for Muybridge online, and hopefully it will indeed build on these good foundations, though it has a little way to go before it can match Stephen Herbert’s solo production The Compleat Muybridge (oddly not included among the site’s links) for its range and comprehensiveness.

And there’s more. Also just launched is Muybridge in Kingston, a site which usefully brings together Muybridge collections, events and projects located in Kingston, which certainly is doing its native son proud. Next, the always excellent Luminous Lint photography website has an online exhibition entitled Scientific Movement. Created by Alan Griffiths, the exhibition traces the history of the efforts by scientists to capture movement through photography, covering Muybridge, his great French contemporary E.J. Marey, and others whose less familiar work continued well into the twentieth-century: Ottomar Anschütz (1846-1907), Arthur Clive Banfield (1875-1965), Prof. A.M. Worthington, Ernst Mach, the Bragaglia brothers in Italy, Frank B. and Lillian Gilbreth and Harold E. Edgerton (1903-1990).

Finally, as a taster for what we in the UK can expect in September, here’s short promo for the Washington exhibition, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change:

8 responses

  1. Date of exhibition in San Fran is 2011, not 2001, just a typo I am aware, but still important!

  2. Many thanks. And thnak you for such a great review of our portal!

  3. I came across a series of posts inspired by the Corcoran exhibit. A scholar of one of our man’s rivals, Carleton Watkins, has a theory that many of the early images attributed to Muybridge were purchased by him from other photographers, including Watkins, for resale. Watkins was a great San Francisco photographer who lost his studio and all of his negatives in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

    Here is the introduction with links to the three parts:

  4. Muy Blog reports on this, at As a part-time Shakespearean, it does rather remind me of those who are so anxious to prove that he could not possibly have written plays of such genius, being a mere low actor from Stratford, so it has to have been Bacon, Marlowe, or the Earl of Oxford (see the upcoming Roland Emmerich movie Anonymous). But it is intriguing to ponder just from where Muybridge gained such superlative photographic skills.

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    “The First Filmed Kiss”

    Beverly, Massachusetts – February 3, 2011 – First filmed kiss rediscovered and to be shared with the public on Valentine’s Day as part of the launch of the Eadweard Muybridge Online Archive ( The Kiss, curiously between two unclothed women, was produced as part of Muybridge’s famous 19th century motion studies.

    The Kiss, like most of the image sequences in the Muybride Online archive, was produced some time between 1872 and 1885, significantly before the invention of the motion picture camera. It was created using banks of still cameras firing in sequence. Artist and educator David Gordon has compiled the frames into a digital film loop showing the kiss once again in motion, possibly for the first time since it was shot in the late 1800’s.

    This labor of love is being shared on Valentine’s Day, in hopes of bringing greater attention to the fascinating work of Muybridge, “The Father of Film” and to the Muybridge Online Archive. For the first time the general public, artists and academics will have easy access to the majority of Eadweard Muybridge’s groundbreaking and beautiful photographic studies of humans and animals in motion. These extremely high resolution photographs, including all eleven volumes of Animal Locomotion, will be provided free of charge and without restriction, and will be suitable for printing. This project would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of the Boston Public Library and its Rare Books Department who kindly provided access to Muybridge’s original publications and helped to digitize thousands of images.

    The Kiss, like many of the photographic series Muybridge created, was intended to inform the scientific and artistic understanding of human motion. To that end, many of these photos are of minimally clad or unclothed people engaged in everyday activities such as walking or working. He may have chosen to photograph the kiss with two women because in the context of Victorian culture this was more likely to be seen as innocent. For this reason many of Muybridge’s photos showing interactions between what might be expected to be men and women use women for both roles.

    Dave Gordon, the creator and curator of the Muybridge online archive, is an artist and academic, teaching at North Shore Community College in Beverly, MA. For a number of years, he has been working to create a short film called Victorian Dream entirely from Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs which upon its completion may be the oldest narrative film ever made. The impetus for the Muybridge online archive emerged from the difficulty Gordon had gaining access to Muybridge’s images and his frustration with the desire of many institutions and individuals to profit from this long out of copyright material.

    We invite you to view the Eadweard Muybridge Online Archive, under construction at
    Launch date: February 14th, 2011
    Attached images: Single frame of the kiss and photograph of Eadweard Muybridge

    Dave Gordon
    Ph. 347-404-5510


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