Photographs That Led to Hollywood; MOTION STUDIES: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge by Rebecca Solnit (Bloomsbury, U16.99)

Article excerpt

Byline: LESLEY GARNER

EVERY student of film and animation knows the name of Muybridge. So do photographers, artists, physiologists, scientists. He was a photographer who transformed the technology and subject matter of photography. He learned how to stop time and restart it, he made the invisible visible and froze it before he set it running again. He showed us how horses trot and birds fly.

He was the man whose work gave birth to film and taught us all how bodies work in motion.

In Motion Studies, Rebecca Solnit has created a work which not only describes Muybridge's intellectual adventure but sets it in the history of the American West, and in particular, the growth of San Francisco, the city where Muybridge's self-invention and scientific and artistic exploration took place. She is an historian of California, a native of San Francisco, and she writes so vividly about the excitement and turmoil of the burgeoning state that Muybridge becomes, in her book, a figure in a fast-changing landscape.

Like much of the population of San Francisco, Muybridge was an immigrant and a self-made man. He had been born Edweard Muggeridge in Kingston upon Thames in 1830 where he was remembered as a bright, eccentric boy, determined to make his name.

His early years in America are shadowy and, throughout the book, he comes in and out of focus as a personality, trying out new identities and new names. E Muygridge crops up as a bookseller in San Francisco.

Then he becomes a photographer, taking assistants and pack trains of equipment to capture the wilderness, even as the railroad, the Indian Wars and the Gold Rush are taming and exploiting it.

Muybridge comes most vividly into focus at the most dramatic point in his life, when, demented by jealousy at the discovery that his wife's child is not his own, he shoots down her lover. An earlier stagecoach accident had left his personality altered, which gave the defence grounds, if a bit slim, for a plea of insanity. …