Eadweard Muybridge and Baseball-in-Motion

By Edelman, Rob | Base Ball, April 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Eadweard Muybridge and Baseball-in-Motion


Edelman, Rob, Base Ball


Aficionados of 19th century photography, early motion pictures - and baseball- surely will be captivated by certain still photos and moving images that populate the internet. Google the words "Muybridge" and "baseball," and you will come up with websites featuring photographic images, dating from the 1880s, that undoubtedly galled those who embraced the era's Victorian reserve. These images are of young males sans clothing, and who are depicted pitching, batting, catching, throwing, running and pick- ing up a ball, and catching and dropping a ball.

The "Muybridge" in question is Eadweard Muybridge, a seminal figure in the history of the moving image in that he was the first to employ photography in a comprehensive study of the dynamics of motion. Simply put, Muybridge made a series of still photo- graphs of his subjects. He then laid them out in chronological order to produce what in essence were moving images, which could be studied to determine the nature of motion. In so doing, Muybridge was creating a kind of motion picture several years before the actual invention of motion picture technology.

Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge in 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, England. He came to the United States in the early 1850s, worked in the publishing and book-selling industries, and returned home at decade's end. While in England, he became intrigued by still photography and soon came back to the United States. He eventually settled in California and, by 1867, he was calling himself "Eadweard Muybridge" and describing himself as an "artist-photographer." In subsequent years, he took countless landscape photos; one of his most successful projects was a series, titled Scenery of the Yosemite Valley, which was published in 1868.

A prime assignment for Muybridge came in 1 872 when Leland Stanford, the railroad tycoon and former governor of California, hired him to photograph a horse while trot- ting. It was Stanford's belief that, when a horse trots, all four of his hooves are off the ground and in the air in certain moments: a hypothesis that only could be conclusively proven by capturing images that otherwise are imperceptible to the naked eye. Stanford had in fact placed a $25,000 bet that this was true, and hired Muybridge to help him win the wager. Muybridge's initial photographs- the first-ever lateral images of a trotting horse- were inconclusive, but a different set he made soon afterward convinced Stanford that his theory was correct.

By this time, Muybridge no longer was content merely to photograph scenery or other still images. He became fascinated by the possibilities of serial photography, of creating groups of still images which gave the appearance of movement when placed side-by-side or in a circular fashion. With the financial support of Stanford, he began a series of experiments in which he photographed animals in motion. This project was stalled when he was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the 1874 murder of Major Harry Larkyns, who was having an affair with his wife, Flora. However, Muybridge returned to his experimentation in earnest three years later.

His accomplishments at this juncture included the development of a camera shutter that allowed him to photograph each image in a fraction of a second. He also lined up 12 still cameras, each with an electromagnetic shutter, to simultaneously pho- tograph trotting horses in sequence-and then repeated the experiment, only this time with twice as many cameras. The resulting images, which illus- trated the horses' movements in exacting detail, were extensively printed in a range of periodicals-and brought Muybridge international acclaim. Furthermore, he concocted what came to be known as the zoopraxiscope: a device that may be the first-ever projector of images in motion. The zoopraxiscope pro- jected onto a lighted screen a succession of still images that were affixed to slides, which then were placed on spinning glass disks. Each image depicted the subject in motion in split-second intervals, resulting in a repetitive moving image. …

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