In 1878, the photographer Eadweard Muybridge proved that while in motion all four legs of a horse could be mid-air at once. His discovery caused a public sensation as this rapid motion could not be discerned by the human eye. By creating a completely new system of high-speed photography, Muybridge had effectively ‘frozen time’. Muybridge’s most ambitious publication, Animal locomotion :an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements, 1872-1885 (Phililadelphia,1887) is now available for consultation in the Early Printed Books reading room. For this work, Muybridge created 781 motion studies using the sophisticated equipment that he had developed. He could take up to 36 images of a single act; such as walking, jumping, wrestling, knitting or lying on the ground and reading.
At the time, Muybridge’s work gave him celebrity status, he travelled throughout America and Europe giving public lectures which were a mix of education and entertainment using his motion study images. He projected and animated the images using a device that he invented called the zoopraxiscope. His images and influence have had a far reaching effect in popular culture. Today they are considered to be part of the genesis of cinema.
The photographs were reproduced for publication using the collotype printing process. Invented in the 1850s, this planographic printing process utilises a printing surface created from reticulated gelatin. The publication method of Animal Locomotion was novel. It was possible, of course, to purchase the complete publication. However, many subscribers choose to make a selection of 100 plates at a cost of $1 per plate, which was then issued in a portfolio. Therefore, the Trinity Library copy of publication has the potential to be unique.
Unfortunately the portfolio which contained the complete 100 plates and title page is no longer extant rendering the printed plates vulnerable. The conservation treatment required to make the collection available was recently completed by Austin Plann Curley, a visiting student from Winterthur-University of Delaware Art Conservation Program and involved cleaning, repairing, documenting and collating the plates. A storage enclosure was custom-made in order to make the collection available to readers and preserve and protect this fascinating publication for future scholarship.
- Andrew Megaw MA, Senior Conservator of Books