Pardon Me While I Disagree…
Slow Motion is a film-making effect of viewing an event slower than is perceived in the natural world. Or simply slo-mo, as we all know it. Over the last three years since the boom of DSLR video slow motion has become ever-growing in popularity and ease of use. For around a $1,000 you can come close to producing striking slow motion imagery that in the past decades cost well over tens of thousands of dollars. It was with the aid of photography in the late 19th century, that what started between a few men as a meaningless bet, eventually turned into a life lone scientific and artistic obsession to understand and document human and animal locomotion. It all started at a horse racing track in Palo Alto, California in the early 1970′s as a gentlemans bet between Senator and race enthusiast Leland Stanford (right) and some racegoers. A popular debate of the time was whether all four of a horses hoofs were ever off the ground at the same time at any point during the horses stride. Leland Stanford strongly disagreed and set out to prove his argument. Society as a whole aggreed that at no time was the horse ever completely off the ground, and most all depictions of horses in paintings throughout history showed either their back or front feet on the ground.
Passion, Genius, and Murder…
Stanford befriended some hired help, an eccentric english photographer by the name of Eadweard Muybridge (left). His task was to catch a horse in motion, hopefully airborne, thus proving Stanford’s suspicions. The success of this project would require the development of new photographic techniques and equipment. Firstly Muybridge would have to figure out a way to increase shutter speed to levels never before achieved in order to get a sharp image of an object in fast motion. Secondly, Muybridge would need to figure out a way to quickly take multiple pictures in succession to follow the horse as it moves. In 1873 he successfully used one camera to take a photo of a horse in full gallop at the exact moment in question. He found that for a moment, all four legs of the horse were off the ground at one time. Though the press accused Muybridge of tampering with the photograph and refused to acknowledge his findings as legitimate. Muybridge continued to refine his process.
In 1872 an 43 year old Muybridge married Flora Shalcross Stone, 21. Early into the marriage she gained an Admirer (common at the time for women to have admirers) Major Harry Larkyns. Muybrdige thought Flora and Harry’s relationship was exceedingly inappropriate, and eventually sent Flora to live with her mother in Oregon in an attempt to stop the affair. One day in 1874 Muybridge went to visit his wife only to find that she wasn’t home. He found on her table a picture of their son Floredo which he had never seen before. He picked up the photo and happened to turn it over. On the back was written “Little Harry”. Muybridge, enraged realizing his son was actually that of his wife’s lover, decided to halt the affair indefinitely. Muybridge boarded a train for an 80 mile journey Calistoga, California to confront the Major.
After dark on October 17th 1874 , Muybridge made his way to a hotel at the Yellow Jacket Mine where Major Harry Larkyns was staying. He called for Larkyns and when he came to the door Muybridge remarked “Good evening Major. I have brought a message from my wife, take it.” and just as the last word came out of his mouth, he pulled out a Smith and Wesson No. 2 Six Shooter, shooting Larkyns through the heart . Muybridge was arrested and put to trial.
Throughout the case his legal fees were paid for by his boss/parter Leland Stanford. He plead “not guilty” due to insanity, blaming a head injury from a stagecoach accident. After 13 hours of deliberation, the jury rejected his insanity plea but found him “not guilty” due to justifiable homicide. But the victory would be short lived, neither of them knew it at the time but it would be just five short years before they were back in court again, only this time facing off with one another…
A Horse Named Sallie Gardner…
After the trial Muybridge spend one to two years taking photos and traveling in Central America. This has been noted as a self imposed exile, I presume Muybridge was looking to leave the troubles he had in California and take some time to clear his mind and find himself. In 1877 he returned to Northern California. After 5 years of on and off experiments photographing animal locomotion, Muybridge was ready to debut his findings to the world and prove his experiments validity after being accused of photographic fraud in the past. Muybridge would take two sequences of photos and develop them on the spot for the press.It was a bright and clear Saturday morning June 15th, 1878, journalists and reporters alike from interest in arts to sports gathered for the exhibition.
He with the help of Stanford and engineer John D. Isaacs, set up Twelve Stereoscopic cameras along the sill of a shed aiming outward at a tall backdrop covered in a white sheet. Wires were placed so that the horses would break them as they ran perpendicular to the row of the cameras, triggering the shutter devises. The successive motion of two horses owned by Stanford would be captured for the press that day, Abe Edgington & Sallie Gardner. Edgington was to perform first; a trot with a rider in a Sulky ( similar to a chariot). Next was the main event, the answer to the question that started it all. Sallie Gardner ran unsaddled at a 1:40 Gait (~ 30mph). In just about three tenths of a second the dramatic metal and wood click of twelve shutters could be heard as Sallie went blazing past.
Sallie Gardner’s running gait as photographed by Eadward Muybridge in Palo Alto, California June 15th 1878.
Once the film was fully developed, Muybridge’s pictures revealed a horse with all four legs off the ground at once. The press was astounded. For the first time in history the intricate and graceful motion of a horse ( part of every day life back then) was revealed. Already a respected photographer of the time, Muybridge’s success on that morning threw him into an even brighter spotlight. By this time in his life, Muybridge had put all he was into this project, and he wasn’t about to stop yet.
…to be continued.
1. Lyman L. Palmer. “History of Napa and Lake Counties, California” San Francisco: Slocum, Bowen & Co., 1881, pages 152-153.
2. Muybridge, E.J. ”Method and Apparatus for Photographing Objects in Motion” U.S. Patent No. 212,864. March 4th, 1879.
3. Eugène Trutat “La Photographie Animée” Paris: Gauthier -Villars, Imprimeur- Libraire, 1899, page 11
4. Eadweard Muybridge. “Animals in Motion” London: Chapman & Hall, 1899 Walter R. Miles.
5. “The Stanford-Muybridge Motion Pictures of 1878-1879″ The Minnesota Bulletin Volume XIV Number 9, September 1929 Mitchell Leslie.
6. “The Man Who Stopped Time” Stanford Magazine May 2001 Brian Clegg.
7. “The Man Who Stopped Time” Washington DC, John Henry Press 2007
8.”Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography- A:1 Index Volume 1″ New York, NY, 2007, Taylor and Francis Group LLC, page 968