Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)

A series of photographs showing a horse galloping by Eadweard Muybridge (1830 - 1904)

Muybridge first photographed the human figure in motion on March 4th 1879. However, he did not focus on the human body until his contract at Pennsylvania University began in May 1884, resulting in two volumes of work dedicated to photographs of human subjects.

This extensive work depicted men, women and children variously running, jumping, falling and carrying out athletic or mundane activities. This section of Muybridge’s work reiterates the imperative Muybridge felt to explore time in modernity, as explored here through ‘Animals in Motion’. However, it also depicts, and perhaps helps consolidate a specifically American set of contemporary aspirations and ideals surrounding identity at Pennsylvania University.

As discussed in ‘Foreign Bodies’, the 19th Century in North America embodied strict racial hierarchies which helped unite the ‘civilized’ democratic world as a team, whilst validating the occupation of Native American Land. But this hierarchy was not only produced through the negative representation of non-western people. Racial ideals were configured for a new generation of western individuals too. And just as photography helped define non-western stereotypes it helped inscribe a new set of aspirations for westerners.

In his motion photography, Muybridge only used one non-white model – Ben Bailey – a mixed race male. Interestingly, Muybridge never used an anthropometric grid behind his subjects until he photographed Bailey, and never photographed the human figure without one afterwards (Brown, 2005 p637).

As Brown states, anthropometric grids were commonly used in 19th Century ethnographic photography to make objective studies of non-western bodies: highlighting physical differences which had grown to signify a lack of civilization to the western eye. Grids were particularly useful in this way as they gave photographic work the ‘aesthetic of science – dispassionate, orderly, coherent’ (Solnit, 2003, p195) which helped boost the truth-value of the photograph, and therefore helped inscribe racial stereotypes.

Gridded photographs of Ben Bailey helped situate him as ‘a racialised object’, reinforcing common negative stereotypes of the time surrounding primitivism and hyper-virility through his particularly muscular frame (Brown, p638). Conversely, Muybridge’s photographs of white males helped define a new positive set of ideals surrounding masculinity. These males were athletic, but not so overtly muscular, and represented a wider societal desire for young white males to achieve both intellectual and physical excellence; itself a subversion of stereotypes born from the previous generation of American intellectuals, who had suffered widely from neurasthenia.

Bailey thus provided a frighteningly exaggerated version of the physical ideal, whereas Muybridge’s white male subjects – mostly students and athletes from Pennsylvania University – represented a balanced version of this new aspiration for the next generation of American intellectual leaders. Pictures of men engaged in sporting events including fencing and boxing, as well as other physical activities such as hammering and lathing helped reinforce the dimensions of this new ideal masculinity – competitive, athletic and physically as well as intellectually able.

Just as ideals of maleness were embodied by Muybridge’s photography, so were images of femininity. These were more traditionally entrenched, but persuasive nonetheless. Women were pictured in graceful, domestic or maternal stances – and as is often the case in artistic representation, displayed for the viewer in representations far more sexualized than any pragmatic male nudity: often erring towards fantasy (Cresswell, 2006, p65)

Therefore white male athletic bodies and female sexualized domestic bodies represented racial stereotypes and social hierarchies just as clearly as images of Ben Bailey. Indeed, these were ideals consolidated by a final set of human bodies represented by Muybridge’s motion studies, those of disabled people – represented in a particularly scientistic and objective manner.

The plain contrast between medical abnormality and the physical ideal represented by this work clearly illustrates the 19th century trend of racial and bodily hierarchy Muybridge’s work functioned within. We might find this horrifying now, but we must not blame Muybridge for his sensibilities. A man of his time, Muybridge is an essential orator for the world he inhabited.

Select Bibliography

Brown, Elspeth H. ‘Racialising the Virile Body: Eadweard Muybridge’s Locomotion Studies 1883-1887. In Gender and History Vol 17 no 3 Nov 2005 pp627-656.

Cresswell ,Tim ‘Capturing mobility: mobility and meaning in the photography of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey’ On the Move (New York Routledge 2006)

Foucault, Michel Society Must Be Defended (London, Penguin, 2003)

Hargreaves, Roger The Beautiful and the Damned: the Creation of Identity in Nineteenth Century Photography (Hampshire, Lund Humphries 2001)

Poole, Deborah Vision, Race and Modernity (New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1997)

Solnit, Rebecca Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge. (London: Bloomsbury, 2003)


The Pre-Cinematic

Persistence Of Vision / Positive Afterimages

Our eyes offer one of the five specialized means by which our mind is able to form a picture of the world. The eye is a remarkable instrument, having certain characteristics to help us process the light we see in such a way that our mind can create meaning from it.

Take the motion picture, the scanning of an image for television, and the sequential reproduction of the flickering visual images they produce. These work in part because of an optical phenomenon that has been called “persistence of vision” and its psychological partner, the phi phenomenon—the mental bridge that the mind forms to conceptually complete the gaps between the frames or pictures.

Although the term persistence of vision has come to be seen as inadequate to fully describe this very complex physiological reality, it remains a standard expression and, as such, it serves as a useful metaphor.

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The Thaumatropic Theater, 2006
Sara Barry

The THAUMATROPE is a toy that was popular in Victorian times. A disk or card with a picture on each side is attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are twirled quickly between the fingers the two pictures appear to combine into a single image due to persistence of vision.

The ZOETROPE is a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures. It consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Beneath the slits, on the inner surface of the cylinder, is a band which has either individual frames from a video/film or images from a set of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures on the opposite side of the cylinder’s interior. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, so that the user sees a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, the equivalent of a motion picture. Cylindrical zoetropes have the property of causing the images to appear thinner than their actual sizes when viewed in motion through the slits.

The PRAXINOSCOPE is an animation device, the successor to the zoetrope. It was invented in France in 1877 by Charles-Émile Reynaud. Like the zoetrope, it used a strip of pictures placed around the inner surface of a spinning cylinder. The praxinoscope improved on the zoetrope by replacing its narrow viewing slits with an inner circle of mirrors, placed so that the reflections of the pictures appeared more or less stationary in position as the wheel turned. Someone looking in the mirrors would therefore see a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, with a brighter and less distorted picture than the zoetrope offered.

The PHENAKISTOSCOPE (also spelled phenakistiscope) is an early animation device, the predecessor to the zoetrope. It was invented in 1831 simultaneously by the Belgian Joseph Plateau and the Austrian Simon von Stampfer. One variant of the phenakistoscope was a spinning disc mounted vertically on a handle. Around the center of the disc was drawn a series of pictures corresponding to frames of the animation; around its circumference was a series of radial slits. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the disc’s reflection in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images kept them from simply blurring together, so that the user would see a rapid succession of images with the appearance of a motion picture. Another variant had two discs, one with slits and one with pictures; this was slightly more unwieldy but needed no mirror. Unlike the zoetrope and its successors, the phenakistoscope could only practically be used by one person at a time.


The STEREOSCOPE is a device for viewing stereographic cards, which are cards that contain two separate images that are printed side-by-side to create the illusion of a three-dimensional image. This is an example of stereoscopy. When stereographic cards are viewed without a stereoscopic viewer the user is required to force his eyes either to cross, or to diverge, so that the two images appear to be three. Then as each eye sees a different image, the effect of depth is achieved in the central image of the three. This is the oldest method of stereoscopy, having been discovered in the mid-19th century by Charles Wheatstone. In the late 19th and early 20th century stereo cards, stereo pairs or stereographs were popularly sold. The cards had a pair of photographs, usually taken with a special camera that took the pair of images from slightly separated views simultaneously. Cards were printed with these views (often with explanatory text); when the cards were looked at through the double-lensed viewer, called a stereoscope or a stereopticon (a common misnomer), a three-dimensional image could be seen.


The MAGIC LANTERN is an ancestor of the slide projector. With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen. By the 19th century, there was a thriving trade of itinerant projectionists, who would travel across the United Kingdom with their magic lanterns, and a large number of slides, putting on shows in towns and villages. Some of the slides came with special effects, by means of extra sections that could slide or rotate across the main plate. One of the most famous of these, very popular with children, was the Rat-swallower, where a series of rats would be seen leaping into a sleeping man’s mouth. During the Napoleonic wars, a series was produced of a British ship’s encounter with a French navy ship, ending patriotically with the French ship sinking in flames, accompanied by the cheers of the audience.


Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp, American (born France), 1887-1968
Nude Descending a Staircase, no 1, 1911
Media: Oil on cardboard on panel
37 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches (95.9 x 60.3 cm)


Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 – Marcel Duchamp. Artist: Marcel Duchamp. Completion Date: 1912. Place of Creation: France. Style: Cubism, Futurism

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés
August 15, 2009 – November 29, 2009

Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic assemblage Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) has been described by the artist Jasper Johns as “the strangest work of art in any museum.” Permanently installed at the Museum since 1969, this three-dimensional environmental tableau offers an unforgettable and untranslatable experience to those who peer through the two small holes in the solid wooden door.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of its public unveiling, Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés situates the extraordinary assemblage within the context of almost 100 related works of art, including all of its known studies and related materials, including books, photographs, and works on paper. Duchamp also made a number of “erotic objects,” small-scale sculptures that directly relate to the casting process of the female nude in Étant donnés. This exhibition brings these known works together with more than twenty previously unknown sculptures and studies. These unpublished works include erotic objects, body casts, prints, and notes, as well as over seventy Polaroid photographs taken by Duchamp of Étant donnés in his New York studio that provide the missing link in our understanding of the origins and evolution of Duchamp’s final masterwork. These Polaroids are shown alongside a series of photographs of the artist’s final studio at 80 East 11th Street, taken by a friend, Denise Brown Hare, following Duchamp’s death in 1968, which document Étant donnés before it was disassembled and moved to Philadelphia. The exhibition is drawn largely from the collections and archives of the Museum, and supplemented by loans from public and private collections in the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, and Israel. The accompanying 448-page catalogue explores the history and reception of Duchamp’s final masterpiece, as well as its legacy for contemporary artists such as Ray Johnson, Hannah Wilke, Robert Gober, and Marcel Dzama.

View objects in the exhibition >>

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of the late Anne d’Harnoncourt, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and C.E.O., who passed away on June 1, 2008. D’Harnoncourt was a respected Duchamp scholar who, as a 25-year old curatorial assistant, oversaw the painstaking installation of Étant donnés… at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with the artist’s widow Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp and his step-son Paul Matisse. In 1973 she co-organized, with Kynaston McShine, the Marcel Duchamp Retrospective exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which later traveled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Throughout her career, d’Harnoncourt sought to shed new light on Duchamp’s enigmatic final masterwork and offered early enthusiasm and steadfast support for this exhibition project and its related catalogue, both of which she was looking forward to seeing and reading with eager anticipation.

This exhibition and publication are generously supported by The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with additional funding from Mr. and Mrs. Aaron M. Levine and The John and Lisa Pritzker Family Fund. The catalogue was also made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications.

Michael R. Taylor • The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art