Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge was originally named Edward James Muggeridge; he changed his name to Muybridge because he believed it was Anglo-Saxon original version. He was born in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England on April 9, 1830. The English photographer moved to the United States as a young man and was unknown until 1868. Muybridge is known for his studies of motion in photographs of people and animals. He began taking architectural and landscape photographs before his interest in motion.

Muybridge followed acquaintance Silas T. Selleck from New York City to San Francisco, California in 1855. He worked as a private bookseller and a commission agent for the London Printing and Publishing Company to pay his expenses. Selleck introduced Muybridge to photography with Daguerre’s photographic processes. It was not however until 1860 that Muybridge explored photography.

He had traveled back to England and suffered injuries from a stagecoach accident. The Royal Physician Sir William Gull prescribed outdoor activities to restore Muybridge’s health. He returned to California in 1867.

Yosemite Falls

Muybridge began photographing Yosemite Valley, California; creating his fame with the Californian scenery he enjoyed. After the reputation he had created with the images of ‘Mirror Lake’ and ‘Yosemite Falls’ Muybridge developed a specialty in industrial photography. He photographed the Pacific Coast for the government. He also participated in the official expedition to Alaska in 1867 when the territory was acquired from Russia.

Mirror Lake

Leland Stanford approached Muybridge in 1872 to photograph a moving horse as part of a bet. Stanford wanted to prove that a running horse would have all four legs in the air at the same time. Muybridge experimented with Stanford’s horse, Occident. He first created a track for the horse to run on and then had to train Occident to run on a white surface. After failed attempts of capturing Occident running, he invented one of the first shutters for a camera to capture motion.

Muybridge would lay strings across the track connected to electronic switches of twelve cameras. As the horse ran and broke the strings the shutter would release and capture the movement. The images of the horse did not look the way horses had been painted traditionally and were considered to be false. Stanford used the images Muybridge captured to advance training methods at Stanford’s Palo Alto Stock Farm and to improve the horses’ performance on California’s race courses. 

Galloping horse

During the 1880s Muybridge patented the camera shutters he invented to capture motion. Provost William Pepper invited him to work at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1880s for his studies. The university created a commission to supervise Muybridge’s research.

The commission was established in March 1884, included Pepper, Thomas Eakins and Edward H. Coates, chairman of the Committee on Instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and University of Pennsylvania professors of anatomy, physics, veterinary medicine, dynamical engineering, and physiology.

Ascending stairs

Although the commission was created to supervise Muybridge to ensure the studies were purely academic, there was little evidence that the members participated; indicating that Muybridge was unsupervised during his studies.

While working at the university, he expanded his research to the human figure and created 561 plates presenting people varied from mundane to absurd acts. Muybridge photographed men wrestling, women dancing together and a woman chasing another woman with a broom.

Head-spring, a Flying Pigeon Interfering

Descending stairs and turning around

Muybridge published eleven volumes of his studies on the human figure titled Animal Locomotion in 1887. Pepper financed the publication with donations from prominent members of the Philadelphia community, including the publisher of the volumes, J. B. Lippincott. Although the volumes were published due to contributions, the investors expected to be reimbursed.

The university created the financial terms "that the work is to be done in the enclosure of the veterinary department of the University of Pennsylvania during the spring or summer of '84; that the publication is to be made as under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania and that the money thus to be advanced is to be secured by the subscription list of the proposed publication.” Muybridge agreed to the terms and published a Prospectus and Catalogue of Plates in an attempt to sell subscriptions.

Child bringing a bouquet to a woman 

The subscriptions were limited to a higher class of clients. Individual plates were not available to be purchased unless a complete volume of one hundred plates had already been purchased. A single volume was priced for one hundred dollars and included one hundred plates. If a collector desired to purchase the entire set, it was available for five hundred or five hundred and fifty dollars if the client requested a bound edition. 

The volumes were collected for their scientific information and were used as artists’ aids. Although, some clients purchased the volumes solely for the visual pleasure of the images.

Animal Locomotion (Plate 163)

His studies of motion forced an advance of techniques in instantaneous photography. However, Muybridge did not use the consecutive images from a study. He would crop, cut and recombine his images for a more aesthetic appearance. He photographed his subjects nude to present all movements the body created. Since the photographs were restricted to an analytical study, Muybridge was able to publish his images without repercussion from the Victorian society and considered scandalous.

During the 1890s Muybridge patented the Zo√∂praxiscope, a device that simulated motion when a study was placed inside and began to spin. The zo√∂praxiscope allowed him to demonstrate his techniques and results. In 1904, he won the title “father of the motion picture” with his studies.

In 1875, Muybridge sailed from San Francisco to Panama after being acquitted from a murder charge. His images from Guatemala produced a photographic essay of a society dependant on coffee produce and with a new political organization. The images provide the story of the city’s transformation into a modern metropolis. Muybridge captured the city hall under construction and a factory with stacks of smoke signifying industrial activity. 

When Muybridge returned to San Francisco, he continued in the documentary style and photographed the construction of the San Francisco Old Mint. The construction started in 1869 and continued until 1870. The mint opened November 5, 1874.

Muybridge returned to his home town Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England and died May 8, 1904.


Bullough, William A.. Eadweard Muybridge and the Old San Francisco Mint: Archival Photographs as Historical Documents. California Historical Society. California History. Vol. 68, No. 1/2 (Spring - Summer, 1989), pp. 2-13. October 21, 2010. URL:

Mileaf, Janine A.. Poses for the Camera: Eadweard Muybridge's Studies of the Human Figure. The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Smithsonian American Art Museum American Art. Vol. 16, No. 3 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 30-53. October 23, 2010. URL:


Newhall, Beaumont. Masters of Photography. October 1982. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. 2010. October 24, 2010.

San Francisco Museum and Historical Society. October 31, 2010.


Eadweard Muybridge. 'Mirror Lake, Yosemite, 1867'. Elizabeth K. Raymond Fund. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Yosemite Falls 1868. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Zo√∂praxiscope, 1879 (modified 1892/3). © 2004 Kingston Museum and Heritage Centre, Surrey. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). The Relative Absolute. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal Locomotion (Plate 163). Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, Inc. 1887. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Galloping Horse. 1878. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Ascending Stairs. 1884-85. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Descending stairs and turning around. 1884-85. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Child bringing a bouquet to a woman. 1884-85. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Head-spring, a Flying Pigeon Interfering. 1885. October 23, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Panels Three, Four, and Five San Francisco Panorama preserve the view southward from Nob Hill across the South of Market District to China Basin and Mission Bay. 1878. Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries. October 21, 2010. URL:

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