Stopping Time: The Horse in Motion
In 1872 Muybridge’s photographic skills were called on to prove whether a galloping horse lifts all four hooves off the ground at one point in its sequence of motion. Some already suspected that this was so, but the key moment was too fleeting for the human eye to see. Muybridge’s experiments initially took place at the Sacramento racetrack, and were funded by the wealthy Leland Stanford. As the owner of many thoroughbred racehorses, Stanford wanted to understand the physiology of a horse’s movement to inform his breeding and training programmes. Given the limitations of photographic processes at this date, Muybridge’s first results were unpublishable.
But when he returned to address this challenge in 1877, first working in San Francisco and then at Stanford’s Palo Alto stock farm, he refined the available methods of instantaneous photography, introducing specially designed equipment that worked at faster speeds. By 1878 he was photographing horses in motion using batteries of cameras, their shutters triggered by the horse’s movement over trip wires. The results were a technical and conceptual breakthrough. In their published form they laid out the span of time captured by the cameras as sequences of stop-motion images unlike anything that had been seen before.