MORRIS LAKIN LOOKS AT TWO BOOKS: ‘ANIMALS IN MOTION’ AND ‘THE HUMAN FIGURE IN MOTION’
Previously, if you had suggested to me that a nineteenth century photographer could be of help to me in animating I would have been rather dubious about it. But Eadweard Muybridge was more than a photographer, he was an innovator and a student of motion, the first man able to prove that he had made accurate assertions about how animals moved. It may seem incredible to us but a hundred years or so ago people did not know how animals moved for sure, until Muybridge came along and utilised dry plate photographic techniques to study the subject.
Not a great deal is known about Muybridge, but he was born in England on April 9th 1830 by the name of Edward Muggeridge. He travelled to America in the early 1850s. There, legend has it that a horse breeder made a bet of $25,000 with another man about the position of a horse’s feet while in motion. Muybridge came to settle this argument with a series of photographs.
In 1883 Muybridge was taken under the wino of the University of Pennsylvania in order to produce an extensive work on animals in motion, and human motion in particular.
Muybridge first published plates from these researches in 1887 in several forms, at an extremely high price of around $500 for the collection. The present two works, ‘The Human Figure in Motion’ and ‘Animals in Motion’ are taken from the original published works and contain reproduction of most of the original plates.
The main body of the books consist of series of photographs of particular actions of animals (including human animals). Sometimes the same action is studied simultaneously from two or three directions.
Sometimes a number of subjects are shown performing the same action to give some idea of individual characteristics. Some of the images show their age by their condition but are adequate for the purpose.
You may think that you know how people move, but studying still photographs of humans in action can show (what are to me at any rate) incredible and subtle poses that are moved through during motion. Plate 92 shows a man getting up and image 6 looks as if he could not possibly make it – but he does. The man is caught in mid motion, and it looks as if nothing is supporting him. Of course, it is a frozen moment from a dynamic situation. It is interesting to see the position of the feet and attitude of the legs of the woman simply turning in plate 101. How precarious the figure walking upstairs looks in, for example, plate 14. No wonder so many accidents happen on stairs.
It is these unexpected ‘poses’ that hold the essential character of the motion because they show dynamics that otherwise could not easily be imagined.