Exhibition: Eadweard Muybridge, Tate Britain, London, until January 16 2011
© Wilson Centre for Photography
When taking early pictures of the Yosemite Valley in 1867, Eadweard Muybridge went the extra mile: he chopped down "scores" of trees according to a California paper.
This headlong plunge into virgin territory then characterised the rest of his career. He took groundbreaking panoramic city shots. He took pioneering photos of animals and people in motion. And his invention of the Zoopraxiscope was a huge leap forward in the presentation of moving images.
If Muybridge was driven, then the market was his muse. Government PR work took him to Alaska and a corporate gig found him in Central America. Crisp, picture book views of lighthouses came by way of a US federal survey, while fascinating portraits of Native Americans were briefed by the army. The sweeping Yosemite photos were tourist souvenirs.
In 1877 Muybridge took a 360 degree shot of San Francisco. It took six hours, but he then sold the work in albums at $10 a time and in 1877 that was big bucks.
Even his most famous discovery was bought and paid for by a wealthy patron. Leland Stanford was a racehorse owner so finding out that running horses, as it were, was of some use to his breeding programme. The shock waves Muybridge sent through art history with his stop motion camera work were really a happy side effect.
© San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Accessions Committee Fund and gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Frish Brandt
These animal motion studies still hold the power of surprise. A speeding greyhound is almost liquid. A jumping horse appears to decompose and recompose on either side of its hurdle. These everyday creatures are more mercurial than you would imagine.
But the same may be said of people. Francis Bacon's distorted subjects are inspired by none other than Muybridge. Wrestlers, boxers, acrobats and life models all posed for him when he later worked for the University of Pennsylvania. An elephant, eagle, buffalo, baboon and cockatoo were among the animals he added to his range.
Photography was by now a broader and deeper medium. If Muybridge was in it for the money, you would have to call that good value.
Admission £10(£8/9). Open 10am-6pm daily (until 10.00pm on the first Friday of each month).
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