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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Google Doodle's Galloping Steed Commemorates Pioneering Photographer Edward Muybridge

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Today’s Google doodle pays homage to the photography of Eadweard J. Muybridge, pioneering photographer and inventor of the zoopraxiscope. If he had somehow survived to witness the multimedia era, Muybridge would be marking his 182nd birthday.

The running horse video, which replaces the Google logo today, comes from Muybridge’s most famous photographic experiment. Renowned for his landscape photography in the Yosemite Valley, Muybridge took on the challenge put forward by railroad baron, and former California governor Leland Stanford to answer a long-standing equine mystery. Stanford, founder of the eponymous university, was among those who contended that at a certain moment in a horse’s gait the animal “flew,” with all four legs in the air.

It would take Muybridge six years—with an intermission abroad after acquittal for the “justifiable homicide” of his second wife’s lover—to answer the question photographically. Using more than a dozen cameras along a racetrack, electronically timed apparatuses with a shutterspeed of about 2/1000 of a second, Muybridge confirmed Stanford’s suspicions.

On October 19, 1878, Muybridge’s photographs of the galloping horse, Abe Edgington, made the cover of Scientific American. The associated article noted, “every one interested in the physiology of animal action, not less than artists and horse-fanciers, will find the photographs of Mr. Muybridge indispensable.”

Though his relationship with Stanford would later turn rocky, Muybridge continued to photograph humans and animals in motion for the remainder of his career, contributing several important series while working with the University of Pennsylvania between 1884 and 1887. He also lectured on animal motion and used his zoopraxiscope, a lantern projection machine that turned rapidly through photo slides, to illustrate his talks. The device is considered an early contribution to the then-nascent technology of videography.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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