Google is honoring the birthday of Eadward Muybridge with a very slick animated logo. (Depending on where in the world you live, it may not be live yet, but it will be.) Muybridge, of course, is the photographer known for his groundbreaking research on animal motion, capturing stills of high-speed locomotion at a time when photography was a slow, arduous process. He was also a pioneer of film, inventing a device for displaying short sequences of moving images. But I can’t help but think that the focus on film, and Google’s decision to animate Muybridge’s horse sequence, is a bit off the mark.
Muybridge is mostly known for his photographs of horses in motion. Above is part of one sequence. These pictures were taken in order to settle the question of whether or not all the horse’s hooves at any time during the trot are off the ground simultaneously. As can be seen here, the answer is yes. But that’s precisely it: it can only be seen because Muybridge has frozen the motion. By animating these pictures, you negate their whole reason for existing: they exist because they allow us to see something we can’t see when the horse is in motion. Humans have always been able to see moving images: it’s called normal vision. But, weird as it may seem, it’s less than two hundred years since we learned how to visually freeze motion. That was the novelty, not the moving images.
Maybe I’m a little annoyed because it feels like some people, not in the art world, but in the larger world, see photography as a lesser form of film, as if the fact that photographs are the atoms of movies means that movies are inherently superior. We are saturated in visual culture, still images more so than movies, but film gets the mainstream appeal and rakes in the big bucks. But here is a thing that is significant precisely because it does what movies don’t—and it kind of annoys me to see it usurped by another medium.
(Of course, there is no real battle here: film and photography can, and do, happily co-exist. But it happens that, although I love film, I love photography even more as an artistic medium, and I think that Muybridge is and deserves to be honored as a photographer first, proto-film-maker second.)Apr 9, 2012