Art Review: Eadward Muybridge @ Tate Britain

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 95 months ago
Art Review: Eadward Muybridge @ Tate Britain

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Horses. Running. Phryne L. Plate 40, 1879, by Eadward Muybridge
Seldom is a major gallery retrospective complete these days without a trite expository subtitle; hence posters around town for the Tate's major exhibition on 19th century photographer Eadward Muybridge bear the legend: "The man who proved horses could fly".

Fortunately, the show itself doesn't reduce the man to gimmickry. Born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston-upon-Thames, and still feted by his hometown (the Kingston Museum is concurrently hosting its own show), Muybridge found his true calling in California, where in the 1860s he began photographing Yosemite. Using the wet-collodion process, which requireS immediate development and necessitated Muybridge lugging heavy equipment to remote regions of the state, the photographer took liberties that Photoshop warriors might think twice about: dragging in Native Americans to populate uninhabited vistas, or superimposing the same aesthetically pleasing cloudscape in numerous shots. The results, however, are stunningly vivid.

Having experimented in pushing forward shutter speed technology, in 1875 Muybridge was asked to help win a bet made by former California governor Leland Stanford and prove that, whilst galloping, a horse's four hooves are simultaneously off the ground. In setting up a series of cameras at Palo Alto, and firing them as the horse galloped past, Muybridge was able to do just that, and in the process changed photography from a painterly concern into a scientific device that could be used to record acts the human eye could not see. The collection Animal Locomotion, which provided similar studies of the motion of thousands of animals and people, soon followed, and it led to his invention of the zoopraxiscope, which displayed motion pictures. 1893 found Muybridge at the Chicago World's Fair, showing paying customers his invention, and just a few years later, cinema was born.

Though tending toward the little hagiographic — Muybridge's murder of his wife's lover is briskly covered, and there's little mention of his contemporary Étienne-Jules Marey, whose work with the photographic gun was hugely influential — this is a rewarding and comprehensive, if at times overly reverent, exhibition.

Eadward Muybridge at Tate Britain, Tickets cost £10, including entry to Rachel Whiteread Drawings. Until January 16th 2011

Last Updated 13 September 2010