At first glance, the waltzing duo photographed in the series above makes one’s heart swoon with nostalgic notions from an embrace lingering in time. Not to say that the photographer, Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), wasn’t a romantic chap as he was definitely a man of character, but his photographic intentions weren’t exactly to conjure tender sentiments. Rather, his objectives were more scientific: isolate and analyze physical movement of humans and animals alike. Not forgoing artistic expression, as science aided in the public’s acceptance of the then-provocative mostly nude photographs to later become celebrated as works of art.
The photos shown here are all from Muybridge’s collection Animal Locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements, created from 1872 –1885, published by the University of Pennsylvania in 1887. Animal Locomotion consisted of 781 plates, each plate contained a series of rapid succession, still frame photos in varying angles. Muybridge posed his models in scenarios ranging from simple to silly, and always in accordance with gender roles of the Victorian era. Men typically exhibited their athletic prowess, from heaving large rocks to replicating field work, while women often either danced or carried out chores with nymphean grace for the camera. Ladies handling water in a variety of ways, carrying jars, pouring on each other from buckets, or sprinkling on the ground, seemed to be a favorite aesthetic for Eadweard.
The University of Southern California Digital Library has 701 of the 781 plates from Animal Locomotion for the public to view online. The clever folks at the USC Digital Library have included animated gifs with each plate, bringing Eadweard’s figures back to life. Mr. Muybridge, I hope you are as tickled as I am with USC’s resuscitations.