Fragment #8: Sam Rohdie on Eadweard Muybridge’s Illusions

Muybridge’s locomotion studies though appearing to be successive moments of a continuous movement were at times faked. In these cases, he had his models pose in a succession of gestures imitating rather than enacting movement. A Muybridge nude descending a staircase or washing linen might, for example, hesitate at each step or each stage of the process. It was her pose in suspension that Muybridge photographed as if in movement.

Perhaps, except for scientific accuracy, it was not that important if the reproduction of movement by Muybridge was real or artificial, a matter of the camera capturing movement as it took place or a matter of hypothetical movements staged. Muybridge was an illusionist not a scientist, and his ends were commercial rather than educational. The succession of stills made the details of movement believable. EAch shot was part of a consecutive series, therefore incomplete in itself, requiring a before and calling to an after.

Illusions so produced rested on a double disavowal (they were to be perceived as continuous) and the gap between the real and the representation of it equally disavowed (the representation appears as the reproduction of the real). The camera, in the details it exhibited, though it went beyond normal vision, only provided a more robust spectacle of it, since it was to normal vision reconstituted that Muybridge’s photographs returned. Because the camera was a mechanical instrument, and thereby could not be thought of as accurate because objective and non-interpretative, it guaranteed an identity between vision and reality. The camera was like the eye, but better.

It is the gaps between the still images and between the images and the real they represented that Muybridge’s work ‘covers’ and in so doing produce an illusion of movement and of reality: not an analysis, but a spectacle.

Sam Rohdie. Montage. Manchester University Press, 2006. pp.3-4.

[For more on Muybridge’s working methods, visit ‘Freeze Frame’ at the National Museum of American History.]

One thought on “Fragment #8: Sam Rohdie on Eadweard Muybridge’s Illusions

  1. Pingback: Fragment #29: Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion | Spectacular Attractions

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