Eadweard Muybridge at the Tate Britain


(Fencing Movements, plate 349, 1887)
This fall I have been on the go for research virtually nonstop. I’ve had some terrific opportunities to visit several museums and archives (many holding collections I’d been hoping to see for years). Reports of those adventures will have to wait for another day when I have the time and focus to do them justice. For now, however, a quick word on the Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at the Tate Britain, where I met some friends one afternoon when I had a day off.
The show impressively displays many of Muybridge’s photographs of the Yosemite area, when he published them under the name “Helios,” just one of the many monikers he went by in his lifetime (he was initially named Edward James Muggeridge). The stereographs hung in the galleries are smartly accompanied by plastic spectacles dangling on strings, inviting visitors to closely scrutinize them. The roughly biographical layout of the exhibition briefly deals with Muybridge’s trial (and acquittal!) of the murder of his wife’s lover, and one room features several wonderful sprawling panoramas that he took of San Francisco, including one that he himself owned.

(Image from here).
For my interests, I was most keen to see his motion studies, and particular, his efforts at arranging motion sequences around glass discs for projection in his zoopraxiscope, which was actually on display! Deceivingly, on the wall in front of the zoopraxiscope’s lens, a series of his early animated motion studies is projected, and it took me a [baffled] moment to realize that their source was the ceiling-mounted digital projector above.
The exhibition was great, and I was especially thrilled to see those motion study artifacts up close. The icing on the cake is that the show is accompanied by an iphone app, the Muybridgizer, which is potentially a very cool addition. Perhaps  assembling the images into a sequence is easier than it is with the iphone zoetrope. While I have not tried it out yet, the exhibition site features a gallery of user-generated motion sequences. Here’s a sample from user “Chris Macan,” which you can see on the site.

At the end of the exhibition, visitors must walk through a short, narrow hallway with glass and mirrors on one side. On the reverse side of the glass/mirror wall, is the opening to the exhibition, and as you walk through, you are on display for the visitors just entering the galleries and your movements appear fragmented, much like the stills of Muybridge’s motion studies. I thought this effect was really neat and took advantage by walking through the hall with my arms and legs flailing everywhere. I’m afraid my companions may have been a little bit mortified, but they were very nice about it. If you happen to be in London before the exhibition closes in January, I would highly recommend a visit!

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Eadweard Muybridge at the Tate Britain

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