19 October 2010
Images courtesy of Tate Britain.
HOLD YOUR HORSES:
A guide to Tate Britainʼs retrospective of famous stop-motion photographer Eadweard Muybridge.
by Nicole Wellman Photographing horses in motion does not sound like a particularly daunting task, however within the context of the late nineteenth century this type of photography was groundbreaking. The Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at the Tate Britain celebrates the man behind the stop-motion photography that forever changed perspectives. Although most of the prints shown were taken in North America, it seems appropriate for the British-born photographerʼs work to return to London, where he likely learned his trade. The exhibition is composed of albumen prints, lantern slides, and various other memorabilia, traversing the photographerʼs career from his first documented photo in 1867 to the motion studies that made him, according to the Tate, “One of the most influential photographers of all time.” In 1893, the Photographic Times in New York praised Muybridgeʼs working stating “[there is] no parallel in the history of photography.” Anyone familiar with the significance of Muybridgeʼs Animal Locomotion can certainly attest to these statements and for that reason alone the exhibition is a worthwhile visit. His stop-motion studies changed the way we visualize animal movement and has influenced countless artists including Edgar Degas and Francis Bacon. Donʼt expect to see this in the exhibit. Except for a small bronze sculpture by Degas, itʼs all strictly Muybridgeʼs work.
Edgar Degas’ small bronze sculpture of a horse clearing an obstacle is a compelling example of how Muybridge’s studies affected artistic practices.
Mirrored-panels draw you into the exhibition. Cleverly placed in front of a grid background, Muybridgeʼs famous stop-motion studies are simulated as people walk past. Unfortunately, this effect relies on people leaving the exhibition and is only supported with three examples of his stop-motion studies before shifting the focus to his earlier works. The flow of the exhibition is not readily apparent and the layout lacks excitement. Instead of showcasing the more dynamic works Muybridge is famous for, the Tate has attempted a thematic exhibition that comes across as ho-hum chronological style instead. Most of the prints are individually hung gallery style on colored walls, with some related prints grouped together. The overall look is cohesive and conveys a modern aesthetic, which seems appropriate for the work of such a thoroughly modern man. Large grey wall text describes certain aspects of Muybridgeʼs career, but in most cases fails to tie the information in with the prints exhibited in that room. Further, the smaller accompanying text is awkwardly placed, often after you have already Because of exposure problems Muybridge printed the sky from a seen the works it describes. second negative for this print of the Yosemite Valley. The sky is the same as in one of his pictures of a lighthouse.
A large portion of the prints exhibited were originally produced to be sold as stereographs, the kitschy 3-D prints of the 1850s. But donʼt expect to be handed a pair of glasses when you enter the exhibit. Unfortunately, there are only a few handheld viewers next to one grouping of these prints. Be sure to have a look though, because it certainly changes your perspective. If you have some prior knowledge of Muybridgeʼs work you are sure to find some hidden treasures. Make sure you take time to read the wall text, where youʼll find some lesser known facts about the artist and learn the role he played in documenting U.S. history: his work influencing perceptions and acting as propaganda. The exhibition adequately displays the diversity of Muybridgeʼs talents, richly documented in works ranging from government commissions, to more commercial
endeavors like “spirit” photographs, and finally his greatest achievements in motion studies. Muybridge was engaged in technology and commercialism, themes that still resonate with viewers today. Donʼt let the lackluster design cause you to gloss over the highlights. Take a few moments to appreciate the beautiful landscapes of the U.S., taking note of a print in the lighthouse series that has the same sky as a print of the Yosemite Valley. Because of exposure issues, Muybridge inserted the sky in the Yosemite photo from a second negative. This is of special interest because according to the Tate, “Muybridge was praised for his cloud effects by his contemporaries.” Unfortunately for those without a photographic memory, the prints are not hung side by side.
The most compelling works are displayed in the last few galleries, from a panoramic print of San Francisco to the prints of various animals and athletes in motion. The exhibit also includes a modern recreation of the zoopraxiscopeʼs sequences of motion: a predecessor to modern cinematography. Despite some clear misses in the way the exhibition was curated, the exhibition provides a thorough look at the iconic photographer whose work has influenced both science and art: a worthwhile visit for any history or photography aficionado. Eadweard Muybridge is showing at the Tate Britain through January 16, 2011.
Published on Jan 5, 2012