Tate Britain| Eadweard Muybridge: A Timely Exhibition

Tate Britain Muybridge Poster, from the Tate website
Having landed in Europe today as I prepare to attend an academic conference in Poland, I regret that I was unable to stop over in London and take in the new Eadweard Muybridge exhibition at the Tate Britain (my economy ticket had me flying via Montreal and Frankfurt to Poznan, a twelve hour itinerary I do NOT recommend). For those of you who have noticed my minor obsession with the galloping horse gif that I have incorporated into my email signature over the years, and now acting as the unofficial “mascot” for this blog, you will already recognize the aesthetic stamp of a Muybridge picture—photographic images captured through the use of multiple cameras, or images projected with his invention the zoopraxiscope, the pre-cursor to the first movie projector.

It is not surprising to me that a focus and interest in Muybridge’s contributions and experiments in proto-filmic techniques have emerged in the past few years. The Tate Exhibition, originating with the Muybridge retrospective Helios: Eadweard Muybridge In a Time of Change staged at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. this past spring, is part of a broader re-examination of the roots of early film and photographic history, or more specifically their intersections. With the rise of new media and accompanying technologies to enhance and manipulate images in our own world, studying Muybridge helps us recall and critically examine the spirit of experimentation and new possibilities that underwrote the visual culture of his times. In 2006, the Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing at UBC debuted a production of a new play by Kevin Kerr called Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge that explored these very themes, and I was asked to contribute an essay to the catalogue where I also considered the connections between the machinery of viewing and altered perception that Muybridge’s works provoke.

The Tate as usual has done a marvelous job on their website of giving a virtual look and feel to the actual exhibition, offering a peek into the various rooms and individual works on display. They also provide useful information and resources for those interested in exploring the life and career of one of the most important and innovative contributors to the history of photography and moving images. As I write this, I am feeling very much in the spirit of Muybridge—here was an individual whose career was marked by travel and international exchange of ideas. I am happy to report that the exhibition will also be on the move. The Corcoran notes on their website that the retropsective will be showing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in February and be on display until June. Maybe I will drive there instead.

Muybridge zoopraxiscope image