Historical record only
‘Retro-invention’ of Muybridge’s first Palo Alto experiment
at Ham Polo Ground, October 2 2004.
Ham Polo Club 2nd October 2004
(camera manned by Ken Keen FRPS).
Shutters speed tests.
Ken Keen is holding the string that actuates the guillotine shutter when breasted by the rider.
The first attempts to record the trotting action of a pony were made using twelve wet collodion cameras in a row. The shutters of the cameras were fired as the pony breasted cotton threads stretched across the track.
Eadweard Muybridge was born in Kingston upon Thames and died there in 1904. Kingston has been commemorating the centenary of his death this year with plays, a mosaic mural, an exhibition starting on 13 October and running to 11 December, in the Penny School Gallery in Kingston, and a conference at Kingston College on November 13 (firstname.lastname@example.org and www.pennyschoolgallery.net).
As a part of this celebration Terry King and Hands-On Pictures, were asked to stage a re-enactment of the first experiment in 1872. This fitted in with a programme of ‘retro-invention’, taking contemporary materials and knowledge to invent a photographic process again. This Hands-On Pictures programme has already led a number of significant conclusions. Niepce’s ‘first photograph’ was almost certainly something very different from what everyone has thought for the last 180 years. The cyanotype could be produced simply with short exposures from a wide range of negatives with the potential for beautiful toning and the chrysotype, or gold print, could be made simply and cheaply; these led to the cyanotype rex and chrysotype rex (see the BJ of 21 July 2004).
The ‘retro-invention’ of the Muybridge and Stanford experiment led to a greater understanding of the difficulties Muybridge faced. Developments since 1873 have added complications (just one example is that a modern horse would not run through string stretched across the track to activate the shutter, as it would assume that the string was an electric fence). Muybridge’s cameras were devoted to the project while most of our 10 x 8 cameras had to be brought to the site on the day through traffic that gave 3 hour journeys for distances of ten or twelve miles. The weather at Palo Alto was unlikely to be bad but we had to cope with gales blowing the cameras over and the gazebos away.
We could have used modern cameras with modern film and infrared controlled shutters as in the recent Olympus re-enactment. We could have used a man rather than a horse in the style of Adam Hart-Davis. We did not have the resources of an international camera company or of a company making successful scientific films for television. Whatever we did, had to be some kind of compromise. And we had one afternoon to do it.
We decided to use twelve 10" x 8" field cameras, as these are very similar to the technology of the 1870s, and a horse.
The cameras came from professionals, advanced amateurs and Eddie Hill from Gandolfi. The horse, a beautiful black polo pony, whose coat shone so that she was named ‘Blue’, was ridden by Jo Baum, the administrator of Ham Polo Club who were kind enough to allow us to use their ground for the experiment.