by Judy Folkenberg
judyfolkenberg.com (my art website)
There are a number of artists I’m admire, but that are also dead. Yet I sometimes imagine us making art together…maybe as apprentice, or even as an equal. Well this dream can come true. Because artists leave a body of work, that I can incorporate into my own art (as long as the copyright has run out). British-born Eadweard Muybridge, who laid the foundation for modern cinema and died over a 100 years ago, and I make art together.
Eadweard Muybridge, initially earned his fame for taking spectacular photos of the American west in the late 1800’s. But he was best known for his photos of animal locomotion done at the University of Pennsylvania. Leland Stanford (businessman, former governor of California, race horse owner, and founder of Stanford University) served as a catalyst in 1872, when he hired Muybridge to photograph his galloping horses. He wanted to know if all four feet of the horse left the ground at once (Stanford also hoped the photos might tell him how to breed a faster race horse, much to his rivals’ unhappiness.)
Muybridge wired 24 still cameras along a race track, and as the galloping horses passed by, the shutters were clicked on the cameras. Muybridge obtained a photographic record of successive phases in the horse’s motion and, discovered that all four hooves left the ground at once when the horse reached a gallop.
Muybridge’s motion photography for Leland Stanford excited some wealthy east coast citizens and came to the attention of the University of Pennsylvania and the famous American artist, Thomas Eakins in the 1880’s. They invited him to their city to continue his motion photography—providing him with grant money and an outdoor studio on the grounds of the University veterinary hospital. Animals from the local zoo served as his models. The resulting photos were published in an epic portfolio, titled, Animal Locomotion.
But Muybridge nearly sabotaged his artistic career. It seems his personal life warranted as much attention as his professional life. At middle-age he married a pretty, younger wife, but was frequently absent from home. He soon discovered that his wife was having an affair with Harry Larkyns, a San Francisco theatre critic. In 1874. Muybridge discovered that Larkyns had gone to Calistoga, a small town in Napa Valley north of San Francisco, and made the six hour journey by ferry and train. He found Larkyns playing cribbage (shouldn’t they have been playing poker?) and shot him in the chest just below the left nipple. Larkyns staggered outdoors and died under an oak tree.
Arrested and jailed for the murder, Muybridge soon stood trial. (His wealthy patron, Leland Stanford, paid the lawyer’s bills.) A sympathetic jury came back with a verdict of “justifiable homicide.” Adultery was a far greater crime than the murder of a man who seduced someone else’s wife.
What goes around comes around. Muybridge delighted audiences back then with his motion photos of animals walking and running across a University of Pennsylvania courtyard and laid the foundation for modern movies. And I came along and found his photos so enchanting that I “repurposed” them making art books with an accordion style form of binding. I hope that today’s viewer will get as much delight as I did out of seeing the rear end of a large elephant walking away from the camera lifting one large hoof after another and flicking his tail in my accordion style book.