Eadweard Muybridge revealed a new universe of motion with his camera, but history has largely obscured his extraordinary accomplishments with photography.
The first humans who put paint on stone drew deer, buffalo, horses. They drew all the beasts man knew, and they painted them running.
It started on a cave wall in France some 40,000 years ago with animals that seemed to move with their hindquarters planted, torsos rigid, their front legs stiff and raised ever so off the ground. These Paleolithic artists were primitive, of course, but for the thousands of years to follow, neither the ancient Greeks, nor Leonardo Da Vinci, nor the Japanese masters, nor the 19th-century French artist Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (regarded for his pictures of horses) could seem to understand how to draw an animal in motion.
Especially horses. Even as humans increasingly spent their lives around horses, the greatest artistic talents of their time drew them running with all four legs splayed, as if mounted to a rocker. Man has always sought to understand the natural world—if for no other reason than to bend it to our will. But an invisible life existed in the motion of the horse, hidden from our eye, and thus from human understanding. Until the 1870s, when the man who founded Stanford University became obsessed with this mystery—so much so that he hired the photographer Eadweard Muybridge.