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Making Pictures Move
Much has been written about the Nineteenth Century rivalry between painting and photography. And, by and large, it was something of a dead heat most of the time with the gradual improvements in the art and science of photography being met more or less one to one with similar improvements in the art and science of painting. However near the end of the century the Lumiere brothers, Edison, and others began to do something with cameras and film that no painter could ever hope to do. They began to make pictures move. Painters had long done "moving" pictures, emotionally speaking of course. However photographers, now called "film makers" could create moving pictures both figuratively and literally. Projecting a series of slightly differing pictures at the astounding rate of 25 pictures per second on a bed sheet, the eye fed the brain images so fast as to create the illusion of a single "motion" picture.

The Lumieres and Edison however owed their success to the more basic experiments in motion photography conducted by an American, Edward Muybridge, as far back as 1878. For years before this time, painters had often depicted running horses with both front and back legs fully extended, in effect, all four legs off the ground at one time. It seems two race horse owners, fell into an argument as to whether such depictions were, in fact, accurate. One argued that it was impossible for all four of a horse's feet to leave the ground at the same time else it would fall flat on its face. The other insisted to the contrary. Muybridge was engaged to settle a bet between the two men.

Muybridge met the challenge by rigging up a series of cameras around the outside perimeter of a track with a thin tripwire stretched from the camera's shutter across the track to posts on the opposite side. When the horse ran in front of the cameras, it in effect, took a series of pictures of itself recording its every move. Who won the bet? Why the first gentleman of course. The second gentleman apparently knew little about the laws of physics and even less about the principles of momentum. However the painters of the time lost as well. The painted images that had sparked the argument in the first place, were in fact, wrong! Muybridge's studies demonstrated that the movement of a horse in running was much more complex than anything they'd ever depicted on canvas. Later, western painters like Frederick Remington were strongly influenced by Muybridge's groundbreaking work.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
22 November 1997

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