09/05/2017

Every Year In Film #4 - Sallie Gardner At A Gallop

Quick Thoughts: Sallie Gardner At A Gallop (The Horse In Motion) (1878)


24 photographs used to prove that horses do in fact have four hooves off the ground when at a gallop.


Made by Eadweard Muybridge, this is a short that has a backstory that's as interesting as this film is significant. This all comes down to Muybridge himself; an eccentric figure born Edward Muggeridge, his eccentricity made little more clearer than a reiteration of his name, which he had given himself and changed multiple times: Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge was a British emigrée who moved to America, travelling from New York to San Francisco to California in the 1850s as a book merchant during the Gold Rushes of that period. An establish bookseller, in 1860 Muybridge had plans to travel back to England, but having missed his boat he was left to travel by stagecoach to New York. However, traveling through Texas that stagecoach crashed, killing one passenger and injuring all aboard - including Muybridge, who sustained serious head injuries that left him without a sense of smell or taste and problems with his sight. Many speculate that this changed his personality, making him more impulsive and emotional - an assumed trait that would come into play a few more years down the line. However, this was best exemplified before this later period with his return from England, where he had recovered from his injuries and studied photography. Back in San Francisco, Muybridge would develop a name for himself as a significant artists, taking incredibly famous photographs of Yosemite Valley.



What these two photographs demonstrate is both Muybridge's skill as a photographer and his audaciousness - as that is him sitting on the edge of that rock face. But, if we flash forward to 1874, Muybridge, a man of fame and success, stands in a court room refusing claims of insanity, assuring that, with deliberation and premeditation, he killed a man who had allegedly fathered a baby he thought to be his. The mother of this baby was Muybridge's, who at this time was 44, 23-year-old wife, Flora Shallcross Stone. Unbeknownst to Muybridge, and as later confirmed by his friends, Stone was never faithful. Upon finding out that Harry Larkyns, a critic, was his wife's lover, Muybrbridge shot and killed him. However, he walked on these charges, being found 'not guilty' on the grounds of justifiable homicide.

Say what you will about that, this was all an interruption of Muybridge's studies under the founder of Stanford University and race-horse enthusiast, Leland Stanford - studies which he had begun in 1872. As the popular tale goes, this all started with a bet of Stanford's, one that turned into an obsession to know if all four of a horses' hooves left the ground as it galloped. This was completely down to speculation in the 1800s as you cannot truly know if this is the case with your blind eye. And so, it wasn't until Muybridge could 'freeze time' that such a quandary could be settled (even though it took sometime to be fully accepted - a note we'll return to). It was in 1872 that Stanford's initial question was first answered with 12 photographs, all blurred and shadowy, that weren't satisfying to neither Muybridge or critics alike. And so, 6 years later, and following the highly publicised court case, Muybridge returns to Stanford's Stock Farm with plans to take multiple photographs with 24 cameras tripped by wires as a horse passed through them.


The difficulty with this experiment came with getting enough light and the shortest exposure. To combat this, Muybridge had to set up a white backdrop to reflect as much light as possible as well as create an electric shutter attached to springs that would slam closed fast enough so that light would be exposed to his glass plate for only a fraction of a second.


With this fractional exposure would come a crisp image and a satisfying test that would prove that all four of a horse's hooves do in fact leave the ground as it gallops.


However, to skeptics, this wasn't acceptable. And so, Muybridge developed his zoopraxiscope. But, this is a detail we will delve further into in the next post of the Every Year In Film Series. So, for now, I'll leave you with Muybridge's final moving product:


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