Starting Over

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Eadweard Muybridge

Tate Britain has a number of interesting exhibitions on at present... including the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. Although most of his work was done in the US and South America Muybridge was born and brought up in the UK and learnt his early craft here.

The exhibition included an overview of all of Muybridge's work, including landscapes. stereographs, panoramas (particularly of San Francisco) and the work for which he is most well known, his stop-motion photographs of animals (and humans in motion).

Muybridge's work is interesting in its own right but what struck me about this exhibition was the commercial and marketing aspects of his work. As a working photographer Muybridge made no claims to 'art', but was a highly adept promoter of his own work. The curators suggest that he had learnt much from his early work in the book trade, but after achieving fame Muybridge proved successful in gaining the attention of the international press, in obtaining the attention of patrons (though his relationship with Stanford became strained and broke down) and in sustaining public interest in his work through the press and a regular programme of illustrated tours.

Visually, the use of stop-motion photography reveals how animals (including people) actually move, and also creates aesthetically interesting images. It is perhaps no surprise to learn that Francis Bacon used a number of Muybridge images as visual reference points. The exhibition included a brief acknowledgement of the impact of Muybridge's work on other artists, in particular a sculpture by Degas, but this was minimal and could have been made much more of.

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