Saturday, November 7, 2015

Here she is. . . Miss Muybridge

This is becoming extremely addictive. Though it's a tedious process reassembling Muybridge's multiple images, look what happens when they're put back together in sequence! As with the others, I took the sheet of tiny black-and-white pictures, copied it a zillion times, cut the pictures apart into individual frames, then ran them in sequence in my gif program to create animation.

Whoever this model was, this young woman who died over 100 years ago, here she is alive and moving again. And this was long before the conventional movie camera came along. This was merely motion study achieved through the use of conventional still photography. Reassembled, however primitively, into motion again.

As with any gif, before they drive you completely nuts, they reveal a lot because the eye picks up on things you would normally not notice. Note that she isn't moving her arms. They seem very stiff, in fact. One wonders if Muybridge has told her to keep them at her sides, or if she's just feeling uncomfortable walking around nude in front of a dirty old man with 100 cameras. Women then were suffocatingly over-clad in skirts, corsets, petticoats, bustles, pantaloons, and whatever-the-hell-else-they-wore. Their bodies were conditioned to carry both weight (of clothing) and bulk, length. Restriction was the norm. And being completely covered up. The average modern woman would probably feel self-conscious walking around nude in front of a camera, so imagine how difficult it must have been for a Victorian girl. I note also that her head is, while not down, then not exactly up either. Modesty was a very big thing then, and holding her head up while nude would be unseemly. It moves stiffly along with the rest of her as she executes her awkward turn.

What amazes me about these things is how few frames there are, yet what a relatively fluid sense of motion results, without the expected jerkiness. I am not sure what that is about. I know movie film is an illusion, just a series of stills, but this - man, this is primitive! Is it my imagination, or is there something in her left hand? And what? I get the eeriest sense I know her, that I know something about her just from this captured crumb of time. What would cause her to do this type of work, and do her parents know about it? Or are they in on it, perhaps? Muybridge had his dogged followers, and men got away with scandalous things during the Victorian era. It was a time of great hypocrisy, with prostitution rampant, along with social diseases. A powerful man like Muybridge could easily get his hooks into any number of tender young maidens.

When you look at his studies of women, they all seem to look the same - slim, small-breasted and (shockingly) young. Some look to be teenagers. Were they doing this in the name of science? For a lark? For a few bucks? To say they'd done it? For whatever reason, they did it, they bared their waxen-looking bodies for posterity, executing stiff and self-conscious turns that they probably couldn't imagine would still be looked at more than a century later. (And could they even imagine the concept of a gif? Perhaps Muybridge could.)

As I endlessly copied and cropped this oddly unbending young woman, I kept seeing Sylvia Plath. Don't know why - the hair, the face. The attitude of oppression and defeat, and mixed in with it, naked defiance.

POST-POST. . . (post)

As usual, as always with these things, there is More. Much as this may look like one of those 78 rpm records from my early childhood, it is in fact a Muybridge gizmo (that's the technical term) used in tandem with his odd stop-motion photographs.

I wasn't going to get into the zoopraxiscope because it sounded like something you might use for a rectal exam, but it's worth mentioning because as it turns out, Muybridge did develop a primitive means of projecting his photographic images. It was done in a cumbersome fashion, and the resulting "movies" must have been only a couple of seconds long, but to Victorian audiences it must have been a marvel.

"The zoopraxiscope is an early device for displaying motion pictures. Created by photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge in 1879, it may be considered the first movie projector. The zoopraxiscope projected images from rotating glass disks in rapid succession to give the impression of motion. The stop-motion images were initially painted onto the glass, as silhouettes. A second series of discs, made in 1892–1894, used outline drawings printed onto the discs photographically, then colored by hand. Some of the animated images are very complex, featuring multiple combinations of sequences of animal and human movement." (Wikipedia)

In the following years all kinds of people (all of them men) worked on the principles of photographing/projecting moving bodies. Thus came the kinetoscope, the mutoscope, and any number of other scopes (not to mention the zoetrope), but Muybridge was ahead of the game, not so much inventing the study of motion but developing it to the point that he made a significant contribution.

Besides that? You have to credit the man with this: he (quite literally) got away with murder.

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