Murder and the Birth of Motion Pictures (2013)
In effect, Muybridge, by finding a way to quickly take twenty-four consecutive stop-motion photographs, "kidnapped" time. After Muybridge, the "Media" became possible; all elements of what became the media had to rely on his template. While Muybridge was able to "kidnap" time with a camera, he was also able to commit murder with a Smith and Wesson revolver. For a time, he was equally famous as an American icon in terms of photography, and as a cold-blooded killer whose story of why and how he committed murder made national headlines.
Edward Muybridge was born (and grew up) in Britain, but emigrated to the U.S. in the
years before the Civil War. He went back to England as the Civil War began, and didn't come back to the U.S. until the Civil War was over. While some historians wonder about that coincidental timing, Muybridge used his time abroad, and learned quite a bit about photography during those years. In 1866, Muybridge went to San Francisco, and called himself "Helios" (Muybridge, born Muggerridge, was constantly changing his name to suit his circumstances): a professional photographer was born. Helios hated taking portraits of people; he preferred to photograph landscapes, even if there was no market for that kind of print. In 1867, Helios (Muybridge) traveled to Yosemite, and in essence started the popularity of American Landscape Photography, while at the same time making himself known nationally. While there were photographers that preceded him in terms of landscapes, the photographs of Helios were different - his predecessors focused on space . . . he focused on time. Helios had the gift of capturing time in a still photograph, even with the limited technology in the 1860s.
Above, Helios photographed himself in Yosemite - he called this photograph "Charon at the Ferry" (1868). He envisioned himself as Charon in his boat crossing the river Styx in Greek Mythology
In 1872, back at Yosemite, Helios / Muybridge photographed himself in a very dangerous position. He admitted that it would have been very easy to lose his balance and fall to his death 2000+ feet below. This photograph was used in his murder trial in order to try and illustrate his lack of rational decision-making
When Flora gave birth to a boy in 1874 that was obviously a result of her affair with Larkyn, Muybridge followed through on his threat. Muybridge traveled to Napa Valley near a town called Calistoga, and in a miner's cottage, shot Larkyn in the chest in a doorway in front of several witnesses. Muybridge was almost lynched on the spot, but avoided that fate when one of the witnesses calmed down the throng. Charged with murder, Muybridge needed a lawyer, and Leland Stanford was more than happy to supply one. The first extremely wealthy Californian hired Muybridge to take interior photographs of his palatial mansion in 1871 (later published as a "Picture Book" in the late-1870s), and by 1874 was in the middle of an experiment which involved Muybridge's talent and expertise.
Stanford sent his best lawyer to represent Muybridge, and that lawyer convinced a jury to acquit him of murder (the prosecution helped by insisting on "first degree murder or nothing"). Flora Downs divorced Muybridge as one would expect, and desperately tried to get alimony, but she died suddenly in 1875 at the age of twenty-four, most likely of influenza. Muybridge was completely free to resume his part of the experiment with Leland Stanford, since he no longer had any fear of any financial loss with the death of his former wife (BTW, Muybridge only visited his son, "Harry Jr.", once, when he was nine years old).
In 1878, Muybridge finally succeeded in capturing one of Stanford's horses at full gallop with twenty-four photographs. Muybridge had succeeded in stopping time; in 1879, he would "re-start" time. Muybridge invented (and received a patent for) what he called a"Zoopraxiscope", which was a projector he invented to display his twenty-four images so they would appear to be in motion - in essence, he invented the first motion picture projector.
The story of Edward Muybridge was not over in 1880 - in the years that followed, he became a celebrated artist / scientist in America and Europe, and had a historically significant conversation with Thomas Edison, but he never again connected with Leland Stanford. How Leland Stanford became incredibly wealthy and powerful, and the role that Thomas Edison played in the development of motion pictures at the expense of Muybridge are for another U.S. History Blog post(s)