Celebrating Edweard Muybridge: Documenting Movement and Creating Art

Stop-action photography has become an integral part of our lives. It allows us to watch the beauty of a dancer, the grace of an athlete or the motion of an animal one frame at a time. It is hard to believe that until Edweard Muybridge began his study of animal locomotion with photography in the late 19th century, we were limited to only what the eye could see or what was in a single photograph. In celebration of Muybridge’s birthday, the Library of Congress has uploaded a number of Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion images from its collections into Flickr.

Horse in Motion

The horse in motion, illus. by Muybridge. “Sallie Gardner,” owned by Leland Stanford, running at a 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19 June 1878: 2 frames showing diagram of foot movements

bird in motion

Animal Locomotion

Colleagues in both the Prints and Photographs Division and the Science Division found plenty to write about this set, underscoring how it straddles science, technology, and art. In “Eadweard Muybridge: Birth of a Photographic Pioneer” Kristi Finefield noted how the camera recorded and revealed new insights about motion. “What the human eye could not capture at the time, Muybridge’s series of cameras, often operating on timers, could. And so, viewers of the late 19th century were able to see in a sequence of photos every step taken by a horse at full gallop, the sleek movements of a cat running and each flap of the wings of a bird in flight.” In “Animal Locomotion: From Antiquity to the 21st Century,” Jennifer Harbster traces the history of the study of animal locomotion. She suggests that “By studying nature and observing animal movement scientists can better understand biomechanics, physiology, evolution, physics, and engineering.” And so, we might add, can students!

Students can examine Muybridge’s work, including a few examples of zoopraxiscopes which helped to bring movement to still images. How can students use Muybridge’s photographs as part of science and artistic activities? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ask students to select one sequence of “Animal locomotion” images, perhaps a horse or a cat running, and compare the sequence to the experience watching the action. What can be learned from the images that is not observable from the live action?
  • Direct students to one of Muybridge’s images of  birds in motion. How might a sequence of a bird in flight have shaped the experiments of early aviators?

    couple waltzing

    The zoopraxiscope – a couple waltzing

  • Invite students to brainstorm as many ways as they can that this technology has changed the way we live our lives. What scientific or technological developments were made easier because of this technology?
  • Kristi explained that the zoopraxiscope was a device Muybridge developed for use in presentations, giving the audience the impression of movement. What might you learn about dance from seeing a zoopraxiscope of a couple waltzing?

What do your students see differently through the lens of Edweard Muybridge?


Soldiers’ Poems of World War I in Newspapers: Personal Responses in Public Media

How can you share your response to a major world event? In the 19th and early 20th centuries, you might have put your thoughts down in a poem and sent it to a newspaper. The 1918 entry of the United States into World War I triggered an especially dramatic outpouring of these personal responses in verse.

Common Core State Standards and Library of Congress Primary Sources

This is a guest post by Meg Steele, who works with K-12 teachers at the Library of Congress, and Mary J. Johnson, an educational consultant to the Library of Congress. Teachers in nearly every state are implementing the Common Core State Standards, mapping existing curriculum to the standards, and creating, revising or tweaking classroom strategies […]

The Spanish Missions in Texas

Along the San Antonio River, you can find these gothic and Romanesque style buildings which house a rich history for Hispanic Americans all over the world. Studying these missions using primary sources from the Library of Congress is one way to help students learn about some of the contributions of Hispanics in America.

The Library of Congress at ASCD, March 24-26

Are you heading to the ASCD annual conference in Philadelphia?  The Library’s K-12 education specialists will be in the exhibit hall in booth 803. Come visit us and learn more about the Library’s professional development opportunities and online resources for teachers, suggest ideas for blog topics, or just drop by to say hello.