Project 1: The Frozen Moment: Muybridge, Worthington and Edgerton

26th March 2021

These three men were the pioneers in what has come to be recognised as a defining characteristic of the medium – the ability to freeze movement in a fraction of a second.

OCA EYV (2014)

Introduction

During the early years of photography, the time that it took the camera to create an exposure limited the photographer’s ability to record movement and to freeze their subjects while moving. The technical constraints on producing photographs meant that images would often contain blurred, transparent ghost like figures and faces without features. It was not until the Gelatine Silver Process was developed in 1880 by William Fox Talbot that ‘… life at its most active and instantaneous became a viable photographic subject.’ (Mora, 1998:122)

In 1826, Niépce used his heliography process to capture the first photograph, ‘View from the Window at Le Grass’ which required an exposure of eight hours. I absolutely love this image because it has very aesthetic abstract qualities consisting of shapes, high grain and the tonal effect. I would actually like to produce my street work similar to this as the aesthetic and creative feel that I gain from this image is powerful. The composition because it has been reduced to grain, shapes and light and shadow, it is simple but yet the viewer has all of the information needed from these aspects of the image to decipher the buildings and the background which also contains a tree. One other aspect that I find interesting is how the aspects all work together to show depth in the photograph as well as very strong perspective. This is an early Renaissance painters dream perspective composition.

Below is the ‘View from the Window at Le Grass’ image and an annotated copy of the image showing the amazing perspective lines of the view from the window.

Fig. 1


Fig. 2

The next important phase in the development of photography was Louis Daguerre’s ‘daguerreotype’ which was invented in 1839.

With the technical properties of the camera’s lenses and shutters becoming faster and photographic materials more sensitive, photography was now able to explore the movement of its subjects without it taking hours to produce.

This was then reduced to a few minutes by the time that the daguerreotype was invented in 1839, which whilst is a considerable amount better, it still posed a lot of problems in trying to capture anything that is moving. With this being said it is a lot easier for people to assume that Louis Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temple, the earliest known photograph containing the human figure, is staged due as the moving figure having so much clarity compared to anything else created by any other practitioner of the time.

Later, he worked with artist Louis Daguerre, whose sharper daguerreotype images marked photography’s next major advancement.

Eadweard Muybridge 1830-1904

In 1872 railroad magnate Governor Stanford, who owned racehorses, believed that a horse did in fact ‘fly’ during its trot. So wanting to find out if a trotting horse at any stage would have all four hooves off the ground at the same time, he hired Eadweard Muybridge to help him confirm whether his assumption was correct. Muybridge’s first experiments were not successful because his shutter speeds were not fast enough.

In order to record a horse in full gallop, an exposure time of less than 1/10000 second was necessary. How was this to be done in an epoch when glass plates still had to be exposed in a wet collodion process for at least ten seconds, if not several minutes? Muybridge, with John D. Isaacs, worked untiringly on improving shutters and light-sensitive emulsions…

Stepan, P. (2008:27)

Between 1877-81, Stanford allowed Muybridge to conduct his analytical photographic experiments at the Palo Alto stock farm race track. Muybridge used a complexed system of twelve cameras which a tripwire would activate when the horse galloped past. The cameras used for the experiment were contained within a long camera shed, Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Multi Camera Set Up With Men (1877-81)
Fig. 2 Front of Electro-Shutters with before: during: after positions (1877-81)

Each of the twelve cameras were fitted with special fast Electro-Shutters (Fig. 2), which Muybridge developed and were capable of a shutter speed as fast as 1/1,000 of a second. These cameras and the new sensitive photographic process enabled Muybridge to successfully take photographs of the horse in motion because the exposure time had been drastically reduced.

For the first time instead of a single exposure taking minutes, Muybridge’s cameras were able to take twelve shots in less than half a second and therefore enabling details of movement that the human eye was unable to detect before.

Fig. 3 The Horse in Motion (1878)

Bibliography

Mora, G. (1998) PhotoSpeak: A Guide to the Ideas, Movement, and Techniques of Photography, 1839 to the present. (1st Ed.) New York: Abbeville Press.

Stepan, P. (2008) 50 Photographers You Should Know. (1st Ed.) Germany: Prestel

Illustrations

Fig. 1 Eadward Muybridge: Defining Modernities https://www.eadweardmuybridge.co.uk/muybridge_image_and_context/introducing_muybridge/

Fig. 2 Eadward Muybridge: Defining Modernities https://www.eadweardmuybridge.co.uk/muybridge_image_and_context/introducing_muybridge/

Fig. 3 TIME 100 Photos http://100photos.time.com/photos/eadweard-muybridge-horse-in-motion

Background research

The Weird World of Eadweard Muybridge (2013) (Documentary) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Awo-P3t4Ho (Accessed 26.03.2021)

Szarkowski, J. (2003) ‘Introduction to the photographer’s eye’ In: Wells, L. (ed) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge. pp.97-103o


28th March 2021

Arthur Mason Worthington (1852-1916)

Arthur Worthington, a physicist in 1908 was the first one to study the fluid dynamics of splashes photographically. I managed to part read his book called ‘A Study of Splashes’ which is a scientific publication in which he explains his splash experiments from their first drawing stages right through to the visual photographic evidence.

The book is available to download and use, the permission given can be seen below the bibliography of this post section. I have screenshot some explanatory text and accompanying photographs of two of his experiments from the ebook. The first experiment uses water dropping into milk and the second experiment water into water.

Worthington’s A Study of Splashes

Worthington began his splash studies in the early 1890’s using sketches to record his observations due to the fact that photographic plates were not yet sensitive enough to respond to the brief exposure times needed to freeze the drops of water.

The video ‘The Splash of a Drop’ which can be seen below, shows how Worthington began his lecture at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, May 18th, 1894 with some of his drawings.

He made drawings of the stages and later managed to photograph them, splashing a new drop for every single stage. He had engravings made of the photographs to show in his lecture and included them in the 1895 reproduction of the lecture in a little book. Shown here are our animated versions of the following series: Series I. – Drawings of a Drop of Mercury 0.15″ in diameter falling 3″ on to a smooth glass plate Series XII. – Engravings from Instantaneous Photographs of a Drop of Mercury, 4.83 mm. in diameter, falling 8.9 cm. on to a hard polished surface. Series XIV – Engravings of Instantaneous Photographs of the Splash of a Drop of Water falling 40 cm. into Milk.

Magical Media Museum. (2012)
Worthington, A. M. The Splash of a Drop (1894)

Later, with the help of contemporaries Lord Rayleigh and industrial scientist C.V. Boys, Worthington used powerful sparks from Leyden jars to create the necessary brief exposure times.  Finally, Worthington was able to take high-speed photographs of his splashes. 

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (Accessed 28.03.2021)

It is Worthington’s experiments and the photographic recording of the drops within these experiments that influenced the work by Harold Edgerton. Unfortunately Worthington’s work is far less known than Edgerton’s, a fact that I can agree with as I knew Edgerton’s splash works but not Worthington’s.

Although Worthington’s images were beautiful as well as intriguing to look at the changes in form as the experiments progressed, the photographic printing qualities were less adequate compared to the process available years later in Edgerton’s career. In the preface of ‘A Study of Splashes’, Worthington writes: “Much of the beauty of the original photographs was lost in the reproduction, or was sacrificed in a selection of which the only object was the elucidation of points of technical interest.” (Worthington, 1908:10)

Bibliography

Worthington, A. M. (1908) A Study of Splashes. Longman’s, Green, and Co. p.10

Fig. 1 TEXT Worthington, A. M. (1908) ‘The Splash of a Drop – Low Fall’ In: A Study of Splashes. Longman’s, Green, and Co. pp.40-55. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39831/39831-h/39831-h.htm (Accessed 28.03.2021)

Fig. 2 TEXT Worthington, A. M. (1908) ‘The Splash Continued’ In: A Study of Splashes. Longman’s, Green, and Co. pp.71-81 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39831/39831-h/39831-h.htm (Accessed 28.03.2021)

Websites

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. History of Splash Photography. At: http://hiviz.org/hsi/splashes/history.htm (Accessed 28.03.2021)

Screenshots

Fig. 1 Worthington, A. M. Illustrations from instantaneous photographs. (Photograph) At: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39831/39831-h/39831-h.htm (Accessed 28.03.2021)

Fig. 2 Worthington, A. M. Illustrations from instantaneous photographs. (Photograph) At: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39831/39831-h/39831-h.htm (Accessed 28.03.2021)

Video

Introduction text: Magical Media Museum. (2012) The Splash of a Drop (1894) (Lecture material) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_g0F_si04A (Accessed 28.03.2021)


02nd April 2021

Harold Edgerton (1903-1990)

Edgerton was an engineer, educator, explorer, entrepreneur and an important and influential photographer.

I own the book ‘Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen’ and I have to say it is worth purchasing. The book shows his famous photographs as well as other less known images, examples of which can be seen below. I do not know why but these photographs captivate me even though they are not the usual images that I gravitate towards to read about or even look at. Looking through the book numerous times again, I believe that it is the hypnotic patterns, the sequencing that entice my eye to follow from beginning to end, the dynamic colours or the bold black and white contrasts in some of the images, the repeating forms or the unusual subject matter that I am viewing that intrigues me. As an added informative interest the book also shows part examples of Edgerton’s technical notes from his laboratory notebooks and essays that his students have written, therefore giving the reader a complete overview of his work.

As with his predecessors, Edgerton also photographed milk as his subject. The most famous being ‘Milk Drop Coronet’ which Time magazine declared one of the 100 most influential photographs of all time (Kurtz, 2018:7).

…in the 1950s at his lab at MIT, Edgerton started tinkering with a process that would change the future of photography. There the electrical-engineering professor combined high-tech strobe lights with camera shutter motors to capture moments imperceptible to the naked eye. Milk Drop Coronet, his revolutionary stop-motion photograph, freezes the impact of a drop of milk on a table, a crown of liquid discernible to the camera for only a millisecond. The picture proved that photography could advance human understanding of the physical world, and the technology Edgerton used to take it laid the foundation for the modern electronic flash.

TIME 100 Photographs.

It took Edgerton many years to perfect his milk drop photographs and they were taken as both black and white images as well as beautiful contrasting coloured images. The colour images were created by dropping coloured fluids such as cranberry juice into milk, but as an addition, Edgerton chooses his background colours so that they boost the images aesthetic quality. This can be seen in the image below.

Fig. 3 Cranberry juice dropping into milk (1960)

Reading through the text of Seeing the Unseen has really made me think about Edgerton’s achievements, he also ‘…gained an equal measure of fame as a deep-sea explorer and for his applications of sonar technology to the field of maritime archaeology’ (Douglas 2018:11). Another area of Edgerton’s work that I found interesting was his war-time work which included experiments that illuminated the enemies territory so that troop concentrations could be spotted. This absolutely fascinates me because I knew him for his famous images of freezing motion but it was not until I had purchased the book that I discovered that Edgerton had achieved so much during his life including inventing the electronic flash which allowed him to capture things that the human eye could not see.

Edgerton created a stroboscopic light that contained a bulb full of an inert gas, initially mercury. The bulb was connected to a battery – the volt of current would cause the gas molecules to excite, causing an instant of bright light. The duration of the flash was much easier to adjust, making it more flexible, and thanks to the battery, the flash could recharge and be shot again and again (compare that to the magnesium-filled flashbulbs, which could only be used once and had to be thrown away). Edgerton called it the stroboscope.

BBC Future, Harold Edgerton: The man who froze time Stephen Dowling 2014

A selection of Edgerton’s movement images below show different themes that he worked on. The bottom right image shows how Edgerton would attach lights to objects such as the violinist’s bow so that the movements would be captured and the movement easily seen.

Bottom: Fig. 7 Coin Toss (1965), Fig. 8 Violinist (1968)

Bibliography

Illustrations

Fig. 1 Edgerton, H. (1957) Milk Drop Coronet [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.

Fig. 2 Edgerton, H. (1983) Milk Drops [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.65

Fig. 3 Edgerton, H. (1960) Cranberry juice dropping into milk [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.53

Fig. 4 Edgerton, H. (1964) Pole Vault [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.108

Fig. 5 Edgerton, H. (1942) Trick Dancers [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.109

Fig. 6 Edgerton, H. (1964) Bullet Through Banana [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.127

Fig. 7 Edgerton, H. (1965) Coin Toss [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.114

Fig. 8 Edgerton, H. (1968) Violinist [Photograph] In: Kurtz, R. Douglas, D. G. and Kayafas, G. (Eds.) (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. Germany: Steidl. p.115

Books

Douglas, D. G. (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. (1st Ed.) Germany: Steidl. p.11

Kurtz, R. (2018) Harold Edgerton, Seeing the Unseen. (1stEd.) Germany: Steidl. p.7

Websites

BBC Future, Harold Edgerton: The man who froze time https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140722-the-man-who-froze-the-world (Accessed 02.04.2021)

Time 100 Photographs Milk Drop Coronet http://100photos.time.com/photos/harold-edgerton-milk-drop (Accessed 02.04.2021)


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