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Feature - Muybridge - the man who stopped time - Brian Clegg

Brian's new book, published in Spring 2007, is the startling biography of one of the famous unknowns in science and technology - Eadweard Muybridge. His photographs are iconic - almost everyone can recognize them - yet few know of his remarkable life. More than 100 years after his death, Muybridge is finally to get the exposure he deserves.

"Who is Eadweard Muybridge? This man devised the first ever motion picture projector and ran the first cinema. He took ground-breaking photographs of motion, freezing time and analyzing just how a horse moved. He produced an unrivalled series of thousands of photographs of people in motion. He travelled from the Victorian suburban gentility of Kingston-upon-Thames to the wild California of the 1870s. And he murdered his wife's lover."

The photographs of Eadweard Muybridge are familiar to almost everyone in the Western world. His work is iconic: the first icons of the modern visual age. Men, women, boxers, wrestlers, racehorses, elephants and camels… frozen in time, captured in the act of moving, fighting, galloping, living. Scarcely a day goes by without their derivate use somewhere in today's media. And if most of us have seen Muybridge's seminal stop-motion photographs, all of us have seen the fruit of his extraordinary technological innovation… today's cinema and television.

The historians have argued for many years who was the true father of the motion picture, but one thing shines through. Eadweard Muybridge was the first to project a true moving picture on the big screen, and he built and operated the first purpose built movie theatre.

It is astounding, therefore, to learn that there has never been a real biography of this seminal and wonderfully eccentric Victorian pioneer. There are books certainly, but they lose the man behind the photographs; they are picture books with text. They feel to bring out the real story.

And what a story it is! A passionately-driven man struggling against the odds; dire treachery and shocking betrayal; a cast of larger-than-life characters set against a backdrop of San Francisco and the Far West in its most turbulent and dangerous era; a profusion of technical and artistic advances and discoveries, one hotly following on another; the nervous intensity of two spectacular courtroom dramas (one pitting Muybridge against the richest man in the West and staring ruin in the face, the other sees him fighting for his life)… and for the opening act, a foul murder on a dark and stormy night… 

For more on Muybridge, see the book The Man Who Stopped Time.

Brian Clegg is a popular science writer whose books include A Brief History of Infinity and Light Years.

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Last update 05 June 2007