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Out of Sight: Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton

Discover the work of two photographers who were revolutionary in making time stand still.

At certain moments in history, individuals created new forms of picture-making that revolutionized art and science. Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) and Harold Edgerton (1903-1990) were giants of early photography. Their images made time stand still. Their innovative experiments with camera technology will be on view in the exhibit Out of Sight at the Surrey Art Gallery from January 21 to March 5.

Both Muybridge and Edgerton became international celebrities for their revolutionary works that expanded our understanding of time and motion. Muybridge’s most famous photographs recorded movements of people and animals. His earliest stop-motion images of a running horse settled a bet that all four hooves left the ground when galloping. Edgerton turned his lens on capturing extremely small and fast movements such as a splash of milk that looks like a white crown, or a bullet travelling through a playing card, making the viewer second-guess what we are looking at.

The photographs of Muybridge and Edgerton depict slices of time—frozen moments—to show us what the human eye can’t discern. In their scientific experiments, they exploited the promise of the photographic medium to act as a definitive record of an action or event, essentially stopping time to depict the mechanical truth of movement. Brought together, these bodies of work explore ideas about perception and representation, challenging viewers to reconsider what we see in our everyday encounters.

Organized and circulated by the Vancouver Art Gallery with the generous support of the Killy Foundation.

About the Artists

Harold Edgerton

Harold Edgerton was a trained scientist who is credited with inventing ultra-high-speed, stroboscopic and stop-action photography to take pictures of events that occurred too quickly, or too slowly, for the human eye to see. He was able to take photographs with exposures as short as a hundred-millionth of a second, and he stated that his images demonstrate the possibility for “time itself to be chopped up into small bits and frozen so that it suits our needs and wishes.”

His experiments with stroboscopes allowed him to capture incredibly minute and fast movements that are outside our normal cognitive scope. With his striking imagery, Edgerton transforms our understanding of temporal space and experience, redefining how we perceive movement by extending the capacity of the human eye.

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge is renowned for his sequential images of human and animal locomotion. From 1883 to 1886, while under the employ of the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge produced more than 100,000 images that documented the common movements of men, women and children at work, leisure and play, as well similar studies of various animals, including elephants, dogs and horses. In 1887, a selection of these works were published as 781 plates in a collection titled Animal Locomotion.

Muybridge was fascinated by the capacity of photography to act as a definitive record of an object, action or event, and his earliest stop-motion images of a running horse were intended to prove that all four hooves of a horse left the ground when it was galloping. Using multiple cameras and elaborate triggering devices, Muybridge was able to virtually stop time and provide surprising and provocative insights into the mechanics and wonder of human and animal movement.

Curator: Stephanie Rebick
Origin of Exhibition: Out of Sight is on tour from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Image credits from top to bottom:

Harold E. Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957, dye transfer print, 50.5 x 40.5 cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of Angela and David Feldman, the Menkes Family, Marc and Alex Muzzo, Tory Ross, the Rose Baum-Sommerman Family, Shabin and Nadir Mohamed, VAG 2013.18.71, © 2015 MIT, Courtesy of MIT Museum.

Eadweard Muybridge, Plate 331 Boxing; stop for cross-buttocks (shoes), from Animal Locomotion, 1887, collotype, 48.3 x 60.9 cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of Claudia Beck and Andrew Gruft, VAG 2004.37.177.