Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: Eadweard Muybridge's 'Sallie Gardner at a Gallop'

Muybridge's famous image sequence proved that horses do (briefly) fly

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* It was a question that gripped scientists and gamblers alike. When horses gallop, do all four hooves leave the ground simultaneously? One camp believed that yes, horses momentarily "fly". The other insisted that if they didn't have one leg on the ground, they'd fall over. Leland Stanford, tycoon and founder of Stanford University, turned to a British photographer for help.

* Eadweard Muybridge, a man sufficiently unusual to have changed his name from "Edward", was becoming well-known for the clarity of his pictures. He accepted Stanford's challenge and, in 1877, produced a shot that provided proof, he believed, of "flight". Stanford, however, wasn't convinced.

* So, 137 years ago this Monday, at Palo Alto in California, Muybridge set up 24 cameras along a racing track lined with white sheets with 24 threads connected to a camera shutter. Stanford's horse, Sallie Gardner, was ridden past the cameras, breaking the threads and tripping the shutters. The resulting image sequence, "Sallie Gardner at a Gallop", was the first to be photographed in real time.

* Muybridge would later show the sequence to Stanford using a zoopraxiscope, a machine he'd invented that could be termed the first movie projector. Stanford was delighted – but as Muybridge's fame spread, a rift grew; and when Stanford published a book featuring Muybridge's photographs without any credit, a legal tussle ensued.

* One thing was evident: horses do fly, albeit very briefly. Not everyone embraced Muybridge's findings, however. French sculptor Auguste Rodin, while intrigued by the experiment, insisted that art should reflect reality as we see it. "It is photography which lies," he said, "for in reality, time does not stop"