Monday, March 17, 2014
A tempestuous personality
Title: River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the technological wild west
By: Rebecca Solnit
Instead of utilizing the traditional biographical format, Rebecca Solnit has chosen to delineate this remarkable man through his many self-taught accomplishments and innovations. British born in 1830, he left his homeland early on to set off to America to explore his interests and opportunities, working on the docks of New Orleans, then as a San Francisco bookseller, morphing soon into the first photographer of remote Yosemite landscapes and early SF panoramas. This latter talent brought him to the attention of Leland Stanford, for whom he shot time and motion studies of Stanford’s horses that in time became the precursor of early motion pictures.
The more famous photographer of Native Americans, Edward Curtis, studied and posed natives in full dress panoply in studio settings. Muybridge, on the other hand, captured the Modoc tribe (the inhabitants of the Lava Beds and Tule Lake area of Northern California) in their daily life and in their war with the US Army, thus making a more lively and immediate connection with the inhabitants of this little known area and moment in California history. These are just a few of his contributions to a turbulent and revolutionary time in our nation's history, most notably marked by the coming of the railroad and the camera, transforming forever our perceptions of space and time.
Eadweard Muybridge (born Muggeridge) was not only a great innovator and inventor; he was one of the most colorful characters California history has to offer. Along with the modest conceit of changing his name a number of times, he murdered his wife's lover and exhibit a tempestuous personality, very probably affected by brain injuries from a stagecoach accident. The wild west and technology met in this man and his era.
Rebecca Solnit has become my go-to writer for thoughtful insightful essays, critiques of artists and unique characters, as well as issues of the day. Her Wanderlust is a wonderful delving into the history and value of the walk, the peregrination, the pilgrimage. Her most recent, The Faraway Nearby, deals with the ravages of Alzheimers on families.