Born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston upon Thames in southwest London, Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) immigrated to New York in the early 1850s and worked as a sales agent for the London Printing and Publishing Company. He moved to San Francisco in 1855 to open a branch office, and here his name began evolving, first into Muygridge and finally to Muybridge in 1865. Following a severe head injury from a stage coach crash in northern Texas in 1860 that caused him to see double images, he returned to London for recuperation and it is thought that his experiments with photography began at this time. At the International Exhibition of 1862, in which the Photographic Society of London participated, Muybridge would have seen works by many other photographers and the emerging association between art and science that would later influence his work. Upon returning to San Francisco in 1866 or1867 he immediately began working as a photographer, signing his works as Helios, and established his business as Helios Flying Studio.
Among his subject matter, Muybridge photographed the development of the Central Pacific Railroad, and accepted government commissions for documenting lighthouses on the Pacific coast and various government buildings in San Francisco. His landscape and terrain images include Alaska and Central America, Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and he was in northeastern California documenting Tule Lake for the US Army when the Modoc Wars erupted in 1873. After meeting Governor Stanford in 1877, Muybridge photographed Stanford’s horses while in motion. He would continue to develop his Animal Locomotion series and, in 1887, convinced the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D. C. to purchase a full portfolio of eleven volumes of all the Locomotion images. When Muybridge retired in 1894 to Kingston upon Thames, he continued to promote and publish his motion studies and books with an emphasis on the connection of his work to the birth of the new visual media―cinema—which began to flourish at his death.
In June 2009, CHS was invited by the Corcoran to lend fifteen works by Muybridge plus an additional photo album from its permanent collections for the exhibition, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change. Organized by the Corcoran’s chief curator, Philip Brookman, this first major retrospective of over 300 items from thirty-six lenders examines Muybridge’s career and extensive pioneering work in areas such as The Geology of Time: Yosemite and the High Sierra; War, Murder, and the Production of Coffee: the Modoc Wars and the Development of Central America; Motion Pictures: the Zoopraxiscope; and Animal Locomotion.
CHS’ stereo card with the classic image of Contemplation Rock, Glacier Point, 1872, was chosen as one of two images selected to illustrate Muybridge’s work in the Washington Post review of the exhibition, on view this last spring and early summer at the Corcoran Gallery. Three small works from CHS’ group were shipped to the exhibition’s second venue at the Tate Gallery in London and are currently on view there to January 16, 2011. The Helios exhibition will travel to its last venue, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and open in late February for fourteen weeks of viewing. We hope you will visit Helios at SFMOMA, and visit CHS where more works by Muybridge from our permanent collection will also be on view during that time. More works by Muybridge are available for viewing in our North Baker Research Library, where we welcome visitors from around the world.
~ Cheryl Maslin, CHS Registrar/Collections Manager
California Historical Society
Biographical source: Brookman, Philip. Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change.
Corcoran Gallery of Art and Steidl Publishers, 2010.