In 1872 Eadweard Muybridge photographed champion trotter Occident in mid-trot, answering the age old question of “unsupported transit”— does a running horse ever, simultaneously, have all four hooves off the ground?[more]
Leland Stanford, former governor of California and president of the Southern Pacific Railroad had recently added horsemanship to his list of credentials and had become fascinated with all aspects of a horse’s gait. He hired photographer Eadweard Muybridge to capture an image of his fastest trotter, Occident, pulling a sulky at full speed. Muybridge did not think it was possible but Stanford persuaded him to try.
After a number of failed attempts and a few semi-successes, Muybridge finally got the photograph that Stanford wanted. He devised a spring-loaded shutter—a novelty in itself—and attached it to a thread stretched across the track. When the horse made contact with the thread, it would trigger the shutter and expose the plate for a fraction of a second, catching the horse in mid-stride.
The resulting photograph showing Occident with all four hooves in the air was reported in newspapers across America and according to legend, won a $10,000 bet for Leland Stanford. The original photograph has not survived but the image was immortalized by the Currier and Ives print above.
Eadweard Muybridge continued to experimenting with motion photography. His motion studies of animals and humans contributed directly to the development of motion pictures.
He also stood trial for murdering his wife’s lover, but that is a story for another time and place.