THE COMPLEAT EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE: ZOOPRAXISCOPE (1)


Following the exhibition Catching the Action: Muybridge and the Chronophotographers, at London's Museum of the Moving Image in 1992, Brian Coe and I decided to further investigate the original Zoopraxiscope at Kingston Museum. We had spent some months steeped in Muybridge before and after the exhibition - half of which was based on display boards travelled by Kingston Museum, and half (mostly other chronophotographers) curated by Brian and myself.

The Zoopraxiscope is not quite the simple device that it is usually described to be. Firstly, there are the potential complexities of the projected image, which suffers from anorthoscopic distortion. (This is simply an odd 'defect' due to the images being 'scanned' by a series of travelling slots.) Normal images would appear squashed up tall on the screen, requiring the pictures used to be stretched out in width to compensate.

Then there is the fact that Muybridge used differing numbers of sequences in his discs; and the original b/w 16-inch discs were shown with a series of separate slotted shutter discs, several of which have survived.

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The picture aperture could be altered by sliding 'doors' fitted to the mechanism, and there was also an unusual vertical slide-changer (which I eventually realised was Muybridge's own patented device) fitted to the dual-purpose lamphouse

There were other odd aspects of the machine. The mechanism appeared to be made using a good deal of grey metal, not all of which looked like steel. It had the appearance of aluminium - but that would have been too soft, and duralumin had not been invented in the 1870s. As it turned out, these apparently 'alloy' parts are all (almost certainly) actually nickel-plated brass.

The photographs on this page were taken on that exploratory visit, in 1994. We also photographed, and video-animated, some of the discs. We planned to return for more investigations, but it was not to be. Brian broke his leg shortly after our visit, leading to a stroke and serious disability. Sadly, he died last year. I have been back to Kingston many times since 1994, cataloguing the collection and researching the images on glass, including the surviving picture discs - but I've not actually continued with the Zoopraxiscope examination. As it is now set up, the machine will project the later 12-inch discs. Is this the original 1879 machine for 16-inch discs, modified for the later format? That's now my opinion, but further detailed investigation of the surviving parts would perhaps finally confirm this.

Stephen Herbert, December 2008

.. Zoopraxiscope lamphouse. When these photographs were taken in 1994, it was still being displayed with the lantern top and cowl that belong to the bi-unial slide lantern, the existence of which was not then known. .. .. The lamphouse was a commercially available science lantern design, modified to take Muybridge's patented fast-change slide carrier.
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This view shows the support posts for the original limelight illuminant .........................................
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.. Mechanism showing small chained handle for raising interior section.

Right: Drawing by Brian Coe, 1994. Parts marked 'alloy' are in fact nickel plated brass or steel.

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.. The dark marks on the far side of the mechanism suggest that a drive wheel was fitted on that side at some time.

Right: Photographic historian Brain Coe photographs the Zoopraxiscope at Kingston Museum, January 1994.

All photos copyright Stephen Herbert. More on the Zoopraxiscope discs here.

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