In the Blink of an Eye
In Gallery One:
Toys and Magic
Unknown maker, Celarius Waltz, Zoetrope strip, c1880, National Media Museum Collection
There are no such things as ‘moving images’. They are an illusion created by our brains.
During the nineteenth century several ingenious devices appeared which created the illusion of movement using a series of still pictures. They had wonderful names such as Zoetrope, Phenakisoscope and Praxinoscope but are known more simply as ‘optical toys’.
At the same time, magic lantern shows included slides which produced movement effects to amuse and delight audiences.
Eadweard Muybridge, Baboon: The Walk, from Animal Locomotion, 1887, National Media Museum Collection
Optical toys provided the inspiration for moving pictures based on photographs. By the 1870s photographic technology had evolved to the point where it was possible to capture rapid movement. Sequences of photographs could be taken to record and analyse the movement of people and animals.
The first photographer to experiment with the sequential photography of movement was Eadweard Muybridge. Although the best-known, he was just one of several important pioneers of motion photography.
Prototype Timeslice camera, Tim Macmillan, 1993
The latest imaging technologies often have their origins in historic techniques. As well as taking photographs of phases of movement in rapid succession, Eadweard Muybridge took photographs from several different angles at the same instant in time. When viewed in sequence, these photographs create a animation of an action frozen in time. This is the principle behind ‘Timeslice’ photography, developed in the 1980s by Tim Macmillan and now used extensively in film and television.
See the Time Slice camera on BBC's Tomorrow's World (1993)
Motion Capture Suit, 2012, Courtesy of Centroid Motion Capture
In the 1880s, Etienne-Jules Marey devised a method where subjects dressed head-to-toe in black suits with white lines along their arms and legs were photographed in motion. The resulting images reduced movement to a graphical representation, making it much easier to analyse.
Similar suits are still worn for what is known as Motion Capture, or ‘MoCap’. This technique converts movement into digital information which is used widely in sport, medicine and entertainment.
See some examples of Centroid 3D's motion capture work
Time and Motion
Chronocyclegraph made by Kodak Ltd, 1964. Courtesy of The Kodak Archive at the British Library
It soon became apparent that motion analysis could be applied usefully to the demands of the workplace where it could be used to determine the most efficient use of workers’ time and energy. This became known as ‘Time and Motion’ study.
One of the main tools of time and motion studies were ‘chronocyclegraphs’ - still pictures taken with long exposures in which motion paths are traced by small electric lamps fastened to the workers’ hands.
In Gallery Two:
Roger Fenton, Pasha and Bayadere, 1858, RPS Collection at National Media Museum
Early photographic processes required exposures of several seconds or longer which makes the capture of moving objects impossible. Today, photography’s ability to stop motion is one of its key characteristics.
By the 1880s, ‘instantaneous’ photographs taken with exposures of a fraction of a second were possible, allowing motion to be captured. However, photographers sometimes choose to reject fast shutter speeds in favour of other techniques which give their images a greater sense of movement.
Seeing the Invisible
Harold Egerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957, © Harold & Esther Edgerton Foundation, 2012, Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
Can you see a flying bullet, or a flower opening its petals to greet the morning sun?
Photography can speed up or slow down time. High-speed and time-lapse photography enable us to see events too fast or too slow for the naked eye, revealing a hidden world of extraordinary beauty.
Check out the Slow Mo Guys