These photos from the 1800s first proved that galloping horses levitate
If you are one of the many thousands people who tune in to horse racing’s Triple Crown this time of year, watching a horse move is, in itself, no special feat. But before Eadweard Muybridge starting experimenting with stop-motion photography in the 1870s, no one had ever seen it before.
Muybridge, a photographic pioneer, was fascinated with movement and photography’s ability to capture it. Long before Instagram added the hyperlapse and boomerang features, Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, which, much like the former, gave the effect of movement to still photography.
This invention was prompted after California governor and horse breeder Leland Stanford (who would later found Stanford University) approached Muybridge in the early 1870s to help him discover whether a galloping horse lifts all four hoofs off the ground at one point. Five years later, and following many photographic experiments at Stanford’s Palo Alto Stock Farm, Muybridge’s cameras proved that horses did, in fact, lift all four hoofs off the ground — a theory Stanford called “unsupported transit.”
The entirety of Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion series, which mastered the art and science of using cameras with special shutters that triggered in response to movement, is available to the public through the Library of Congress.
Each frame serves in harmony with one another to create a visual rhythm, that echoes the sounds of hoofs and syncopates Muybridge’s scientific triumph.
The images have become as iconic as photography itself.