Database for Animation Studies


Muybridge’s Magic Lantern

Though widely known for his contributions to instantaneous photography and studies of human and animal locomotion, the figure of Eadweard Muybridge was equally renowned during the final decades of the 19th century for his tours of the magic lantern circuit. At this time, the photographer entertained and educated audiences with a poly-generic, multi-media show alternating still views with animations produced through his projecting apparatus, the zoopraxiscope. This article examines the temporal and material dimensions of Muybridge’s lantern practice to demonstrate how it builds on 19th-century anxieties about changing epistemologies of vision and visuality, as well as time and temporality. As a dynamic process animating still images into motion, Muybridge treated animation as a palliative measure designed to bring his ungainly images of animals back into the realm of natural human vision. In so doing, he bred truth through illusion and helped prepare audiences for an emerging cinematic sensibility. By emphasizing the temporal dimensions of photographic indexicality, the author further argues that Muybridge’s endeavors amount to an archive of time, and that his lantern slides evince time made material. While the slides’ projection displayed a virtual immateriality, an examination of broken ones reveals that photographic beauty emerges from their ephemerality and fragility. The animating interchange between stillness and motion, between the material and the immaterial, functions as an indicator of the emergence of epistemic assumptions and anxieties about time and sight that took hold as cinema emerged.

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Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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