See Eadweard Muybridge's Panorama Of San Francisco

Posted by David Ozanich — 14 Apr 2011


Eadweard Muybridge is just about as famous as an old-timey photographer can possibly get. He basically invented the idea of cinematography with his horse photos that prove equines can have all four feet off the ground at the same time while running. An Englishman by birth, he spent the better part of his career as a photographer capturing landscapes in Philadelphia and San Francisco during the 1860s and 70s.

A new show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, featuring his photographs of San Francisco, has been the occasion for a few articles in high-brow newspapers to investigate the biography of this great lensman. The Wall Street Journal describes his cameras:

Working in Palo Alto, Calif., Mr. Muybridge used a series of large-scale cameras containing glass plates to document and deconstruct elements of movement at speed imperceptible to the human eye. In addition to proving that horses do lift all four legs, Mr. Muybridge pioneered other locomotion studies with humans and animals.

The innovative technique of photographing using plated negatives was complicated: The artist hauled a huge view camera, boxes of chemicals and mammoth glass-plate negatives on his expeditions.

The San Francisco Chronicle also has a detailed profile with some interesting bits about what you can see in the show:

The marquee piece on display will be an iconic 360-degree panorama taken from the top of a Nob Hill mansion in 1878. The glass negatives were 17 inches by 22 inches, giving amazing clarity to the print, which is almost 17 feet when spread out.

"Everyone photographed from that vantage point," Keller says, "but only Muybridge managed to get to the top of Mark Hopkins' mansion, and only Muybridge photographed in these huge glass plates. He knew how to put on a good show."

That's what it took in the second half of the years of the 19th century, when San Francisco was the most photographed city in the country - if not the world. In order to make it commercially, a man had to stand apart.

"Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change" is on view at SFMoMA until June 7th. You can see the complete San Francisco panorama (part of which featuring Market Street is seen below) here.


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