“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”*

*from “Middlesex” (2002), by Jeffrey Eugenides.

It’s Derby Day, and the final day of Kingston Museum’s third Muybridge Week Festival (theme: film and projected image).

Historic England describes the plan of today’s venue:

“the two buildings are set on a corner site, with the library to the south, entered from Fairfield Road, and the museum immediately to the north, entered from Wheatfield Way. Both buildings are rectangular on plan, set on a west/east alignment; the library is larger than the museum. The buildings are linked by an enclosed single storey corridor, dating from the construction of the museum.”

Both buildings were designed by Alfred Cox, in the late C17 “Wrenaissance” style popular circa 1890-1914.

Kingston Library Committee, in the interests of expansion, had secured the Fairfield Road site in 1899. A loan of £6 000 was raised; the cost exceeding the estimate, a further £2 000 was donated by Andrew Carnegie, then the richest man in the world. Carnegie opened the library on 11th May, 1903 and, after being told that the adjacent reserved plot had been intended for a museum, increased his gift by £6 400, enabling the museum to be built.

Eadweard Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston upon Thames in 1830, and left for America as a bookseller twenty years later. Muybridge was planning a return trip to Europe in 1860 when he sustained serious head injuries in a stagecoach crash in Texas.

During the next few years of recuperation in England, Muybridge took up professional photography, learning the wet plate collodion process, and secured at least two British patents for his inventions. He then returned to San Francisco in 1867.

Arthur P Shimamura, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has speculated that Muybridge suffered substantial injuries to the orbitofrontal cortex that probably also extended into the anterior temporal lobes.

Zaria Gorvett wrote for BBC Future about “sudden savant syndrome” (there have been twenty five verified cases). Muybridge’s personality changed following his brain injury, and from being genial and open with good business sense, he became eccentric, moody and risk taking. He would go on in 1874 to murder his wife’s lover. Not only this, but his life suddenly displayed signs of creative genius.

Berit Brogaard, a neuroscientist who directs the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research, Florida, comments on how dead and dying brain cells leak serotonin into the surrounding tissue: “We’ve found permanent changes before – you can actually see connections in the brain that weren’t there before.”.

In 1872, Leland Stanford (illustrated above), owner of seven hundred racehorses, offered Muybridge, by now a world famous photographer of landscapes, $25 000 to establish whether or not all four hooves of a running or trotting horse ever leave the ground at the same time. That same year, Muybridge settled Stanford’s question with a single photographic negative showing a horse fully airborne at the trot.

Stanford encouraged Muybridge to continue expanding his investigations, and he began experimenting with an array of twelve cameras photographing a galloping horse in a sequence of shots. He perfected his method of photographing horses in motion between 1878 and 1884.

Muybridge became the first photographer to capture motion of the speed of a galloping horse in real time (“Sallie Gardner at a Gallop”, 1878). To show doubters that his photographs were real, Muybridge successfully demonstrated the moving image using his “Zoopraxiscope”, an early form of movie projector. Between 1883 and 1886, under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge made more than 100 000 images of animal and human motion. His human models were either entirely nude or very lightly clothed.

At the Museum this morning, the fully wigged volunteer Keith Hathaway, playing Muybridge, demonstrates a replica Zoopraxiscope, lovingly turning its wheel for us.

In the afternoon, I join the second half of “Film Day” (popcorn provided). Museum Curator Seoyoung Kim introduces films ranging from a two minute animation to a feature film, and talks informally to us about her work and her Ph D studies on Muybridge. Also available for conversation is artist Denise Webber, whose 1998 short film, “Clay”, explores her sense of inclusivity and “pre-feminist feminism” in Muybridge’s work.

Muybridge made his final return to Kingston in 1894, and lived there with his cousins until his death on 8th May, 1904. During these years he became a good friend of Benjamin Carter, Head of Kingston Library. While Kingston Museum was being built, Muybridge bequeathed his personal collection of photographs, equipment and belongings to the Museum, which opened to the public in October 1904.

In 2017 Ian Sample, science editor for The Guardian, reported that Harvard scientists had made use of Muybridge’s stills and animations, setting them in DNA rather than capturing them on photographic plates. Seth Shipman, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, was quoted as saying:

“We encoded images and a movie into DNA in a living cell which is fun, but it’s not really the point of the system. What we’re trying to develop is a molecular recorder that can sit inside living cells and collect data over time.”

Sample’s piece concludes:

“A neuroscientist by training, Shipman said that scientists have long struggled to understand brain development because it is hard to make measurements without interfering with the process. “If we had cells that recorded information inside the brain, the whole organ could develop and you could go in and retrieve the data once it’s all done,” he said.”.

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