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Time | Motion

by Jonathan Shaw
Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport, UK, 2003
96 pp., Illus 60 b/w. Paper, £14.99 / $ 25.00
ISBN: 1-904587-04-6.

Reviewed by Devabrata Paramanik
Nottingham Trent University
Nottingham, United Kingdom


The book Time|Motion celebrates the exhibition held at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in July - September 2003.  It brings together the work of three photographers, Jonathan Shaw, Eadweard Muybridge and Dr. Harold Edgerton, whose work demonstrates the extraordinary potential of the photographic image to explore and capture movement and the passage of time.

The book is divided into three sections each devoted to individual works of the three artists.

Although Jonathan Shaw has the right to be identified as author of this work, Jon Dovey, Pete James and Geoffrey Holt contribute the words. The author beautifully combines their review so as to give the book a meaningful and flowing sequence.

The introduction to the book begins with the concept of the Author Jonathan Shaw’s work of “Kinematographs” [1] representing passage of time in a space. He feels that after all we do not perceive movement as a series of stills, but sense it as continuous in our field of vision. His work “Serenade and Edward II” on page 24-25 shows the movements and flow of ballet dancers in space, recreating our perception of movement as something fluid. The hallucinating effects he originally created by mechanically moving his camera along side his subjects can now be found as part of photo manipulation and digital video software but the aura [2] he creates in this 15 meter wide life size single image amplifies the use of modern technology and the progress we have made since Muybridge’s and Edgerton’s work.

His work is progressive because within his large format single image one can see sections (like Muybridge) and cumulative (like Edgerton) combined. From phenomenological [3] point of view his images intend to bring out the essences of perception of movement and of consciousness providing a direct description of human experience.

The second section is devoted to Eadweard Muybridge, who produced a single image in late 1800’s to reveal if there were moments when a trotting or galloping horse did not touch the ground. Why was horse such a subject of study and what was the context of study? Although the book does not elaborate this point, In 1872, former Governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether during a horse's gallop, all four hooves were ever off the ground at the same time. Stanford sided with this assertion, called "unsupported transit", and took it upon himself to prove it scientifically. Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question [4]. To prove Stanford's claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford's question with a single photographic negative showing Stanford's racehorse Occident airborne during gallop (p. 53, Plate 627, Animals and Movements, Horses; Gallop) His work offered artists and physiologists their first glimpse at the very essence of what motion is visually.

The book uses original sepia toned images (pp. 55-69) of Muybridge’s work making it more comprehensive and approachable for the general audience’s understanding. It also provides an emphasis on the cultural aspect of photography in those days. The images are annotated precisely with finest details for example on p. 75, plate 365, Movement, Head spring, a flying pigeon interfering; model 42 (public acrobat), costume, pelvis cloth. A strip of cloth surrounds the lower part of the abdomen, 1887. Phases of Movement illustrated. Laterals, 12; Foreshortenings. Front 90 deg., 12; Quantity of Movement, 1; Time, 85 thousands of a second. The body in some way was covered so as to protect the image from being obscene.

The use of a grid of white threads marked with numbers as a background to communicate precise information about body displacement within the images makes Muybridge an artist with precision of a scientist. He re-engineered his camera to reduce exposure times to 1/1000th of a second, breaking time to smaller fragments than any one could achieve in those days. In 1880 his studies were performed on range of movements by men, women, and children playing out chosen stories for the scrutiny thus he laid a foundation stone for modern graphic animation. In 1887 his findings were finally published in the revolutionary book named Animal Locomotion [5].

The third section is devoted to Dr Harold Edgerton’s work which combined the camera and the stroboscope [6] to capture movements that are too fast to be seen by the naked eye, such as bullet traveling at 18,00 miles per hour, splash of milk drop. He went further than Muybridge to break time fragments to a millionth of a second. His work has encompassed detailed and specialized research in electronics and yet his major photographic work has been the application of his high speed technique to everyday occurrence such as Golf drive by Shute, 1938, p. 89. To the human eye these actions appear blurred yet Dr. Edgerton through painstakingly selection and clarity of his concerns presents us with photographs that are neatly conclusive as the lengthiest equations.

They have appeal "not simply because they are uncanny revelations of the laws of nature but because they arouse profound philosophical speculations about art and reality."- Geoffrey W. Holt [7].

The book provides the audience a good research method by the author, who looks back into the roots of motion, capture and uses his progressive techniques to combine them. The book being a part of the exhibition grows beyond a mere catalogue to a good research resource. It not only provides an inspiration but also points out to the future of modern technology and its wider application in the field of art and design. It is an outcome of real value that is situated in the blurring boundaries of art and science.

[1] Derived from the Greek word kinema meaning “motion” and “graph.”
[2] Walter Benjamin used the word "aura" to refer to the sense of awe and reverence one presumably experienced in the presence of unique works of art. According to Benjamin, this aura inheres not in the object itself but rather in external attributes such as its known line of ownership, its restricted exhibition, its publicized authenticity, or its cultural value.
[3] Phenomenology of Perception, trans. by Colin Smith, (New York: Humanities Press, 1962) and (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962) translation revised by Forrest Williams, 1981; reprinted, 2002).
[4] Mitchell Leslie (May/June 2001). "The Man Who Stopped Time". Stanford Magazine. Retrieved on 2006-10-08.
[5] Muybridge, E. (1957). Animals in motion. New York, Dover Publications.
[6] A stroboscope, also known as a strobe, is an instrument used to make a cyclically moving object appear to be slow-moving, or stationary.
[7] “Seeing the Unseen” exhibition catalogue,1976.





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