Was Eadweard Muybridge an artist or a scientist according to Kevin Kerr's play Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge?
According to Kevin Kerr’s play Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge, the subject of Kerr’s script was first and foremost an artist – one who deigned to call himself a scientist despite his lack of training in the sciences. That said, Kerr’s script did not attempt to minimize Muybridge’s contributions to the study of animal and human motion. Muybridge (born Edward James Muggeridge) was a photographer of some note, recognized for his landscapes as much as for his myriad eccentricities. It was Muybridge’s emphasis on photographing animals in motion that enabled him to lay claim to the moniker of ‘scientist,’ as his images were used in the study of motion, especially those of horses. What lent his claim to a rightful place among scientists was his invention of what would become the motion picture. He developed a machine called a zoopraxiscope that, when loaded with his still images of animals and operated at a fast speed gave the impression of what we today know as motion pictures. In addition, his 1887 book Animal Locomotion, followed by his 1899 compilation Animals in Motion,are considered legitimate contributions to science, their detailed depictions of living creatures, including humans, engaged in various activities were early and innovative applications of the still-relatively-new science of photography.
Kerr’s play would have lacked much in the way of drama had Muybridge’s career as a photographer and pseudo-scientist been the only elements to the subject matter’s story. It was Muybridge’s trial for the murder of his wife’s alleged lover that provides his life its greatest drama. His acquittal notwithstanding (the court found his actions justifiable), it is questionable that Kerr would have been inspired to write his play absent that event. The reason for mentioning this is to add greater weight to Kerr’s emphasis on Muybridge’s vocation as a photographer. In a 2012 interview, Kerr described his emotional reaction to footage of Muybridge’s work and the revelations of the late photographer’s personal life:
“As Kerr watched the cassettes, he felt that ‘a sense of obsession began to emanate from’ them, which he initially put down to some kind of Walt Whitman-esque fascination with the human body. What he found couldn’t have been further from that impression. He discovered an awkward, intensely serious man with a failed marriage who had murdered his wife’s lover (an act followed by an acquittal on the basis of justifiable homicide)—‘It just felt like melodrama,’ says Kerr.”
Kerr’s play portrays Muybridge as a photographer obsessed with the science of his art and with the study of motion. In that respect, he give equal weight to both vocations. It was the photographer, however, who gave birth to the scientist.