Books about photographers and photographer biographies have a spotty history at best, but I'm looking forward to this one nonetheless. Ed-weird—sorry, Eadweard, née Edward—Muybridge (formerly Muygridge, formerly Muggeridge) really was one of the oddest characters in British-American photography (born British, worked in the U.S.). And the deeper you go the stranger the tale gets.
I'll be skeptical of the author's objectivity until I know better—I'm not familiar with the work of author Edward Ball—but gratuitous sensationalism is less likely to be a pitfall than it is usually. With Muybridge you don't need to jack up the drama; he really was stranger than fiction.
Here's the publisher's blurb:
From the National Book Award-winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life/true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads.
One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible motion pictures. He was the first to capture time and play it back for an audience, giving birth to visual media and screen entertainments of all kinds. Yet the artist and inventor Muybridge was also a murderer who killed coolly and meticulously, and his trial is one of the early instances of a media sensation. His patron was railroad tycoon (and former California governor) Leland Stanford, whose particular obsession was whether four hooves of a running horse ever left the ground at once. Stanford hired Muybridge and his camera to answer that question. And between them, the murderer and the railroad mogul launched the age of visual media.
Set in California during its frontier decades, The Tycoon and the Inventor interweaves Muybridge's quest to unlock the secrets of motion through photography, an obsessive murder plot, and the peculiar partnership of an eccentric inventor and a driven entrepreneur. A tale from the great American West, this popular history unspools a story of passion, wealth, and sinister ingenuity.
It's called The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. (Here are our links to other purveyors.) Just published today. I've heard that it's another of those pop histories influenced by the success (both artistic and financial) of Erik Larson's rich and entertaining The Devil in the White City, and if so, that can only be to the good.
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Doug Howk: "Rebecca Solnit, in River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, has already covered the story. Though Muybridge's work was a precursor to the motion picture, Etienne-Jules Marey's contemporaneous work in France solved much of the technical requirements, eg. 12 images per second."