Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Muybridge’s cloud(s)

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MAN on Muybridge: I introduced MAN’s June Newsmaker Q&A with Weston Naef. Part one. Part two. Part three. Q&A with Corcoran and exhibition curator Philip Brookman part one, part two. Muybridge & Watkins: In which I play detective.

I’m still amazed that Corcoran curator Philip Brookman’s Eadweard Muybridge retrospective is the first career-length survey of the artist. As Brookman said yesterday, it gives both scholars and visitors the opportunity to discover and to re-examine Muybridge’s oeuvre.

A couple weeks ago I walked through the show with Brookman and we talked about why he thinks Muybridge did or didn’t make what. Brookman pointed out these pictures as pictures that simply have to be Muybridges. These three are in three different galleries of the show. Look carefully at the cloud in the top center of each picture. Either the same cloud miraculously recurred in nature thrice, or Muybridge put it there. (And yes, Muybridge was known for altering the skies of pictures he printed.)

In her catalogue essay, Rebecca Solnit says this about Muybridge’s clouds: “Early in his career, Muybridge produced stereoscopic studies of trees and clouds, each a series of several cards. It is unlikely that they would have appealed to the average person looking for something to view through their parlor stereo viewer. Instead they seem to have been intended for artists and to have been made in much the same way as artists themselves made sketches and studies to try to understand a phenomenon and describe its variations.” I don’t know if the cloud in the three images here came from the early works that Solnit references (I looked through the cloud images in the 2,000-Muybridge-labeled-images-strong Calisphere archive and nada), but I like the idea that Muybridge is using pictures of clouds the way a painter uses a successful sketch.

[Images, top to bottom: Valley of the Yosemite, from Mariposa Trail, No. 3, 1872. Collection of the American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. City Hall Under Construction, 1873. Collection of the California History Section, California State Library. Pigeon Point Lighthouse, 1873. Collection of the California History Section, California State Library.]

Related: Muybridge’s Cloud’s Rest, Valley of the Yosemite, No. 40 without the cloud above, via Calisphere. The same picture with the cloud, unknown collection (readers?).

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  1. As is well known, as early as the late 1850s Gustave Le Gray was employing different negatives for skies and foregrounds. For this practice there was a compelling practical reason. His negatives, like those of Watkins and Muybridge, were collodion on glass. Collodion was overly sensitive to blue light, so if a negative was exposed long enough to produce foreground detail, the sky was overexposed and printed out as a dull white expanse. Therefore a quickly exposed negative was used for sky and clouds, a slower one for foreground landscape (or seascape), and each negative was successively printed out while masking the area on which the other was to be printed. The two were thus combined to make a final image.

  2. […] These days ND filters are used to permit long exposures of daylight scenes, giving the silky water effects seen above. But again, Muybridge was turning a vice into a virtue; and again, he often spliced photos together to get a convincing sky, sometimes even re-using cloud formations. […]

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