Sallie Gardner at a Gallop
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In 1872, 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 trot, 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. (Though legend also includes a wager of up to $25,000, there is no evidence of this.) Stanford sought out English photographer Eadweard Muybridge and hired him to settle the question.
Muybridge's relationship with Stanford was long and torrid, and it would ultimately prove to be his entrance and exit from the history books.
To prove Stanford's claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge's technology involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an electrical trigger created by the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs. It is important to underscore Muybridge's collboration with John D. Isaacs. The design for the trigger to set off each camera was what eluded Muybridge for so long and without Isaacs' help, Muybridge's contraption would never have come into existence.
In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford's question with a single photographic negative showing Stanford's racehorse Occident airborne during trot. This negative has not survived, although woodcuts made of it did.
By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras. The cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse's, and each of the camera shutters was controlled by a trip wire which was triggered by the horse's hooves.
This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University, is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that the hooves all leave the ground — although not with the legs fully extended forward and back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse, as it switches from "pulling" from the front legs to "pushing" from the back legs.
The relationship between the mercurial Muybridge and his patron broke down in 1882 when Stanford commissioned a book called The Horse in Motion as Shown by Instantaneous Photography which omitted actual photographs by Muybridge, relying instead on drawings and engravings based on the photographs, and which gave Muybridge scant credit for his work.
The lack of photographs was likely simply due to the printing constraints of the time but Muybridge took it as a slap in the face and filed an unsuccessful law suit against Stanford.