The Denver Art Museum is well known for its wide collection of works, welcoming both old and new artist around the world. Although all the pieces here were made years apart it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences the wide variety of works share. A new exhibition was recently added that focuses on animals and their importance in art. What’s interesting about the works here is the admiration and curiosity people have always shared with animals. It seems we’ve always been fixed on wildlife with the way they look and the way they move. Many artworks here try to capture different animal’s movement, but it couldn’t be more evident than in Eadweard Muybridge’s work.
Eadweard Muybridge (born in 1830) was an English photographer famous for his photographs of Yosemite Valley, but more importantly his remarkable photographs that captured what seemed to be a moment in time. In 1872 Muybridge was approached by former governor of California Leland Stanford with a question, “When a horse gallops do all four legs leave the ground simultaneously?” (Pauwels) Muybridge was curious and believed they did, but he wanted to be sure. He set up a variety of cameras on a racetrack equipped with shutters, each connected to wires. What he got where photos capturing different stages of the horses gallop; one photo clearly showing all four legs leaving the ground simultaneously.
His work is meant to be viewed like words on a page, from left to right and top to bottom. Doing so the viewer can see shot per shot of different animals and people walking and moving about. Almost like a flip book or an animated film, each photograph is a moment captured in time that when put together can create the illusion of movement from the subject. What’s truly remarkable about these photos is Muybridge’s ability to capture what’s seems to be an almost instantaneous moment.
During this time period taking a picture wasn’t so simple, it was actually a pretty lengthy process. Most photographers at the time used a process called the “wet plate” process. Glass plates were dipped in a coating sensitive to light and subjects would need to sit still for a certain amount of time so a negative could form on the plates. (Pauwels) This would take a couple seconds and sometimes even minutes for a negative to be captured. This is why so many photographs at the time have people in a stiff and almost awkward position. Muybridge used a more sensitive plate method and added shutters. The shutters allowed more light to be captured leaving a negative on the plates faster.
Nowadays we don’t need to worry about glass plates, it’s so simple and easy to take a photo. The only thing we worry about now is which filter to use. Thanks to our smartphones now anybody can be a photographer and social media’s everywhere are flooded with our photos. Our ability to capture these moments whenever we choose should really be celebrated and the Denver Art Museum does just that. There’s a small section in the exhibition labeled the “Beloved” section which shows a collection of photographs of people’s pets. Visitors can view, but also share photos of their pets that are then shown in a livestream on an iPad.
Viewers can see a variety of photos submitted to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #DAMpets. Photos are shown in a slideshow format that alternate every 10 minutes. It’s a livestream so that means as long as people continue to submit photos visitors might not always see the same photos. Regardless of how many times you visit the Denver Art Museum visitors are always going to see new photos and maybe even photos of their own pets.
Although Muybridge’s photographs and our funny cat photos are over a hundred years apart they both share the same admiration towards animals. This exhibition really tries to show visitors just how important animals are in a variety of artworks around the world and throughout the centuries.
- Pauwels, Erin. “Resetting the Camera’s Clock: Sarony, Muybridge & the Aesthetics of Wet-Plate Photography.” History & Technology, vol. 31, no. 4, Dec. 2015, pp. 482–491. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/07341512.2015.1090674.