ETIENNE-JULES MAREY
Capturing Motion with Chronophotograpy

By Bill Dobbins
www.billdobbinsphotography.com

The introduction of photography in 1839 made it possible to capture and fix still images for the first time in history.  Over the course of the next few decades the technology of photography rapidly advance, going from Daguerreotypes to wet plats, then dry plats and finally celluloid film.

But early on, investigations began to how to capture motion rather than single still photos.  One of the early method developed to accomplish this was chronophotography.

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Etienne-Jules Marey was interested in studying motion in all animals, but was particularly focused on birds. Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey.
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Photographing the movement of horses. Credit: Étienne-Jules Marey
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey

“Chronophotograpy,” explains Wikipedia, “is an antique photographic technique from the Victorian era (beginning about 1867–68), which captures movement in several frames of print. These prints can be subsequently arranged either like animation cels or layered in a single frame. It is a predecessor to cinematography and moving film, involving a series of different cameras, originally created and used for the scientific study of movement.[1]”

Chronophotography is defined as “a set of photographs of a moving object, taken for the purpose of recording and exhibiting successive phases of motion”.[2] The term chronophotography was coined by French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey to describe photographs of movement from which measurements could be taken and motion could be studied. It is derived from the Greek word χρόνος chrónos (“time”) combined with photography.[3]

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Chronophotography involves capturing rapid successive images of motion using multiple cameras.
Étienne-Jules Marey's chronophotographic gun
Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotographic gun allowed him to capture images in rapid succession to record motion,.

Marey ( 5 March 1830 – 15 May 1904) was highly successful in a number of fields.  He contributed to the development of cardiology, creating a number of physical instruments to monitor physiological measurement. as well as in aviation and the evolution of the science and technology of photography.

Using chronophotography, Marey was able to a capture a series of images very much like those that would later make up a strip of movie films or, nowadays, digital image captures. Of course, back then there was no way play back those photos to create the illusion of motion.  Instead, multiple images could be looked individually or be combined on the same print to show subsequent moving states of action at the same time.

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Recording the motion of a falling cat. Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey

This was the same sort of method later used by Eadweard Muybridge in his famous photographic study to determine whether all four feet of a galloping horse came off the ground at the same time.

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Edweard Muybridge lined up a series of cameras with lines attached to the shutters and the horse tripped those shutters as it galloped past. Credit: Edweard Muybridge.
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Credit: Edweard Muybridge.

Marey had more scientific goals and motives.  He was extremely interested in anatomy and more specifically the anatomy of motion of both humans and various animals – particularly birds.   In 1890 he published a substantial volume entitled Le Vol des Oiseaux (The Flight of Birds), richly illustrated with photographs, drawings, and diagrams. He also created stunningly precise sculptures of various flying birds.

Marey studied other animals too, Wikipedia reports. “He published La Machine animale in 1873 (translated as “Animal Mechanism”).  Marey hoped to merge anatomy and physiology. To better understand his chronophotographic images, he compared them with images of the anatomy, skeletonjoints, and muscles of the same species.

Although the invention of movies would subsequently become the primary way that motion is studies, the use of multiple-exposure action photos as a single image is still used today, particularly in combination with high-speed strobes to freeze motion.

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Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in  Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:

The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey
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Credit: Etienne-Jules Marey
Fencing Pose
A chronophotograph of a fencer executing a sword thrust, photographed by Etienne Jules Marey (1830 – 1903) the French pioneer of scientific cinematography. (Photo by Etienne Jules Marey/Getty Images)