Chronophotography 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.
Chronophotography is defined as "a set of photographs of a moving object, taken for the purpose of recording and exhibiting successive phases of motion". 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.
Photography is an art and science which was invented and developed beginning in the 1830s. Initially, it was used as a documentation device – for portraiture, historical moments, battles in war, and so on. With how rapidly the technological and artistic world began to develop, new uses and ideas for the camera also began to develop. With the invention of the camera, art no longer necessarily had to capture life. The camera became the dominant source of accurate depiction of life. As the technology became more sophisticated, so did the activities for which people needed cameras.
As early as the 1860s, a few photographers were making “moving pictures” by taking photographs of a subject in a series of poses simulating phases of motion, then using various devices to display them one after the other in rapid succession. This stop-motion photography technique was necessary because the photographic materials available at that time were not sensitive enough to permit the very short exposures needed to photograph subjects that were actually moving. Improvements in the sensitivity of photographic emulsions eventually made true real-time chronophotography possible.
In 1872, Leland Stanford, former governor of California and horse enthusiast, hired Eadweard Muybridge to provide photographic proof that at some instants a galloping horse has all four hooves off the ground. Muybridge lined part of a racecourse with a row of cameras that had shutters connected to a series of tripwires, then photographed a horse against a white background as it galloped past. One of the resulting silhouette photographs provided the desired proof. Later in the decade, with the benefit of more sensitive photographic plates, he obtained greatly improved results. Muybridge also arranged such sequences of photographs in order around the inner surface of a zoetrope; when the drum-like device was set spinning, an observer looking through its slots saw an animated image.
The images of the horse caused astonishment to the public, as no one had seen such precise documentation of the movement of the animal. Muybridge was subsequently commissioned to photograph a variety of other moving subjects.
Later, in 1878, Albert Londe was hired as a medical photographer by neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Londe used a camera with nine lenses and intricate timing system to study the physical and muscular movements of patients. Over time Londe refined this system to be able to take a sequence of twelve pictures in as little as a tenth of a second.
Physicist Étienne-Jules Marey began using the technique to more closely study movement, flight, and exercise. He soon discovered that by overlapping celluloid prints on top of one another, he was able to see phases of movement and study their relations to each other in a single frame.
Georges Demeny, Marey’s assistant, developed even further applications for the reproduction of movement, primarily in creating a simple projector called the stroboscope. He and German photographer Ottomar Anschutz shared the development of projecting technology, using chronophotographs and projectors to create movement much like the projection we know today. Anschutz carried this concept even further, developing chronophotographs to run through his projectors as entertainment. Anschutz then managed to develop a folding hand camera with a “focal-plane shutter,” an early model of a folding bellows, and a flatbed-type press camera that allowed photos to be taken at 1/1000 second exposures. This enabled a faster setup of Muybridge’s multiple-camera system, able to take more exposures faster due to the rapidity of the shutter speed. He also invented a personal viewer for his chronophotographs, a revolving disk in which the photos could be viewed with illumination from an electric spark (rather than projection). Chronophotographic inventions following those of the “inventors of the cinema” (Muybridge, Marey, Demeny, and Anschutz) became the foundations upon which cinematic film was created.
Setting up a sequence of cameras to photograph the movement of a subject as it progresses in locomotion originally created chronophotographs. This could be done via tripwire or electrically timed shutter release attached to each individual camera. The photographer then paired together a sequence of twelve different wet-plate photographic prints of the subject in motion. The subject could range from a running horse to a human descending stairs, or inanimate objects being thrown, launched, or falling. To overlap the phases of movement on a single plate, like the work of Marey and Demeny, a photographer would fix a single plate by using strips of celluloid for each separate, irregular image. Marey also later developed a device, shaped in the manner of a gun as its purpose was to photograph short sequences of the natural movement of birds during their flight, which took twelve successive photographs on a set of discs. The disc contained 12 openings around its circumference. In front of this disc was a second disc pierced with a slit. Pressing the trigger of the gun began a mechanism to rotate the discs. The disc carrying the 12 frames rotated 1/12 of a revolution while the disc carrying the shutter slit revolved once, so that each of the 12 openings appeared in turn behind the lens and was exposed through the slit.  When printed, it gave the same effect as his layering process. (Eventually, Marey was able to photograph on actual rolls of film and project the frames in sequence.) Depending on the purpose of the chronophotograph, it could later be affixed to any of several devices either to be displayed in motion or to compare phases of motion in layers.
Chronophotography’s original purpose was to help scientists study objects in motion, primarily humans and animals. It was also used for practical purposes, such as judging timed events and recording historical ones (horse and dog races, performances) and studying the movement of projectiles for war. With Anschutz’s development of non-scientific, entertaining chronophotographs, chronophotography became the basis for the invention and development of cinematography. Due to the development of projection devices, (the zoetrope, Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, Anschutz’s electrotachyscope, and ultimately, Albert Londe’s high-speed multi-exposure camera which ran film through a projector in a new way), the display of chronophotographs as entertainment became more sophisticated and useful than ever before. Before long, cinematic devices spawned from original chronophotographic predecessors, with which audiences could watch continuous loops of entertaining activities (for example, the “peep show” devices built using Thomas Edison’s backlighting technology which showed mildly smutty films). From these developments in history, cinematography and silent film of moving images were invented.
- Walking Troubles of Organic Hemiplegy (documentary film)
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