The Photographer

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For other uses, see Photographer (disambiguation).

The Photographer is a chamber opera by composer Philip Glass that is based on the homicide trial of photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The opera is based on words drawn from the trial as well as Muybridge's letters to his wife. Commissioned by the Holland Festival, the opera was first performed in 1982 at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

Historical background[edit]

In 1872, businessman and former Governor of California Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to settle a question. Stanford claimed that there was a point in a horse's full gallop when all four hooves were off the ground. To answer this proposition, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous picture capture. Muybridge's technology involved prescriptive chemical bath formulas and an electrical trigger created by Stanford's electrical engineer, John D. Issacs.

In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife"; and shot and killed him. He was put on trial for the killing, but acquitted on the grounds that it was "justifiable homicide." This incident marked the last time an admitted murder in passion in California did not receive a sentence in punishment, except when there was reason of insanity.

Muybridge thought his wife's son had been fathered by Larkyns. (As an adult, a photograph shows that Florado strongly resembled Muybridge.) After the acquittal, Muybridge left the U.S. for a lengthy planned photography expedition to Central America, where he particularly worked in Guatemala. He returned in 1876 and resumed horse motion studies with Stanford.

In July 1878, Muybridge successfully photographed a horse at a gallop using a series of fifty cameras. Each of the cameras was arranged along a track parallel to the horse's, and each of the camera shutters were controlled by trip wires which were triggered by the horse's hooves. This series of photos, taken at Stanford's Palo Alto Stock Farm, is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that, indeed, the feet all leave the ground.


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