“Horse in Motion” animation brought alive in tattoos



The work of the ground-breaking photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge, who gave us the famous “Horse in Motion” animation, has been immortalised in a series of 11 tattoos.

Evan Hawkins
Evan Hawkins

The project’s creator, Evan Hawkins, has assembled the individual tattoos into a gif animation, bringing alive Muybridge’s famous work, which proved for the first time that, at one point in a horse’s gallop, all four feet were off the ground.

Hawkins told Horsetalk he had been blown away by the response to the project, and was now setting his sights on a much longer tattoo animation involving thousands of people and thousands of tattoos around the world.

Hawkins said he came up with the idea while talking to some friends about another tattoo project where a woman wrote a short story and had every word tattooed on people.

“I thought I could take that idea a step further and create an actual animation out of tattoos,” he said.

“I decided to use Eadweard Muybridge’s original photography, ‘The Horse In Motion’, because it was the birth of motion film and this project is also the first of its kind.

“I only needed 10 other people but I posted an invite to 18 of my friends hoping that I could get 10 of them to join me. Within six hours all 10 tattoos had been spoken for.

A couple weeks later 10 of the 11 individuals got tattooed by Matt Hoyme at Liberty Tattoo in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The 11th had his done in Austin, Texas.

“I have been blown away by the response to this piece. I hope to gain enough attention and interest from this project to create a much longer tattoo animation involving thousands of people and thousands of tattoos around the world.”

Hawkins said he hoped to start fundraising and applying for grants for the arts project as soon as possible.

Hawkins, who is the project’s curator and photographer, sports frame one of the Muybridge tattoos on his left arm. He created a website devoted to the project, where people can register their interest for his bigger animation project.

Eadweard J. Muybridge
Eadweard J. Muybridge

Muybridge was born on April 9, 1830, in England, but moved to the United States at 25.

He extensively photographed the West, but it was his work in recording animal locomotion that earned him the most fame. For the task, he invented a device called the zoopraxiscope to display moving pictures.

His most famous effort was the series that became known as “The Horse in Motion”, which came about in an effort to resolve an argument.

In 1872, former California governor Leland Stanford, a businessman and racehorse owner, had weighed in on a popular debate of the time – whether all four of a horse’s hooves were off the ground at the same time during the trot. Similar questions were posed over the gallop.

Until this time, most artists painted horses at a trot with one foot always on the ground. Their depictions of the full gallop often showed the front legs extended evenly forward and the hind legs extended to the rear – a position that defied even the most casual of observations.

Stanford sided with the assertion of “unsupported transit” in the trot and gallop, and hired Muybridge to settle the question.

In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford’s question with a single photographic negative showing his standardbred Occident airborne at the trot.

The negative was subsequently lost, but the image survives through woodcuts of the era.

Spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse at a trot much more extensively by the following year, and lantern slides have survived of this work.

For the most challenging of the analyses, at a gallop, Muybridge set up operations at Stanford’s Palo Alto Stock Farm in July 1878.

He placed numerous glass-plate cameras in a line along the side of the track, each triggered with a thread the horse had to run through.

In later studies he used a clockwork device to set off the shutters in sequence as the horse galloped past.

The image silhouettes were transferred on to a disc to be viewed in his zoopraxiscope.

The body of work became known as “The Horse in Motion” or “Sallie Gardner at a Gallop”, and it proved conclusively that at one point all four hooves were off the ground.

Eadweard J. Muybridge's The Horse in Motion (1878)
Animation of Eadweard J. Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion (1878)

However, the four hooves were off the ground when the horse had its legs tucked under itself, not at full stretch.

A study of “The Horse in Motion” was published in 1882, written by Dr J.B.D. Stillman.

Although Muybridge’s images were used extensively in the work, he received no major credit.

The 1870s were not only a period of photographic discovery of Muybridge. In 1874, while still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, he discovered that his young wife, Flora, was having an affair with Major Harry Larkyns, having seen a letter from him.

On October 17, he tracked down Larkyns and said: “Good evening, Major. My name is Muybridge and here’s the answer to the letter you sent my wife.” He shot him dead.

Muybridge was tried for murder. He ran an insanity offence due to a head injury sustained in a stagecoach accident that friends testified had changed his personality.

The jury dismissed the insanity defence, but acquitted him on the grounds of “justifiable homicide”.

Muybridge’s defence costs were met by Stanford.

Muybridge often travelled back to England to publicize his work.

He returned to his native England for good in 1894. He died on May 8, 1904, in Kingston upon Thames while living at the home of his cousin, Catherine Smith.

Eadweard Muybridge's famous "Horse in Motion" marked the beginning of high-speed photography. "In essence, we are following the same principle, only with modern techniques," Arvinder Sandhu said.
“Horse in Motion” marked the beginning of high-speed photography.


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