Happy Birthday, Eadweard Muybridge, You Have a Lot of GIFs to Answer For

Happy birthday, Eadweard Muybridge. You were born in 1830 and you died in 1904. I want to give you a quick update on what's happened since you took your leave of the mortal coil. 

First, the series of images you made of that horse galloping are still what you're best known for. Sorry about that. 

Second, you rule the Internet! Your specific images are not that widely reproduced, but your style of motion-studies is trendier than a penny farthing in 1892 1882!* 

While you were nominally working in a scientific vein, the principle you operated on has proven to be general: viewing a series of frames in succession, we see things that we don't in real-time or in a still image. Nowadays, people use moving images called animated GIFs to isolate and reproduce small snippets of movement that can *say* something in the right context, or that are simply funny, like your work with that ostrich or those naked guys fake boxing.

Anyway, happy 183rd, Eadweard. That's a lot of candles. 

Oh, and other than your method's incipient popularity, things are pretty much the same, except Europe lost all its colonies, pornography is easier to access and you can put the text of all the books ever written into a little drive that fits in your pocket. Oh, and we went to the moon a few times, though we haven't been back for a while. 

* (Duh, the safety bicycle displaced the penny farthing and other designs in the early 1890s. Come on, Madrigal, get your bicycle history straight!)

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.


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