Muybridge’s cyanotypes are working proofs, the contact prints he made from the more than 20,000 negatives he took at the University of Pennsylvania. Since the original negatives no longer exist, the cyanotypes provide us with the opportunity to see the pictures Muybridge really made, before he edited and cropped them for publication.
These cyanotypes, from over 800 in the National Museum of American History’s collection, are exhibited here for the first time. A Smithsonian research grant recently awarded to the curators will support further study of the cyanotypes, in the hope of better understanding Muybridge and the visual stories of locomotion he assembled. Now you, too, can make your own comparisons between Muybridge’s working cyanotype proofs and his final collotype prints.
Muybridge used up to 36 lenses with 12 to 24 cameras, placed at 30-, 60-, and 90-degree angles to his subjects. The two cameras placed at 30- and 60-degrees were able to hold up to 12 lenses each. The 90-degree angle was known as the lateral, or parallel, view, while the others Muybridge referred to as the front and rear foreshortenings. With this set-up, a successful session could result in as many as 36 negatives.
Muybridge contact-printed his negatives (A) as cyanotypes, the working proofs (B1).
Using these cyanotypes as his guide, he enlarged each negative onto a separate piece of glass (B2) and assembled these positives into large glass plate composites (C). From these composites, the Photogravure Company, New York, produced a gelatin negative (D). The final print, called a collotype (E), was printed in ink from a plate prepared from this negative.
Compare Muybridge’s cyanotypes, his working proofs, with the final collotype prints. As you will see, the cyanotypes include a much larger view of the outdoor studio than we see in the collotypes, and show details that have been cropped. The cyanotypes are marked with negative numbers that sometimes differ from those in the final prints, as well as other signs Muybridge made to omit or include certain frames in the final collotypes.
The cyanotypes prove that Muybridge manipulated his data. He freely reprinted, cropped, and deleted or substituted negatives to make the assemblage that became the collotype portfolio, Animal Locomotion