Capturing the Moment  p.  1  |  2  |  3

  Graphic- Link for "Capturing the Moment"
Graphic- Link for "Muybridge in Motion"
Graphic- Link for "From Proof to Print"
Graphic- Link for "Sequences + Structures"
Graphic- Link for "Epilogue"
Graphic- Link for "More Information"

Etienne-Jules Marey, Physiologist (1830–1904)
A contemporary of Eadweard Muybridge, Etienne-Jules Marey was not a photographer. His field was physiology, a relatively new science of the human body that allowed him to indulge his love of physics and engineering. Marey considered the body an animate machine, subject to the same laws as inanimate machines, and he dedicated his life to analyzing the laws that governed its movements.

The publication of Muybridge’s photographs in Paris started Marey on a quest to make a camera that would picture movement as well as chart it. Muybridge’s multicamera system wasn’t scientific enough for Marey. By 1882, he developed a single camera method that he called chrono-, or time-, photography. Objective and precise, chrono-photography allowed Marey to make images from which scientific measurements could be taken.

Early in his career, Marey modified graphing instruments used in physics to chart movements inside the body such as the heartbeat, as well as the body’s external motions.

  image- Animal Mechanism- illustration of a man running with early photographic device Enlarge image
Animal Mechanism, 1872
Etienne-Jules Marey
Lent by Smithsonian Libraries


Marey’s camera was the forerunner of the motion picture camera. A high-speed version of his camera was devised by his last assistant, Lucien Bull, to photograph projectiles such as this bullet piercing a soap bubble.

  image- Film strip of a bubble bursting Enlarge image
Soap Bubble Bursting, 1904, by Lucien Bull
Silver gelatin print from a film strip
  image- Lucien Bull with Marey-wheel camera Enlarge image
Lucien Bull with Marey-wheel camera
photographing soap bubble, 1906
Photographer unknown
Graphic reproduction


Marey used dry photographic plates, faster than the wet plates Muybridge used, and an ordinary camera with its lens left open. Behind the lens, Marey put a rotating metal disk that had from one to ten slots cut into it at even intervals. As the subject moved in front of a black background, the rotating shutter exposed the glass plate, creating a sequence of images. Marey’s chronophotographs were the first images that promised to explain exactly what happens when the body moves.

 TOP OF PAGE image- Portrait of Etienne-Jules Marey Enlarge image
Portrait of Etienne-Jules Marey
Photographer unknown
Modern silver gelatin print

  image- Two chronophotographic studies of a run taken from overhead, 1887Enlarge image
Two chronophotographic studies
of a run taken from overhead, 1887
Etienne-Jules Marey
Graphic reproductions Courtesy of private collection

National Museum of American History