(Disclaimer: Much of the following is inspired by Michel Frizot’s essay “The New Truths of the Snapshot” featured in Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, ed. Elizabeth W Easton.)
(Second disclaimer: I love puns.)
Bear with me here.
Until we developed the technology of photography to capture light faster than we could internalize and understand – to segment time into smaller increments than we could otherwise observe – we did not understand how we walked.
It was not until about 1880 that the physiology of a human gait was understood by regular people. The timing is not coincidental. Dry plate technology for photography was developed around 1880, able to take exposures of roughly 1/100th of a second. (For reference, an exposure of a still, well-lit figure took an exposure time of as long as 1/2 a second.) We hadn’t beat the speed of light, but we were finally beginning to beat the speed of sight. Realities that were plainly in front of us had remained invisible until we could start breaking apart time. We caught speeding trains without a trace of blur. We proved scientifically that there is a moment when a horse runs that all four hooves are off the ground. And we discovered in our own walking that, in physiologist Josef Maria Eder’s words, “contrary to all accepted ideas, it is the heel that first touches the ground; at the same time the end of the foot is raised firmly in the air. Would a painter dare to draw these figures?”
This next bit is one of my favorite parts of this little story, one that answers Eder’s question pretty definitively. Continue reading