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Most paintings executed at the dawn of fixed-image photography were versions of what the artist thought he saw. The new space/time/light machine confirmed the validity of most visual data. The images provided by the camera, however, also included distortions that were routinely filtered out by the brain. The camera had no brain, and so short-circuited the aesthetics of the interpretive process. Since a photograph contains precise information about the visual relationship of parts to a whole, which is the basis for the science of perspective, the camera allowed artists for the first time to compare their own observations about nature against an objective standard.

Much to many people's surprise, the photographic record and that of the artist's were not always the same. For instance, the peculiar distortion of a hand that is made gigantic when photographed too close to the camera lens created an optical oddity that was not apparent when someone put a hand up close to the beholder's eye. The fact that such deformations existed at all threw into question the truth of the proverb "seeing is believing" and replaced it with "the camera doesn't lie." This shift in platitudes actually reflected a more important shift -- the relocation of optical truth from the visual center of the brain to a piece of silver-impregnated paper -- and did not go unnoticed by a few of the new generation's artists.

Besides reassessing some rules of perspective by accurately measuring space, the camera interrupted the flow of time, bringing it to a abrupt halt. The camera could freeze one moment, thus allowing an observer to inspect it at leisure. The first major dispute to be settled with the camera was the age-old question, How does a horse run? A trotting and galloping horse's legs move too quickly for the human eye to perceive their exact sequence. Some people believed that at any given moment all four hooves may be off the ground; others believed that the horse's gallop did not include a moment when the horse was airborne. Artists portraying galloping horses could not afford the luxury of indecision: They had to choose one position or the other. Prior to the camera, the academic convention was to depict a galloping horse with both forelegs extended forward at the moment that both hind legs were extended backwards.

The camera ended this uncertainty. In 1872 two horsemen placed a wager on the question and one of them, Leland Stanford, hired Eadweard Muybridge to settle it. Muybridge set up a series of cameras along a track and, using a complicated system of trip wires, recorded a running horse on multiple film exposures. The gambler who bet all four hooves were off the ground at once won the wager.

The results, however, were not anything anyone could have anticipated. Instead of the elegant idealized motions envisioned by generations of artists, the gallop seemed an awkward way for a horse to propel itself forward. When painters began to represent this new information in their canvases, critics were disturbed and condemned these works because "something didn't look right." Rocking horses still depict the gallop the old way.

Having measured the space within the moment of stopped time, Muybridge devoted the rest of his life to studying time and motion of objects passing through space. His studies had a seminal influence on the artists of the next generation. He also invented the basis of an entirely new art form -- the motion picture.

The rapid proliferation of photographs caused the artists to wring their hands in despair. The academic painter Paul Delaroche declared, "From today, painting is dead!"1 Artists were concerned that the camera would compete unfairly in the business of image reproduction, threatening their economic bases because a principal source of the nineteenth-century artist's income was the portrait. Everyone of note had to sit for a portrait at one time or another. But with the advent of the camera, the time required for this tedious task was dramatically reduced.
     
     
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