From Publishers Weekly
In the 1870s, at a racetrack built by railroad baron Leland Stanford, Eadweard Muybridge invented high-speed photography. With his camera, he cut time into fractions of a second and laid it out in slices. Never before had human eyes seen a trotting horse distinctly, and the photographs astounded horsemen and artists, especially when Muybridge set the film in motion and the horse reeled fluidly across the screen. Today it is difficult to understand the pictures' impact, but 2001 NBCC finalist Solnit (As Eve Said to the Serpent) vividly recreates the wonder that greeted those primitive movies. Although she points her lens at Muybridge, her true subject is the perceptual revolution of the 19th century when the railroad, the telegraph and the camera transformed the experience of space and time. English-born Muybridge launched his career in 1867 with scenes of Yosemite and San Francisco. He soon began the experiments with "instantaneous" photography that led to the famous motion studies. Except for its most dramatic moments-the murder of his wife's lover, a suit against Stanford-the photographer's life remains obscure. Insistent on writing a biography nonetheless, Solnit pads the book with an account of workers' strikes, an aside on Victorian geology and other irrelevant details. Left to speculate about Muybridge's inspirations, she attributes much to a head injury resulting from a stagecoach accident. Her claims about Stanford and Muybridge as the progenitors of Silicon Valley and Hollywood are equally unsubstantiated. If the book fails as biography, however, it succeeds as a critical essay on Muybridge's art and a reflection on the meaning of space and time. B&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Cultural historian Solnit, an original and penetrating thinker with a gift for inventive metaphors and syntactical grace whose previous books include Wanderlust
(2000), brings her fascination with the American West, photography, and technology's impact on the environment and culture to the story of the man who made motion pictures possible, photographer Eadweard Muybridge. An Englishman turned California bookseller, superb landscape photographer, inventor, murderer (he killed his wife's lover), and pioneer in stop-action photography and the study of animals, including humans, in motion, Muybridge is fascinating and significant, as is his turbulent milieu. Solnit recounts Muybridge's strange life and immensely influential work within the context of the tragic war against Native Americans, and ties his achievements to the world-changing repercussions of photography and the railroads in particular, and industrialization in general. Her exhilarating argument leads her to declare that California, home of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, is the true capital of modernism, and to claim that we haven't even begun to come to terms with its legacy: our estrangement from nature and utter immersion in the mesmerizing "river of shadows," the endless stream of images generated via film, video, and computer. Masterly and creative, Solnit's far-roaming synthesis is as unsettling as it is compelling. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved