Eadweard Muybridge arrived in San Francisco from his native England in 1855. After working for a time as a bookseller, Muybridge began his career as a photographer and became one the most important nineteenth-century practitioners of the art. In the early 1870's Muybridge produced a series of striking mammoth-plate views of Yosemite Valley and began his groundbreaking visual study of human and animal locomotion. In 1872-3 Muybridge documented the Modoc Indian War, one of the last Native American uprisings, and in 1877 he produced a masterfully designed multi-image panorama of San Francisco.
When not engaged in these projects, Muybridge travelled throughout California, Alaska, Mexico, and Guatemala. By the late 1870's Muybridge was deeply involved in his study of human and animal movement and developed innovative techniques for producing sequential photographs. First employed to answer the question of whether all four legs of a trotting horse were ever aloft simultaneously, this novel method of photography helped catalyze the development of the motion picture camera which in turn modernized the modern world.
The juxtaposition of the motion studies and Yosemite landscapes illuminates the evolution of Muybridges's approach to photography and in turn the manifold nature of nineteenth-century photography. Muybridge's Yosemite landscapes examine the timeless qualities of the organic world, exploring endless variations of water, sky, and rock. Rebecca Solnit, author of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, describes the Yosemite views as existing "in the slow time of landscape photography" and asserts that they are Muybridge's first moments of artistic greatness. WIth motion studies, Muybridge "began transforming photography into a scientific instrument revealing the secret world of motion... It was as though a veil had surrounded the most basic acts, and Muybridge's photography was on the verge of tearing that veil away forever."