Smithsonian

Another Look (Horse)

As the story goes, Leland Stanford made a $25,000 bet that all four hooves leave the ground at once when a horse is at full gallop, and that he hired Eadweard Muybridge to prove this.

If the story is true, Muybridge won the bet for Stanford, as we see here.

So why didn't anyone see this before?

The horse's legs simply move faster than the eye can register the motion. Artists had shown horses airborne, but usually like this, with legs outstretched in what's called the rocking horse position.

As we see here, there is no such position for a horse.

Muybridge stopped the horse in mid-air. Painters began to depict horses in truer positions, as in this twentieth-century lithograph. But the achievement was bigger than this. Muybridge's work showed the world, for the first time, something in nature that passes unseen because it moves too fast.

Instant exposure changed the art form of photography, too. This picture by the Indian artist Raghubir Singh reminds us of a still-wondrous quality of the camera - its ability to freeze forever a moment so fleeting that it cannot be fully seen or felt as it happens.