Sunday, March 5, 2017

Born Today March 5: Étienne-Jules Marey


French scientist and photographer Étienne-Jules Marey was born on this day in Beaune, Côte'd'Or, France.  Marey, as a scientist and doctor of physiology, was intensely interested in the human circulatory system.  This morphed into a interest in the way that musculature operated in a living human body.  His studies in this field, lead to ground breaking changes in attitude toward anatomy.  Marey was also interesting in movement of other animals, especially birds.  Before turning to photography to capture movement of subjects, he was known to produce anatomically precise sculptures of birds in flight.  He started carrying out investigations in the field in regards to bird flight in Naples, Italy (he was probably there because he was in a relationship with a married woman who had moved there from France).  His investigations there included an intense study of aquarium fish.  Like fellow French scientist P. J. C. Janssen, his interest turned to moving photography to further study his subjects.  Considerable advancements had been made in photography by the time Marey turned his attention to it though; and this resulted in his inventing what could only be described at the world's first motion picture camera--though it hardly looks like one!

The camera was built into a gun shape at first to capture the movement of birds.

The unusual camera was constructed in 1882 and was capable of capturing 12 frames of film in one second.  The apparatus was referred to as "Marey's chronophographic gun."  His use of it drew suspicion and name calling from locals in Naples; nonetheless the camera produced strips of film that accurately captured every minute details of birds on the wing.  Intrigued with this, Marey turn his attention to all sort of critters, from elephants to microscopic organisms.  The whole was often referred to as "Marey's animated zoo."  He also used the same camera techniques to further study human locomotion; everything from nude athletic running to the analysis of a golf swing.  In all, the photographic studies advanced the study of locomotion by leaps and bounds.  Marey graduated to making full fledged films that were, for the time, a very high speed:  60 images, or frames, per second. Though, again these were used as a means of conducting scientific experiments, they also inadvertently advanced cinematography.  He also invented the means be which to project these films himself.  The first true film that Marey is credited with came in 1890 with Mosquinha, which tracked the flight of a fly.  In all, he produced 4 short films and shot 3 of them in the early 1890's. The 1894 film Falling Cat, which was a study of the belief that cats always land on their feet, is believed to be the very first film to ever feature a house cat.  Marey also invented equipment that would be some of the world's first sound recording devices.  One of the last experiments of motion that Marey was involved with involved the study of smoke trails.  He was partially funded by the Smithsonian Institution  and managed to build a smoke machine with some 58 trails.  It was at the time one of the very first aerodynamic wind tunnels.  He was also involved in the experimental film from 1904 Bullet Piercing A Soap Bubble, which was shot by Lucien Bull, who used a sophisticated camera invented by Marey, known as "the wheel camera." This would be basically the last scientific experiment he was involved with.  Marey died on the 15 of May in 1904 in Paris.  Upon his death, Bull, who had become a naturalized French citizen, assumed control of The Marey Institute--founded by and named for Marey himself.

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