River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West
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The world as we know it today began in California in the late 1800s, and Eadweard Muybridge had a lot to do with it. This striking assertion is at the heart of Rebecca Solnit’s new book, which weaves together biography, history, and fascinating insights into art and technology to create a boldly original portrait of America on the threshold of modernity. The story of Muybridge—who in 1872 succeeded in capturing high-speed motion photographically—becomes a lens for a larger story about the acceleration and industrialization of everyday life. Solnit shows how the peculiar freedoms and opportunities of post–Civil War California led directly to the two industries—Hollywood and Silicon Valley—that have most powerfully defined contemporary society.
tired man in his prime with the same clearly delineated features, high cheekbones, and thick hair cropped at his ears; wearing blue jeans in another portrait, he looks very modern. At ten-twenty in the morning of October 3, after a farce of a trial, Captain Jack, Schonchin John, and two others were hung at Fort Klamath. Two of the Modoc rebels were pardoned from the scaffold and sent to the grim prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The executed four were buried there on the reservation
defendant said to me that he would give me five dollars if I would get to the Yellow Jacket Mine before Mr. Stuart. I told him it was impossible as Mr. Stuart had a half hour the start of us.” The suspicious Stuart had apparently left to warn Larkyns, though if he arrived in time, it had no effect. “As we were riding along,” the driver continued, Muybridge “asked me if there was any danger of being stopped by robbers. I told him no, I had driven there often and such a thing was not thought of. He
itself through the new population of passengers and new cargo Muybridge’s photographs could encourage. When he arrived, Guatemala was in transition from the three-decades-long reign of President-for-Life Rafael Carrera, who had done much to promulgate a real version of democracy that respected the indigenous majority’s land ownership and other rights. Carrera died in 1865, as the country was shifting to a coffee-exporting economy for whose benefit the indigenous population was being reduced to
1870s they scapegoated these workers known as coolies, Celestials, John, and, after a poem by Bret Harte, “The Heathen Chinee” (Muybridge made a series of photographs in the 1860s with that title). On July 23, 1877, ten days after Muybridge’s panorama was first announced, the day after the Alta praised it, about eight thousand workers gathered in the “Sandlot,” the vacant lot next to the new city hall. Those at the center of the meeting studiously listened to the talk of solidarity with the
do with Muybridge’s Paris triumph. The photographer still gave them copious credit when he spoke, but he was no longer in their orbit. He wrote to Stanford’s secretary, Frank Shay, “I saw them off on the cars and much regret the state of the Gov’s health left so much to be desired . . . but if the CP and SP can spare him, I believe he proposes to return next spring; by that time I shall hope to be in full operation, experimenting with new subjects, that will practically exhaust the scope of the