In the mid Nineteenth century, the first and second laws of thermodynamics created a new backdrop for understanding the body; the discovery of energy as indestructible changed the view of nature from static to dynamic and energetic. The discoveries of electricity and electromagnetism created a new view of the body as a field of energies.
Etienne-Jules Marey was a medical student whose early studies included purely mechanical principles such as hydraulics and hydrodynamics to understand the effects of the arteries and heart on the movement of blood around the body. Marey’s desire to understand ”mechanist laws … that governed inanimate nature” (Jussim, Picturing Timep.12) of the body came out of scientific experimentation in physiology; the study of life functions, which was at the time a very young science. In a scientific Laboratory Marey invented a camera with a moving plate behind the lens, fronted by a disc measuring four foot in diameter, which at ten revolutions per second, made possible exposures of 1/1000th second for the first time. Jussim describes Marey as wanting to “slow the continuity of movement” rather than capturing the separate movements.Drawing Time 4. Sensation
In 1878 English-born American stills photographer, Eadweard Muybridge used still cameras placed along a racetrack to take pictures of a galloping horse. Muybridge had been commissioned by the Governor of California to settle a debate as to whether or not all four of the animal's legs would leave the ground.
String stretched tautly across the track activated each of Muybridge’s twelve stereoscopic cameras; the shutters snapped and captured one frame as the horse galloped past. The pictures were later assembled into a rudimentary animation. Muybridge converted movement in to a “mosaic” to make its separated parts more manageable as if in a board game.
Marey was deeply influenced by the Positivist philosophy of August Comte who ‘put an end to the excesses of Romantic idealism’ (Picturing Time: the Work of Etienne-Jules Marey 1830-1904 Marta Braun, p.12) by proposing a new vision of reality limited to experience and the senses. Comte rejected metaphysics in favour of facts based upon observation and proposed science as the ideal form of knowledge, which would lead to laws explaining all phenomena. In short, Positivism strove to use science to bring all the forces of nature under human control.