What do horses have to do with YouTube? The origins of technology are often strangely dissimilar from their later manifestations. Often the initial motivations and purposes that give rise to technological innovation conceal motives and purposes that even the innovator is unaware of. Indeed, as Langdon Winner has been keen to point out technology can often “have profound and often unfortunate consequences in the world at large.”
This article will focus on the technology of film in order to identify and explain the principle levels of manifest and latent purposes in the genesis of film technology in general and in its more recent manifestation in YouTube. By examining the earlier and later manifestations of the technology of film I hope to show that technology in general is complex and requires a response that mediates between complete rejection and uncritical acceptance; a response, therefore, that is both thoughtful and responsible.
The technology of film emerged from the technology of photography near the end of the nineteenth century. The genesis of cinema begins curiously with a horse named “Occident”. Leland Stanford, former U.S. Senator, California governor and founder of Stanford University, owned a horse named “Occident” who had a peculiarly long stride. This peculiarity, along with Stanford’s penchant for horse racing and his considerable wealth, led him to search for a means to investigate more precisely the movement of horses. His search led him to Eadweard Muybridge, a still photographer working in San Francisco in 1872 who he hired to conduct a series of photographic experiments on galloping horses to determine whether artist depictions of animals in motion with all four feet off the ground were correct. This characterization however, may mollify the real motivations that led Stanford to conduct the experiments.
Horse racing was a popular spectator sport in the 1870’s and large sums of money could be won and lost at these races. One of the controversies surrounding this sport centered on “whether a horse trotting at top speed ever had all for feet off the ground at once.”A legend surrounding the experiments (corroborated by local newspapers) suggests that Stanford might have conducted the experiments to settle a $25,000 wager, a legend which Muybridge substantiates but experts on Stanford disavow. Nevertheless, the controversy led to questions about animal locomotion, and this was a topic of great interest to Muybridge who had pioneered the use of a spring-activated shutter which had allowed him to vastly improve the quality of still photographs of bodies in motion.
Muybridge began his photographic experiments for Stanford between April and December of 1872 although his now famous photographs of a horse galloping with all four feet suspended in the air were not published in The Scientific American until 1877. The experiment was conducted at the Union Park race track in Sacramento, California. The five-mile track was lined with 12, then 18, and finally 24 side-by-side rapid shutter cameras which were triggered by trip wires installed on the track. As the horse ran the track and broke one of the trip wires the camera shutter fired and captured the image of the horse in motion. These photographs could then be lined up next to each other to simulate the horse in the motion. One of the chief reasons for the delay in publication was that the first attempts at photographing a horse galloping at full speed were unsuccessful because the photographic technology was not adequate to capture rapidly moving objects. Frank Beavers explains:
The unusually rapid movement of a horse caused the arrested images to blur. In 1872 the wet plate photographic materials on which exposures were made were not yet “fast” enough to produce sharp, clearly defined images of rapidly moving objects. (A fast photographic material is one which has a high sensitivity to light. The combination of a fast film and a rapid shutter aid in the acceptable photographing of rapidly moving objects.)
Eventually, Muybridge collaborated with an engineer named John Isaacs and developed a rapid shutter that had an exposure time of 2/1000 of a second and was able to demonstrate through a single negative that “Stanford’s horse did indeed have all four feet off the ground simultaneously when galloping.” It is important to note; however, that newspaper reports of Muybridge’s success were never verified; that is, the newspapers who reported the story had never actually seen the successful negative but had only been informed about its existence by Muybridge.
Muybridge’s photographs of bodies in motion were widely published and he eventually developed a projector called the Zoogyroscope which allowed him to project his photographic sequences on to a screen. Muybridge conducted entertaining demonstrations of his work around the world eventually capturing the attention of the physiologist Eitienne-Jules Marey who was inspired by Muybridge to invent a “photographic gun” that “made twelve rapid exposures on a circular glass plate which revolved like a bullet cylinder.” Marey later substituted paper film for glass and added a motor to advance the film. By 1889 Thomas Edison had been inspired to combine his invention of the phonograph with a camera. The result was the Kinetograph which used 35mm film and the birth of what we now know as the modern motion picture.
 Winner, Langdon, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977), 3.
 Hendricks, Gordon, Eadweard Muybridge: The Father of the Motion Picture (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1975), 46.
 Beaver, Frank. On Film: A History of the Motion Picture (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1983), 9-10.
 Haas, Robert Bartlett, Muybridge: Man in Motion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 46.
 Ibid., 46.
 Hendricks Eadweard Muybridge, 46. See also Beaver, On Film, 46.
 Beaver, On Film, 10.
 Hendricks, Muybridge, 46.
 Haas, Muybridge, 47.
 Beaver, On Film, 10.
 Beavers, On Film, 10.
 Ibid., 10, 11.
 Hendricks, Muybridge, 47.
 Beavers, On Film, 11.
 Beavers, On Film, 11.
 Ibid., 12.