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Topic section: Tracing time
TOPIC SECTION:
Tracing time
The earliest-known photograph, taken by Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce (1765–1833) in 1826, has an unearthly stillness. A view across roofs taken from his window, it looks as if it has been lit by two suns. In re
Image: Photograph of Venice by the Reverend Ellis, 1841
This 1841 photograph of Venice by the Reverend Ellis shows the normally busy Rialto deserted. This is because the 15 minute exposure time was too long to record the moving people.
Credit: NMPFT/Science & Society Picture
ality, making the picture took eight hours, as Nièpce’s photographic plate was not very sensitive to light. Over that time, the position of the sun moved. As a time trace, the picture records the effects of the Earth’s rotation but little else: the exposure was too long.

Today, images are made in an instant. Moving images are recorded in a rapid series of instants. Indeed, since the work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) and Etienne Jules Marey (1830–1904) onwards w
we have over 120 years of recorded moments in time
e have over 120 years of recorded moments in time. However, for the first forty years of photography most pictures required exposures of several seconds or even minutes. The effects of such time traces are evident in the details of early photographs, with examples of clock faces with just the hour hand recorded or the partial, ghostly images of people who were stationary for part of the time the plate was exposed.

With the combination of improved lenses and ways of sensitising plates, successful instantaneous photographs were made in good sunlight in the 1850s. However, it was only with the introduction of the much more sensitive ge
 Image: A sequence of photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge in 1884-1885 of a nude male horse rider
A sequence of photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge in 1884-1885 of a nude male horse rider
Credit: NMPFT/Science & Society Picture Library
latin dry plates in the late 1870s that it became easier to freeze time and movement.

British-born Eadweard Muybridge was the first to capture movement in a sequence of photographs. In 1878, he used twelve plate cameras to record sequences of horses and other animals by firing the camera shutters in rapid succession. By 1884, he was photographing human action simultaneously from three viewpoints with 48 cameras. His work was a revelation for scientists and artists, as it showed exactly how humans and animals move, moment by moment.
When an early version of celluloid film became available in 1888, sequences could be photographed on a single strip. But it was not until the 1890s when the Edison Company succeeded in recording picture sequences on sprocketed 35 mm film, where every picture was accurately aligned with the next, that it was possible to photograph and show moving pictures with complete steadiness. Whatever the time interval between the taking of each picture, the perceived movement looked smooth on screen. A wonderful tool for playing with time had been created.

 
 
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Section two: Expanding time
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Recent developments in high-speed cinematography give film-makers opportunities to expand the moment. Films like The Matrix have created new effects to represent time and tension  > more

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Section three: Compressing time
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Time-lapse photography allows us to record series of images over a long period of time, revealing the changes that occur in the natural and man-made worlds..  > more
 
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