Fire Department Museum Finds Three Muybridge Photos — in Its Own Archive

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

Curator Jamie O'Keefe was conducting a standard inventory check at the San Francisco Fire Department Museum when she noticed tiny lettering in the corner of a photograph: Muybridge Studio.

O'Keefe was floored. Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) was best known for his pioneering work in motion photography. (Read a review of his 2011 exhibit at SFMOMA, “Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change.”) The photographer was known for using 12 to 24 cameras at a time and his own shutter in an attempt to create images of suspended motion, resulting in a visual illusion of movement. He has been the focus of major exhibitions worldwide, most notably at the Tate Britain, the Smithsonian, and the Bay Area's own Cantor Center at Stanford University.

What's left of his portfolio is sought after by serious collectors and pre-eminent institutions across the globe — and the images don't come cheap. Artnet estimates that Muybridge's famous Animal Locomotion plates sold, at auction in 2009, for a $45,000.

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