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Pi-Wi-Ack (Shower of Stars), Vernal Fall, 400 Feet, Valley of Yosemite

Eadweard Muybridge1872

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Eadweard Muybridge is one of many photographers who documented the American West at the end of the 19th century. Indeed photography played a key role in the development of the region and its influence on American identity. In the 1860s, Muybridge, Carleton Watkins, and Charles Leander Weed competed to produce awe-inspiring photographs of Yosemite Valley, a site that symbolized the promise of the frontier. Their pictures served both to generate support for the foundation of national parks and to satisfy a growing audience for photographic prints.

This photograph by Muybridge shows Yosemite's Vernal Falls emerging from a sheer cliff face. There is no visible horizon and the pictorial space is quite flat, resulting in a very modern-looking image. Because of the long exposure time, the waterfall appears as a light-filled volume, a representation of dimensional space occupied through time. In contrast to the rock-solid cliffs, water is portrayed here within a different aesthetic framework; its flow is not so much documented as poetically evoked.

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  • Title: Pi-Wi-Ack (Shower of Stars), Vernal Fall, 400 Feet, Valley of Yosemite
  • Creator: Eadweard Muybridge
  • Date Created: 1872
  • Physical Dimensions: w317.5 x h431.8 in (image)
  • Type: photograph
  • External Link: SFMOMA
  • Medium: Albumen print
  • Subject: Yosemite National Park, United States
  • Place Part Of: United States
  • More Info: More About This Artist - SFMOMA
  • Credit Line: Accessions Committee Fund purchase and gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Frish Brandt
  • About the Artist: An accomplished bookseller, inventor, and businessman, Eadweard Muybridge advanced both technical and aesthetic applications of the photography medium. Born Edward James Muggeridge in 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, England, Muybridge began his career in 1867 in San Francisco, photographing the West at a time when the nature of landscape itself took on new meaning as railroads, steamships, and rapid means of communication began to connect the world in unprecedented ways. In the ensuing years he reinterpreted landscape photography, surveyed the construction of railroads and the growth of San Francisco and other areas of the Pacific Coast, and documented the Modoc War and the landscape and architecture of Central America. Muybridge also used his camera to explore the potential of motion pictures. He devised techniques to freeze animal and human locomotion, to depict movement as sequences of still images, and to reanimate these in some of the first projected moving pictures. In 1878, working under the patronage of railroad baron Leland Stanford, Muybridge successfully photographed horses in motion, combining art and science to represent movements that were not visible to the eye. By 1887, when he published his masterpiece, Animal Locomotion, he had become one of the most influential photographers of his time, inspiring artists and scientists to look more closely at the nature of movement.

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