Skip to main content

The museum, IMAX and Pictureville are temporarily closed. Find out about our major transformation.

You are here:

In the Blink of an Eye

Our world is constantly in motion, and art has always reflected a fascination with the representation of movement. This exhibition explored the relationship between media and movement.


In the Blink of an Eye revealed how artists, photographers, inventors and scientists have responded to the challenges of capturing and simulating movement, creating images which transcend the boundaries of art, science and entertainment.


Toys and magic

There are no such things as ‘moving images’. They are an illusion created by our brains.

During the nineteenth century several ingenious devices appeared which created the illusion of movement using a series of still pictures. They had wonderful names such as Zoetrope, Phenakisoscope and Praxinoscope, but are known more simply as ‘optical toys’.

At the same time, magic lantern shows included slides which produced movement effects to amuse and delight audiences.

Photographing movement

Optical toys provided the inspiration for moving pictures based on photographs. By the 1870s photographic technology had evolved to the point where it was possible to capture rapid movement. Sequences of photographs could be taken to record and analyse the movement of people and animals.

The first photographer to experiment with the sequential photography of movement was Eadweard Muybridge. Although the best-known, he was just one of several important pioneers of motion photography.

Slicing time

The latest imaging technologies often have their origins in historic techniques. As well as taking photographs of phases of movement in rapid succession, Eadweard Muybridge took photographs from several different angles at the same instant in time. When viewed in sequence, these photographs create a animation of an action frozen in time. This is the principle behind ‘Timeslice’ photography, developed in the 1980s by Tim Macmillan and now used extensively in film and television.

Capturing movement

In the 1880s, Etienne-Jules Marey devised a method where subjects dressed head-to-toe in black suits with white lines along their arms and legs were photographed in motion. The resulting images reduced movement to a graphical representation, making it much easier to analyse.

Similar suits are still worn for what is known as motion capture. This technique converts movement into digital information, and is used widely in sport, medicine and entertainment.

Time and motion

It soon became apparent that motion analysis could be applied usefully to the demands of the workplace where it could be used to determine the most efficient use of workers’ time and energy. This became known as ‘Time and Motion’ study.

One of the main tools of time and motion studies were ‘chronocyclegraphs’, still pictures taken with long exposures in which motion paths are traced by small electric lamps fastened to the workers’ hands.

Stopping time

Early photographic processes required exposures of several seconds or longer which makes the capture of moving objects impossible. Today, photography’s ability to stop motion is one of its key characteristics.

By the 1880s, ‘instantaneous’ photographs taken with exposures of a fraction of a second were possible, allowing motion to be captured. However, photographers sometimes choose to reject fast shutter speeds in favour of other techniques which give their images a greater sense of movement.

Seeing the invisible

Can you see a flying bullet, or a flower opening its petals to greet the morning sun?

Photography can speed up or slow down time. High-speed and time-lapse photography enable us to see events too fast or too slow for the naked eye, revealing a hidden world of extraordinary beauty.


With the support of imove, two new artworks were especially commissioned for In the Blink of an Eye. These new works respond to the exhibition’s theme of movement.

Forms by Quayola and Memo Akten, 2012

Forms is a digital artwork that responds to the human body in motion. It focuses exclusively on the mechanics of movement, using footage of world-class athletes to illustrate human movement at the extremes of perfection.

Videos of athletes were processed through custom software to create evolving abstract forms that explore the relationships between the human body and its movements through time and space.

Time Frame by Anne-Marie Culhane and Bob Levene, 2012

Time Frame is a meditation on our perceptions of speed and the relationships between body, movement, image and time. The artists worked with world-class sprinter Leon Baptiste to create this work. The athlete was trained to slow down his movements while remaining in constant forward motion.

Our sense of speed changes as technologies advance. We live in a culture that values speed. What does it mean to slow down?

Further reading

On our blog

In print

  • Hans-Christian Adam, Eadweard Muybridge, the Complete Locomotion Photographs (Taschen, 2009)
  • Marta Braun, Eadweard Muybridge (London: Reaktion, 2010)
  • Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) (Chicago / London: University of Chicago Press, 1992)
  • Philip Brookman, Eadweard Muybridge (London: Tate Publishing, 2010)
  • Roger R. Bruce, Seeing the Unseen: Dr. Harold E. Edgerton and the Wonders of Strobe Alley (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1995)
  • Brian Coe, The History of Movie Photography (London: Ash & Grant, 1981)
  • Brian Coe, Muybridge and the Chronophotographers (London: MOMI/British Film Institute, 1992)
  • Olive Cook, Movement in Two Dimensions (London: Hutchinson, 1963)
  • Richard Crangle, Stephen Herbert and David Robinson, (eds.), Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern (London: The Magic Lantern Society, 2001)
  • Stephen Dalton, Split Second: The World of High-Speed Photography (London: J.M.Dent & Sons, 1983)
  • Jon Darius, Beyond Vision (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984)
  • Harold Edgerton, Estelle Jussim and Gus Kayafas, Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000)
  • Derek Greenacre, Magic Lanterns (Aylesbury: Shire Publications, 1986)
  • Basil Harley, Optical Toys (Aylesbury: Shire Publications, 1988)
  • Stephen Herbert (ed.), Eadweard Muybridge: The Kingston Museum Bequest (Hastings: The Projection Box, 2004)
  • Stephen Herbert and Luke McKernan (eds.), Who's Who of Victorian Cinema: A Worldwide Survey (London: British Film Institute, 1996)
  • Phillip Prodger, Time Stands Still: Muybridge and the Instantaneous Photography Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Pam Roberts, Photogenic: From the Collection of the Royal Photographic Society (London: Scriptum Editions, 2001)
  • Deac Rossell, Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998)
  • Deac Rossell, Ottomar Anschütz and his Electrical Wonder (Hastings: The Projection Box, 1997)
  • Ann Thomas (ed.), Beauty of Another Order: Photography and Science (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997)
  • A.M. Worthington, A Study of Splashes (London; Longmans, Green & Co, 1908)



In the Blink of an Eye was part of imove, a Cultural Olympiad programme in Yorkshire, with funding from Legacy Trust UK.

A part of