An interesting and previously unpublished self-portrait of Eadweard Muybridge

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I am aware of two copies of a stereoview of a man standing near the "Witches' Cauldron" at Great Geyser Springs in Sonoma County, California, circa 1870. The man is nicely dressed and holds some things in his right hand that appear to be a book and a brush wrapped in cloth or paper (perhaps a negative carrier or other photographic apparatus.)

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I believe the man is Eadweard Muybridge and the photograph is a self-portrait.

This card is part of a series known to have been sold by San Francisco photographers Thomas Houseworth & Co., but there is no particular reason to believe that the photo was actually taken by Houseworth. Muybridge was one of several who supplied Houseworth and others with photographs to sell under their own labels. The image on this card and others in the series are similar in style and physical aspects to photographs taken by Muybridge at around the same time and sold under his own name. A well-known portrait of Muybridge was sold by Houseworth and shows Muybridge sitting on a "Houseworth" crate.

A well known portrait of Muybridge, circa 1872, sold by Houseworth

The two cards are identical except for the name of the vendor that appears on the right edge. The first card is stamped "Thomas Houseworth & Co.; Photographers, 12 Montgomery St., opposite Lick House; San Francisco, Cal." Note that the first few letters of the stamp are on top of the image.

The second card has a label glued on that says "H.E. Weissig, New Orleans". There's no trace of the Houseworth stamp on the card. So it seems the photos were mounted on the orange card with the heading "Great Geyser Springs" preprinted on the left edge, the number and title "1164. Witches' Cauldron and Devil's Pulpit, Sonoma County, Cal." also preprinted. The card was then wholesaled to various vendors who would stamp or label the card with their name. It seems to me that Muybridge may have printed and mounted these photos himself.

Muybridge is known to have often included himself in his photographs. With the slow plates of the time, he could start the exposure and then run into the frame, hold still for a while and then run back to end the exposure. In fact there's another photo from the series (#1158, see below) that shows a group of people including the same man as in #1164. He is slightly blurred and underexposed as if he has just run into the frame; everyone else is sharp as they stood still for the entire exposure.

Compare the face of the man in #1164 (left) with the well-known portrait of Muybridge (right) from about the same time:

There are several things that make this self-portrait particularly interesting. First is the fact that it shows Muybridge at Great Geyser Springs, scene of some of his most famous early photos. Also interesting is the fact that Muybridge has chosen to photograph himself standing on the "Devil's Pulpit." It's not the only time he placed himself in that kind of mythological context: he photographed himself standing on the edge of a dock in Yosemite and titled it "Charon at the Ferry."

Here's an enlargement of the face of the man in Houseworth #1158, holding something (a negative or slide?) in his hand:

Houseworth #1158

Some people have speculated that the person in these photographs may be the photographer Carleton E. Watkins. There is a resemblance between Watkins and Muybridge. Although Watkins photographed the Geysers, he is considered a competitor of Houseworth and it seems unlikely he would have allowed them to distribute his photographs. Muybridge, on the other hand, is known to have supplied images to Houseworth.




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