Etienne-Jules Marey, Fusil Photographique

Etienne Marey, Fusil Photographique

Picture borrowed from the Étienne-Jules Marey biography in the Hargrave Aviation History pages.

In the 1800s, Étienne-Jules Marey made a name for himself studying human anatomy, particularly the way blood moved through the body. He was enthralled with the way living things moved. Science being what it was in the 19th century, Marey’s friend Victor Tatin encouraged his analysis of the wings of birds and insects in flight, in order to take Marey’s findings and create better designs for ornithopters.

Marey’s flight studies inspired him to invent a wide array of devices, including a tethered corset for doves (to watch their wings in midair) and an artificial dragonfly powered by compressed air. The machines were all aimed at studying and recreating the natural motions of flapping wings – the motion his buddy Tatin was hoping to harness in a bold, new flying machine. But Marey’s studies led him to a fascination with Eadweard Muybridge’s work photographing bodies in motion. After seeing what Muybridge was doing with banks of cameras, Marey built his “fusil photographique” – a “photographic musket” that used a single camera to take 12 images a second on a revolving photographic plate. All the better to capture a seagull in flight, you see?

He was fascinated by flight and by the way living things moved. The fact that he invented the direct ancestor of the first movie camera – which today shoots 24 frames per second using a revolving “magazine” of film – was purely incidental.