Daniel Sipe

Daniel Sipe publishes "Aesthetics and the Methods of Visual Enquiry in the Photography of Étienne-Jules Marey" in French Studies 74.4 (2020)

Cultural historians have long recognized the major contributions made to cinema by the nineteenth-century French physiologist and inventor Étienne-Jules Marey. Marey’s wide-ranging studies of animal locomotion brought him to develop highly sensitive instruments of measurement — graphing machines, dynamometric devices, and most significantly, an astonishing series optical arrays for use in high-speed photography. Accordingly, many cinematic genealogies underscore Marey’s technical innovations but do not generally concern themselves with the aesthetic implications of the striking ‘chronophotographic’ images that he and his préparateur Georges Demenÿ created at the ‘Station physiologique’ on the outskirts of Paris in the 1880s and 1890s. For those interested in cinema history, Marey’s work is often viewed as the penultimate link in the story of the invention of moving pictures, or it represents an aesthetic dead-end, a relic of nineteenth-century positivist methods of visual enquiry. Critics such as Georges Sadoul, for example, have hypothesized that Marey’s unwavering frontal perspectives and synthetic deconstruction of movement directly inspired the short-lived aesthetic of Louis Lumière’s ‘scientific cinema’, whose mode of seeing, like Marey’s, is ‘clearly inscribed in the image itself’.1 Likewise, Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Thèses sur le mouvement’ place on equal footing the ‘analytical’ realism that informs Marey’s photographs and the Lumière brothers’ moving pictures.2 For Deleuze, their aesthetic production marks the nascent period of cinema before the genre was liberated by the techniques of montage and travelling........

cover image of French Studies