Pedagogy of Inclination, No.1: Photography

Eadweard Muybridge and Jules Marey are known as pioneering figures in two disciplines that at first glance appear diametrically opposed. The first is cinema, which represents the body by capturing light on series of film stills and then running these stills sequentially. The second is biomechanics, which breaks down the holistic understanding of the body into constituent parts that may be isolated, measured, rationalized and optimized.

If Muybridge and Marey were the pioneers in taking apart the body through the use of stroboscopic imagery, then should we not use their work as a starting point to reverse the process or reconstitute a holistic understanding of the moving body?


Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion Plate 99, 1887

Since Muybridge's photos are in the public domain, consider the following a learning object to help teach biomechanics better or at least differently to kinaesthetic learners (cf. Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory). The goal is to achieve an experiential holistic biomechanics, which would seem to be oxymoronic, as the entire project of biomechanics involves the instrumental fragmentation of the body into quantifiable component parts.

Phase 1

Take the Muybridge photo and cut it back once again into segments. The segments are presented randomly to the subject, who must then reassemble them into the original photo — that is, in linear sequential fashion. Haptic feedback may "guide" the segments into their correct positions.

Pedagogy of Inclination 1

Phase 2

The subject must reassemble the photo in timed fashion, with the goal to achieve a personal best time. Upon completion, the segments light up sequentially with a green corona, unless the photo was placed incorrectly, in which case the corona would light up red.

Pedagogy of Inclination 2

Phase 3

Segment photos are displayed randomly, with a countdown timer ticking downwards. Subject must drag segments onto a filmstrip timeline. Once completed, pressing the "play" button begins an animation of the filmstrip that reconstitutes the original body motion.

Muybridge Timeline

Phase 4

Thereafter, the subject must embody the same motion portrayed in the Muybridge photo as a corporeal, lived experience. The phenomenon of movement must be documented meticulously as a personal narrative in a journal.

Phase 5

After performing and documenting the movement as described in Phase 4, it will be performed once again for representation by the same stroboscopic photography technique that Muybridge used to capture his subjects. The angle of inclination, focal distance, frame rate, etc. should all as closely as possible approximate the original settings that Muybridge used in his studio.

Once this burst photo is taken it will be similarly segmented as at the beginning of the exercise such that Phases 1-3 may be repeated, but this time with the subject in the role of the object being visually reconstituted.

Phase 6

Finally, the subject will document in narrative form the connections and disconnections between the proprioceptive memory of experientially performing the particular movement, its representation in photography, and the holistic biomechanical act of reconstituting one's own motion. These narratives may provide the basis for a group discussion that then may or may not be linked to more positivist biomechanical questions related to anatomy, vectors of force, gait analysis, etc.

* * *

The title Pedagogy of Inclination borrows both in content and as a play on words from the work of Paolo Freire, who wrote, among his many works, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Indignation. In the first, his seminal work, Freire proposes a critical pedagogy in which freedom can only be wrested from the oppressor by taking ownership of language and striking a praxis-oriented balance between reflection and action.

The goal of the action outlined above is to strike a balance between the metaphorically inclined or recumbent subject and the inclination of the camera that would render that body a data-object. By wresting a proprioceptive understanding of the body's movements from the dominant optics that would otherwise break it down into components, one might further develop a physical literacy in which the oppression of the visual bias may be translated into tactility through reflection and action.