Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge at Kingston-upon-Thames, England. He is believed to have changed his first name to match that of King Eadweard as shown on the plinth of the Kingston coronation stone, which was re-erected in Kingston in 1850. Muggeridge became Muygridge and then Muybridge after he had emigrated to the United States in the early 1850s.
In 1855 Muybridge arrived in San Francisco, starting his career as a publisher's agent and bookseller. He developed an interest in photography that seems to have been boosted when he was recovering in England after nearly being killed in a stagecoach crash in 1860. By 1866, Muybridge returned to San Francisco and joined up with a local photo business. It has been suggested that he acted as an assistant to landscape photographer Carleton E. Watkins, but there is little evidence of this.
Muybridge began to build his reputation in 1867 with photos of Yosemite and San Francisco (many of the Yosemite photographs reproduced the same scenes taken by Watkins). Muybridge quickly became famous for his landscape photographs, which showed the grandeur and expansiveness of the West. The images were published under the pseudonym “Helios.” In the summer of 1868 Muybridge was commissioned to photograph one of the U.S. Army's expeditions into the recently territorialized Alaska purchase.
In 1871 the California Geological Survey invited Muybridge to photograph for the High Sierra survey. That same year he married Flora Stone. He then spent several years traveling as a successful photographer. By 1873 the Central Pacific Railroad had advanced into Indian territory and the United States Army hired Muybridge to photograph the ensuing Modoc Wars.
In 1874, still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge discovered that his wife had a lover, a Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns; said, "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife"; and shot and killed him.
Muybridge thought his wife's son had been fathered by Larkyns (although, as an adult, the young man had a remarkable resemblance to Muybridge). He was put on trial for the killing, but acquitted of the killing on the grounds that it was "justifiable homicide." The inquiry interrupted the horse photography experiment, but not Stanford's support of Muybridge; Stanford paid for his criminal defense.
After the acquittal, Muybridge left the U.S. for a time and photographed in Central America, returning in 1877. The son, Florado Helios Muybridge (nicknamed "Floddie" by friends) was placed in an orphanage, and worked as a ranch hand and gardener as an adult. He died at age 69 in 1944, after being hit by a car.
This episode in Muybridge's life is the subject of The Photographer, a 1982 opera by Philip Glass, with words drawn from the trial and Muybridge's letters to his wife.
In 1985 the music video for Larry Gowan's single "(You're A) Strange Animal" prominently featured animation rotoscoped from Muybridge's work. In 1993, U2 made a video to their song "Lemon" into a tribute to Muybridge's techniques. In 2004, the electronic music group The Crystal Method made a music video to their song "Born Too Slow" which was based on Muybridge's work, including a man walking in front of a background grid.
In the summer of 2004, during the Summer Olympic games which were held in Greece, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts housed an exhibition highlighting ancient Greece and included 2 of Muybridge's photograph plates hanging next to more modern representations of athletes as part of the exhibit.
Allez Allez by Carola Unterberger-Probst
Kingston University, Surrey, UK has a building named in recognition of his work as one of Britains most influential photographers.