21 Feb 2010

Painting Motion Pictures: Étienne-Jules Marey's Rifle in the History of the Discovery of Cinematography

presentation by Corry Shores
cinematic material by Paul Burns

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Painting Motion Pictures:
Étienne-Jules Marey's Rifle
in the
History of the Discovery of Cinematography

In chapter 11 of Logic of Sensation, Deleuze refers to Étienne-Jules Marey's rifle. We will examine this cinematic device by working through Paul Burns' incredible site, THE HISTORY OF THE DISCOVERY OF CINEMATOGRAPHY. Given his expertise and fantastic presentation of the material, it would be best to read it directly from this page:

Nonetheless, he has very generously allowed us to use his images and information here, so that we may better integrate it into our other entries on Deleuze. Thank you Paul Burns very much.

Marey's contribution to cinematography was the first portable motion picture camera. It resembles a rifle.

(Source: Paul Burns, THE HISTORY OF THE DISCOVERY OF CINEMATOGRAPHY, thanks given also to Russell Naughton)

It records onto a disk with 12 frames.

The images capture 1/720th of a second. These little time-photographs are called 'Chronophotographs', and his camera was called the Fusil Photographique.

("Flight of the birds according to the instantaneous photographs of Mr. Marey", 1882. Source: Paul Burns, THE HISTORY OF THE DISCOVERY OF CINEMATOGRAPHY)

Marey was a physiologist. He wanted a way to analyze the movements of animals. His 'rifle' allowed him to capture the flight of a bird, for example.

Paul Burns created this animation showing a man 'shooting' a flying bird.


The images on the disc itself might in sequence look as follows:


All the disc's images seen at once could look like this:

And when projected, we would see:

Animated bird on Marey disc http://www.precinemahistory.net/1880.htm

Deleuze writes of painter Francis Bacon:

Occasionally he is content to paint something that functions as a photograph in relation to the Figure, and thus plays the role of an attendant; or else, twice, to paint a camera that sometimes resembles a prehistoric beast, sometimes a heavy rifle (like Marey's rifle, which decomposed movement) [61, 74]. (Deleuze 2003: 65b)

Il se contente de peindre parfois quelque chose qui fonctionne comme photo par rapport à la Figure, et qui a dès lors un rôle de témoin ; ou bien, par deux fois, de peindre un appareil photographique qui ressemble tantôt à une bête préhistorique, tantôt à un lourd fusil (tel le fusil à décomposer le mouvement, de Marey). (Deleuze 2003: 87-88)

Bacon supposedly tries to capture a tenth of a second in his paintings. We see his figures vibrate under the pressures of intense forces acting on their bodies. Here for example is part of the man's body in Figure at a Washbasin.

Marey's rifle in a sense 'decomposes movement' into separate moments. When played in succession, we perceive motion. Bacon tries to accomplish the perception of motion in his figures by showing us the wrestling forces in the figure's body, which cause it to resonate and spasm. Bacon's various techniques for example cause our eyes to dart about the shaking figure. When our eyes land at one place, they already feel compelled to move elsewhere. The motion, then, is captured in individual instants. Bacon creates a 'motion picture' of his own sort. It is movement that is expressed even in an instant, by means of the incompatible forces pushing-and-pulling our eyes in various directions at once.


Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Transl. Daniel W. Smith. London/New York: Continuum, 2003.

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Seuil, 2002.

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