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Happenings: Unsupported Transit

Today’s post comes from Nicole M. Roylance, Coordinator of Public Education and Information.

Image: Andreas Feininger (American, b. France, 1906-1999) Horsecart in Midtown, 1940 Gelatin silver print Gift of the Feininger Family, 2001.17.19

A horsecart, laden with bulging cardboard boxes and burlap sacks, stands still in Midtown Manhattan. Cars can be seeing blurring past either side of this quaint apparition. Mia Mask, Associate Professor of Film and Chair of Film, considers everything about this 1940 photograph by Andreas Feininger “captivatingly anachronistic.” Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Mask presented the final Artful Dodger lecture for the semester and led visitors through this quizzical scene.

Mask pointed to the numerous absurdities of the photograph. The horsecart is pulled up in front of Ripley’s Odditorium where Robert LeRoy Ripley presented a collection of unbelievable objects and facts. The horsecart and its load seems unbelievable for one horse and it seems even odder next to the brightly lit “Ripley” sign.

Ms. Mask then discussed the juxtaposition of the standing horse and the moving cars. She reminded visitors that for most of human history horses were the fastest way to travel. Decades earlier, another photographer, Eadweard Muybridge had been commissioned by Governor of California Leland Stanford in 1871 to photograph a galloping horse to settle a popular debate: was there a moment of “unsupported transit” when all four legs of the galloping horse were off the ground? Muybridge’s photographs are now considered one of the earliest forms of videography and demonstrate human interest in the speed and agility of horses. In Feininger’s 1940 photograph the horse stands still with all four legs on the ground while the new metal chariots rush past.

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