The Art Institute of Chicago made more than 50,000 hi-res images of artwork available on their site this past week. When viewed through the optic of the bicyclist, many interesting details emerge about some of the foundational actors who defined the methods of their chosen mediums for generations to come.

Man Bicycling,1890s Etienne-Jules Marey French, 1830–1904
Man Bicycling,1890s by Etienne-Jules Marey, 1830–1904, demonstrating his “photography of time” technique that was elemental to the development of modern film and video.

Etienne-Jules Marey, France, 1830–1904

Many of the early motion studies in photography are attributed to Eadweard Muybridge, but it was actually the French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey’s developing of a process he called “chronophotography” -or “photography of time” – that seems to have influenced the generally better known works of Muybridge. His technique involved the use of rigging an ordinary camera behind a rotating metal disk modified with multiple slots cut at regular intervals. The subject moving across the field of view of the camera exposed a sequence of images against a dark background as the rotating disk acts as a shutter, allowing light to pass through to the a single photographic plate. It was his fascination with the movement of the body that led him to this discovery, but it is the concept that our modern film and video was built on. For his choice of movement, it would seem the bicycle was best to demonstrate the technique, and with the other options of the time, it is understandable why. Note one of the first innovations of the safety bicycle that would later, inform the design of the diamond frame, what most people imagine when they think of a bike.

Hyères, France, 1932 by French photographer Henri Cartier-BressonHyères, France, 1932 by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who lived from 1908 to 2004. The work demonstrates the spontaneity and intention emblematic of the prolific photographer and founder of MAGNUM Photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, France, 1908–2004 [NSFW: Mild Nudity]

The black and white French photographer defined many elements of modern photography. His ability to capture the spontaneous moment in a still frame is one of the earliest examples of modern photography usedto expressively capture motion as an element of artistic composition. His print, Hyères, France taken in 1932 before becoming a professional photographer, is emblematic of the ease and whimsy Cartier-Bresson brings to his works. While Ansel Adams receives the most notoriety for his range of tones, the whites, grey and blacks that define the image, Cartier-Bresson laid the foundation for action photography and the idea of the The Decisive Moment, also a title of one of the books from his prolific photography publications. This encapsulation of intentioned photography is an elemental component of documenting the experience of racing and riding bikes.

José Guadalupe Posada
From the Track of This Famous Hippodrome, Not a Single Journalist Will Be Missing. Inexorable Death Has No Respect, Not Even for Those You See Here Riding Bicycles.

José Guadalupe Posada, Mexico, 1852-1913

The use of the bicycle is not as much related to the methods of the illustrative style employed by Posada, but it takes center state as the theme in this attack on the mainstream press of 19th century Mexico with depictions of various newspapers depicted as racers, “competitors include the Roman Catholic daily El Tiempo, who wears a mitre and appears as Father Time, and El Partido Liberal, who wears a Phrygian cap.” 

Further Study

Other elements in the collection do not have as much information as to the context of the works. AIC will continue to update the collection with more information as it becomes available, we’ll update accordingly. In the meantime, you can view the full collection, and also the cross-section of bicycles and bikes.