georges demeny

Are you counting steps? What’s your number, I wonder, for the day? Did you hit it or did you come up short? Does your phone know the difference between the steps you take to buy an ice cream, and the ones you made at fever sprint when sirens wobbled the dark distance on their way to your home? Coming, maybe, for you? Some steps tickle the grass like feathers. Others pound and rumble, rattling and cracking the blacktop like thunder. Toe tips dip in the froth of the shore in bare, just-born spring, when the sun is warm but the ocean flows with crystal ice still in its lungs. What’s that step worth? More than the reflex rings around the island in your kitchen? Over and over. To get the ladle. For the wooden spoon. The olive oil. Salt. Over and over. The same circle day after day. Maybe you think those steps are wasted, but they’re not. They build and thicken like broth. What of the little birds in packs that poke their beaks in the sand for sea bugs to eat? They run away, all together in a ground cloud, when the wave climbs back, threatening to wet their branched feet. There are steps, people, and then there are steps. Where’s the button that helps you know?

[Art: Walking and Jumping by George Demeny, 1883]


Georges Demeny 
(French, 1850–1917)

“Demeny was the principal assistant to Etienne-Jules Marey (1831-1904), one of the nineteenth century’s premier scientific investigators of the phenomenon of movement. In 1882, Demeny was instrumental in setting up Marey’s "station physiologique” in the Bois de Boulogne–the studio where they carried out pioneering motion studies. Using a process that could make multiple exposures on a single photographic plate in rapid succession, Marey and Demeny could capture the visible traces of an entire motion in regular intervals and study that action at a level of detail not attainable by earlier photographic technologies.

This picture was made in 1906, after Marey’s death, while Demeny was professor of physiology at the National school of gymnastics and fencing at Joinville, which he established. A sport based in a repertoire of very precise, economical moves, fencing lent itself naturally to the kind of physiologically precise study of movement made newly available by Demeny’s photography.“