The things you learn making animated gifs! Here is a set of damselflies in flight, with various speeds, in a report on an international exposition of air flight in the National Air and Space Museum’s rare book collection. While my French is not the greatest, it looks as if various institutions including le Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, la Station physiologique du Collège de France, and l'Institut Marey worked together to study flight of insects and other animals for the International Exposition on Flight, the first airshow held at the Grand Palais in Paris, 1909.

L'Institut Marey was named for Etienne-Jules Marey, a physiologist and contemporary of Eadweard Muybridge. Marey had developed a camera expressly for the scientific study of movement. His last assistant and later replacement as head of l'Insititut Marey, Lucien Bull, further developed the technique by devising a high-speed camera to capture never before seen phenomenon such as a bullet piercing a soap bubble. It was a camera like this that Bull probably used to take the photos of this damselfly. For the first time, they could see precisely how insects took flight. Marey and Bull’s “gun camera” would later develop into modern cinematography, birthing a whole new industry you are probably familiar with.

If your French is decent, or if you’re curious to see the many photographs and illustrations, Rapport officiel de la première exposition international de locomotion aerienne (with the rapport officiel de la deuxième exposition also scanned and starting on p. 139) is definitely worth checking out. 

A 19th century Fitbit? 

This strange illustration comes from a book titled Animal Mechanism: A Treatise on Terrestrial and Aërial Locomotion, by Etienne-Jules Marey. Marey was a pioneer in the various fields such as cardiology, scientific laboratory photography, and cinematography. He even made improvements on Eadweard Muybridge motion picture studies by making the captures more scientifically accurate. 

Here, a runner, not a cyborg, is provided with an apparatus intended to register his different paces.


Étienne–Jules Marey’s (March 5, 1830 – May 21, 1904) interest in the art of visual storytelling stemmed from his other passion, the study of human anatomy and physiology. He started recording the movements of human body through photography, an art form that was taking its first tentative steps in 19th century. It did not take long for Marey though to be obsessive about photography for photography’s sake.

Marey’s experimentation led to a separate branch in animated photography known as Chronophotographe. In 1882, using an instrument called chronophotographic gun, Marey could capture 12 consecutive frames per second recorded in a single image. He studied the flight of birds, locomotion of dogs, sheep and cats and swim of fishes in this method. Abstract forms like smoke trails or falling balls did not escape his attention either. His smoke machine, built in 1901 based on 58 smoke trails, was one of the first aerodynamic wind tunnels. As a cardiologist he was instrumental in the creation of Sphygmographe that was used to measure pulse.

In 1890, Étienne–Jules Marey published Le Vol des Oiseaux richly illustrated with drawings as well as photographs. His experiments in the field of photography also earned him a prominent position in the history of cinema.