The First Kiss Captured on Film: Behold “The Kiss” Shot by Photography Pioneer Eadweard Muybridge (1887)

Every mov­ing image we watch today descends, in a sense, from the work of Ead­weard Muy­bridge. In the 1870s he devised a method of pho­tograph­ing the move­ments of ani­mals, a study he expand­ed to humans in the 1880s. This con­sti­tut­ed a leap toward the devel­op­ment of cin­e­ma, though you would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know it by look­ing at the best-known images he pro­duced, such as the set of cards known as The Horse in Motion. You may get a more vivid sense of his pho­tog­ra­phy’s import by see­ing it in ani­mat­ed GIF form, as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, includ­ing the very first kiss on film.

Though he often worked with nude mod­els, “Muy­bridge was not into smut and eroti­cism,” says Flash­bak. “His rapid-fire sequen­tial pho­tographs of two naked women kiss­ing served to aid his stud­ies of human and ani­mal move­ment. It was in the inter­ests of art and sci­ence Muy­bridge secured the ser­vices of two women, invit­ed them to undress and pho­tographed them kiss­ing.” This turns out to be some­what more plau­si­ble than it sounds: the Muy­bridge online archive notes that “because of Vic­to­ri­an sex­u­al taboos Muy­bridge was not able to pho­to­graph men and women naked togeth­er,” and in any case it was com­mon­ly believed that “women had lit­tle or no sex dri­ve.”

What­ev­er its rela­tion­ship to pub­lic moral­i­ty at the time, Muy­bridge’s kiss sug­gest­ed the shape of things to come. For a long time after the inven­tion of cin­e­ma, writes the New York Times’ A. O. Scott, “a kiss was all the sex you could show on-screen.” Today, “we some­times look back on old movies as arti­facts of an inno­cent, more repres­sive time,” but the rich his­to­ry of “the cin­e­mat­ic kiss” reveals “yearn­ing and hos­til­i­ty, defi­ance and plead­ing, male dom­i­na­tion and female asser­tion. There are unlike­ly phys­i­cal con­tor­tions and sug­ges­tive com­po­si­tions, some­times imposed by the anti-lust pro­vi­sions of the code” — the cen­so­ri­ous “Hays Code” that restrict­ed the con­tent of Amer­i­can movies between 1934 and 1968 — “some­times by the desire to breathe new for­mal life into a weary con­ven­tion.” Muy­bridge may have been the first to fig­ure out how to cap­ture a kiss, but gen­er­a­tions of film­mak­ers have had to rein­vent the prac­tice over and over ever since.

via Flashbak/Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ead­weard Muybridge’s Motion Pho­tog­ra­phy Exper­i­ments from the 1870s Pre­sent­ed in 93 Ani­mat­ed Gifs

Watch After the Ball, the 1897 “Adult” Film by Pio­neer­ing Direc­tor Georges Méliès (Almost NSFW)

Ead­weard Muybridge’s 1870s Pho­tographs of Gal­lop­ing Hors­es Get Encod­ed on the DNA of Liv­ing Bac­te­ria Cells

Watch the First-Ever Kiss on Film Between Two Black Actors, Just Hon­ored by the Library of Con­gress (1898)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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