In motion

Posted on March 5, 2015

Since my last visit to the Dover Transport museum, my recent research has taken me on an unexpected path towards film, animation and sculpture. About 6/7 years ago when I was studying for my BA in fine art I was concentrating my practice on the art of the moving image. The magic of early picture projection/photographic methods for me is best represented by Eadweard Muybridge (he adopted the Anglo-Saxon form of his name!). Muybridge’s experiments the zoopraxiscope, a method of projecting animated versions of his photographs as short moving sequences, which anticipated subsequent developments in the history of cinema. Combining the idea of stills based on the now static objects in the WW1 collection me to think of the zoetrope, which was developed in the 1830s by William Horner (other sources say it dates back to China in 180AD!). Basically a zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static images.

A neat Zoetrope example from Youtube
Eadweard Muybridge – Horse in Motion


I tend to stick with my intuition for creative ideas, if there’s something I can’t quite explain in words then I have to physically make it so I can step back and evaluate. Involving the motif of a bicycle and possibly more modes of transport as I read about them, I plan to make a few small scale zoetropes and larger ones powered by pedal. As a cyclist it is first and foremost my mode of transport second of all it is a pleasure to pedal and use physical and mental strength to get where you need to be. I love that pedal power totally depends on fitness and how you start your day. I am lucky to have a decent bike and not too challenging a route. I would to involve the public with the power of pedal, acceleration, energy, velocity and observation with these kinetic sculptures. Still separate though is the experience of a cyclist in WW1 from the bicycle battalion, I know that the bikes were mainly for communication but I plan to get in touch with Kent University/Imperial War Muesum Archive to find out if there are any personal 1st hand accounts documented.

Sketches for a zoetrope in my journal

Helpful links for studying transport

Studying ‘Between the Coast and the Western Front – Transportation and Supply Behind the Trenches’, is influencing me. It’s a detailed and well-illustrated book by Sandra Gittins explaining the supplies, distribution and other activities that kept the Front in working order.

‘Between the Coast and the Western Front – Transportation and Supply Behind the Trenches’


The book has been very useful for understanding the range of transport available at the time, the recruitment of skilled engineers that were needed to battle the demand of men and supplies constantly being moved from bases to the Front and back again. When WW1 tanks came into circulation (often offloaded by cranes and transported by rail) the French railway system could not cope with the weight strain. Some of these tanks weighed about 15-28 tonnes! Not to be overlooked but railway had to be fast and easily too, not all the French lines were up to the demand at the time, not all routes were in use either. That’s just one of many problems faced but were quickly resolved. Another part of the book that has fascinated me is the Army Post Office. Naturally, the postal service was a vital resource and comfort for those separated from loved ones serving at the front. Extra postal workers were recruited from the UK to meet the increasing demands, troops were always writing home asking for clothes/food/toiletries. Soon enough more postal workers were recruited including female sorters, clerks etc. with a minimum of 4 months service. They quickly had to adapt to an intense routine of dealing with postal orders, currency exchange, telegrams and army censorship over a long working day.

WW1 bicycle, The Military Sunbeam


Research at the moment has me focusing on the wheel, speed and medium of time. After reading about the omnibuses adopted and customized for the war I’ll never complain about the speed of public transport again. These old buses went at a maximum of 10mph!