"How much longer?" shouted Pierre, the jockey, "She wants her morning gallop. She's sweating up." "Just the strings to go. Won't be long". The sun was almost perfectly placed now. The shadows of the cameras no longer reached the panels. Eadweard walked down the line of tripods, inspecting them as his assistants tied the shutter switches to tacks on the boards with silk thread - nothing but the best. But suppose the horse didn't like the feel of canvas underfoot and bolted, slewing into the cameras? He'd be ruined. That charlatan Daguerre, that amateur acrobat, had been given a life pension by the French government for stumbling upon a secret but in this, the Land of the Free, people had to fight their own way back as he'd always done. The last knot was tied. "It's all yours, Pierre", he shouted. Pierre turned the horse away, settled her, lined her up as if it were a jousting contest. Eadweard couldn't bear to watch.
Let's freeze the action just as history's to be made, long enough for there to be no blurring. The clarity of those early Daguerrotypes astounds us even now. It's as if Edison had invented Dolby Stereo. What they lacked was the ability to capture a moment. Without that intensity, motion's impossible. The shutter mechanism was Eadweard's creation. He would have succeeded earlier had he not been accused then acquitted of murdering his wife 4 years before. Motion pictures still had far to go, but after that morning he never looked back. Nor did we. OK, so we replay, fast-forward, zoom and remix, but we never just look anymore. It's as if we really believe Jean-Luc Godard's assertion that photography is truth, and cinema truth 24 times a second. So close your eyes. Try to imagine Pierre baffled, but prepared to do what he's told for a few free tickets, shaking the reins, the horse symbolising Time as it gains across the field, its forked breath misting the still cold air. If you can't keep it up, it might help to fantasize about a Ted Hughes poem. Imagine the threads as years, breasted through like finishing tapes, the instant captured for auldlangsyne. You assemble these truths, you spin them time and time again for yourself and then your children, you never tire of watching.
Pierre pulled the horse up, patted her neck and looked back. Eadweard opened his eyes, and you can open yours. Not one camera toppled. Inside each closed mind a latent image of immortality. The assistants, eager for breakfast, dismantled the equipment and took the photographic plates to the mobile workshop. Eadweard paced up and down outside like the expectant father he'd never be. He was an old-fashioned showman, hard to live with, always selling dreams. He yearned for fame, but he wanted respectability too. Born Edward Muggeridge in Kingston-upon-Thames, he changed his name to what he thought was the original Anglo-Saxon. He'd made the most of the opportunities that America offered, sacrificed the continuity of the Old World, let in the darkness that now separated his days as more and more he looked back on his life. Without the contra-rotating disc of slits there'd be no illusion of movement, the years would be nothing but a set of tiresome variations. He'd had his moments of despair so perhaps we can forgive him a little pride when 2 years later in San Francisco Arts School he projected the images on a screen using a device of his own invention, the Zoogyroscope. Artists had denigrated his works but he proved them wrong by projecting a still of a Gainsborough, then cranking up the world's first ever film show to demonstrate that when all the horse's legs were off the muddied canvas they were not spread like a hobbyhorse's but tucked in. It looked unreal. It was. It was the beginning of cinema 24 frames a second, 24 hours a day.