To tackle Stanford’s dilemma of whether horses indeed engaged in “unsupported transit” during their trotting gait, Muybridge began experimenting with a bank of 12 cameras with trip wires, such that a horse moving down the racetrack would trigger photographs along the way. (For later studies on longer stretches of track, Muybridge would increase the number of cameras.) Stanford supplied the horse, “Sallie Gardner,” as well as a track on his estate in Palo Alto, California.
The same year he began working with Stanford, however, the 43-year-old Muybridge also married a local shop girl, the 21-year-old Flora Shallcross Stone, setting off an unfortunate chain of events in the artist’s personal life. Perhaps due to Muybridge’s frequent absences to pursue his photographic studies, Stone began an affair with a drama critic named Harry Larkyns. When Muybridge discovered the betrayal—some accounts say he found letters between them in which Flora referred to her and Muybridge’s seven-month-old son as “Little Harry”—he traveled to find Larkyns and shot him in cold blood, killing him instantly.
In the subsequent trial, Muybridge pleaded insanity caused by head trauma from an earlier stagecoach crash he had suffered in 1860, which witnesses testified left him erratic and unpredictable. Amazingly, the jury dismissed his claim of insanity but judged the case a “justifiable homicide,” letting Muybridge walk free. His work interrupted and his life in disarray, Muybridge went into self-exile in Central America, only returning to continue his work for Stanford in 1877.