Nineteenth-century photographer Edward Muybridge, whose mentor was Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, set up a traveling studio in a Conestoga wagon to record America’s western expansion via the building of the Union Pacific railway system. Stopping to photograph a railroad trestle on a quiet Sunday, he unwittingly witnesses a stagecoach robbery. Taking a covert photo of the robber he senses will be useful, his attention is then diverted by a physically attractive traveler, Holly Hughes. Paris dancer and “free spirit,” she is drawn to the shy Muybridge, who falls under Holly’s romantic and sexy spell.
A relationship follows, one which often interferes with his concepts to improve photography – especially her liberal ideas, radical feminism and overt sexuality, which attracts and confuses the innocent Muybridge. He is determined to add to his previous accomplishments of photo enlargement, photo copying handwritten business letters for archiving, and developing a method to put pictures on newsprint to circulate them everywhere. Pursuing his goal to record actual movement, he photographs a trotting horse to prove that at one point the horse, Occident, has all four hooves off the ground at once and wins a famous bet for California governor Leland Stanford, who helps finance Muybridge’s future work. Life is good until a terrible murder comes between Muybridge and Holly, and she storms back to Paris, leaving Muybridge to continue his photographic pursuits, creating enlarged “moments in time” of famous inventors such as Edison and notorious artists and friends for the American Centennial exhibit in 1876.
This novel is loosely based on the life of Edward Muybridge but also includes a vivid accounting of the ingenuity as well as the dark side of “nation-building.” It includes historical personages and the droves of hardworking immigrants who contributed to the growth and expansion of America.