For years, I’ve enjoyed a page-a-day calendar from New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Recently, there was a remarkable photograph of two fencers – or was it one fencer in time lapse? I used to fence and I know how difficult it is to get a decent action shot and this one, below, was simply brilliant. The photographer had capitalized on the lightning fast moves instead of trying to freeze them out. I looked for the fine print to identify the photographer and found that the genius was named Georges Demenÿ and that he was French, so I checked him out. What an interesting man!
Demenÿ was born on June 12, 1850 in Douai, in the north of France. His parents were of Hungarian origin and his father made his living as a piano teacher. Demenÿ was also musical, but his interest was the violin. He was good enough to become a violinist at the Paris Opera. Demenÿ was also interested in physical exercise, specifically how people could develop the physique of the athletes of ancient Greece. At the same time that he was studying the violin at the Conservatoire de Paris, he also studied human physiology at the Faculty of medicine. This was apparently not enough stimulation, so Demenÿ also studied math at the Sorbonne.
In 1880, he founded a school known as the Cercle gymnastique rationnelle, hailed as the first physical education program founded on scientific principles. In order to study movement more accurately and scientifically, Demenÿ invented two instruments, the phonoscope and the chronophotographe, a form of time-lapse photography. These devices are what he used to make the amazing photographs shown here. Demenÿ could break down each movement scientifically and analyze its constituent parts. He eventually sold the rights to Gaumont, of cinema fame. Demenÿ died in Paris on October 26, 1917.
Demenÿ’s name is posted under “over achiever” in the dictionary. One way to say that someone is an “overachiever” in French is il fait plus qu’il ne le faut (eel feh ploos keel nuh luh foe) which literally means “he does more than he needs to.” The “ne” here is known as a “ne expletif,” which means that it isn’t part of a negation like “ne pas” or “ne jamais.” It’s usually used in quite formal French, and those formal speakers are often quite overachievers in their own right.