Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Through the 4th Dimension

In the last few years we're starting to see, increasingly, new forms built (or, really, being popularized) around photography. The ones I'm seeing are largely about integrating time into the picture. We've got timelapse and hyperlapse going on all over the place. We've got various guys all shooting a bunch of frames from one vantage point and then splicing/blending them together to create a single image that goes from morning to dusk, or whatever.

Most of it is pretty uninterested crap that says nothing beyond "look, time passes. Crazy, huh?" and the artist gets a lot of credit for degree of difficulty. Degree of difficulty is uninteresting in general, and anyways there will be an app to make these things in about 15 minutes anyways, so pretty soon anyone will be able to make a movie or a still illustrating that, gosh, time passes.

From time to time we get a genius who uses these tools to make something excellent. See also Jeff Frost.

They're just tools. Like drones and every other whizzy new gadget or method they're widely admired because of their novelty, and the most astute observers occasionally note "new potentials for storytelling" or something, and almost nobody does anything interesting because you don't have to. Just make a 3 year timelapse of Singapore and set it to some trippy electronic music, and PetaPixel will rate it "MUST SEE". And next year, you can do a FOUR year timelapse of Singapore!

I think there's a more fundamental problem, philosophically, here. These things are getting lumped in with photography, because they're constructed out of still photos. The trouble is that the power of the still photo lies in part in its instantaneous nature. The point of a still photo is that it is what was there, at that moment. It is a little slice of reality, a moment. Perhaps a longish moment, 1/2 a second or something, perhaps a much smaller slice. Always, though, it's what we would perceive on a human time scale as a moment, an instant. In the days of very slow emulsions, great pains had to be taken to, in essence, hold that moment in place for a minute or two, and often this imparts a slightly weird impression, which we still find today in various long-exposure techniques.

This is not to say that the hyperlapse crowd, and the "blend umptillion photos" crowd should stop, heavens no. Go nuts, kids.

This is only to say that we need to keep those things separate, we should not treat them as a sort of next step of photography. They should not be judged or understood in the same way photographs are, because they are fundamentally different.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, but, in my role as Mr. "Have You Seen?", let me point you at Chris McCaw's work, collected in the book "Sunburn". It's photography, alright. One of my favorite books of recent years.