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Caught up in an information culture.


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Around Saturn (2013)

NASA footage of Saturn's rings, used in Fabio di Donato's "Around Saturn" (2013).

NASA footage of Saturn’s rings, used in Fabio di Donato’s “Around Saturn” (2013).

Méliès-esque is precisely the word.  Fabio di Donato edited together thousands of photographs takenof Saturn by the Cassini probe, and turned them into a beautiful flickering silent movie of space, an early experimental documentary of light and pattern, a waltz between planet and spacecraft where the viewer races around the rings of Saturn and falls into the dark of space.  It’s a wonderfully compelling way to present NASA’s scientific images.

Warning: video may not be suitable for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Continue reading


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Good Journalistic Hygiene: When Reporting on Online Abuse, Don’t Add to the Problem

Detail of the Youtube blurring interface, allowing facial anonymizing during upload.

Detail of the Youtube blurring interface, allowing facial anonymizing during upload.

Mediashift discusses the need to visually anonymize people who face violence for speaking with reporters and the victims of viral-video abuse, which is particularly important in the click-to-embed world of video journalism.  Bullying and abuse is increasingly filmed and posted online to prolong the damage done to the victim, and reporting on those events with the victim’s face identifiable adds to the danger they’re in.  For the 15-year-old Russian boy who was bullied by a homophobic gang and told he would become “an internet celebrity” via the footage they took to circulate among Russian neo-Nazi groups, the outcome of having the video circulated by LGBT activists is largely the same. Continue reading


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The days of moving pictures flying on radio waves

Television pioneer C. Francis Jenkins with a motion picture prototype in 1925.

Television pioneer C. Francis Jenkins with a motion picture prototype in 1925.

This interesting historical sidenote comes via Shorpy.  This is inventor Charles Francis Jenkins, who later became an early pioneer of television and founder of SMPTE, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, who, though they may not be a household name, created color bars for calibrating screen color that everyone will recognize. He’s demonstrating a 1925 prototype of motion picture broadcasting that creates moving pictures when hooked up to the radio, which he first described it in 1913, but didn’t build and demonstrate till the early 1920s.

From the description, I believe that the box on the right is projecting onto the white space inside the frame on the wall, with a reflector in the raised portion of the box redirecting light from a bulb beneath it.  There’s most likely a spinning disk in the semi-circle, driven by a motor that takes up the rest of the box.  My initial thought was that the disk contained the frames of the animation of the girl, but after reading more, I don’t believe that’s the case – the image is actually being transmitted and created on the fly.  This is mechanical television, which is a different beast from the television technology that soon dominated, Farnsworth’s electronic television, and I’m not certain how the images are being created from the transmitted signal.

Jenkins’ history with motion pictures stretches back to 1894, when he started work on a project that would later be acquired by Edison, and hundreds of patents later, turned towards military and commercial modifications for aircraft and ships.  But he’s also responsible for that spiral-formed cardboard box your Quaker Oats come in.


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A Brief History of Color Photography

Photo by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration (1942).  Early Kodachrome.

Photo by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration (1942).

Over at Luminous Lint, Alan Griffiths and Robert Hirsch are collaborating to enhance Hirsch’s textbooks on the history of photography with the sort of rich extra content that wouldn’t fit into the printed form.  Currently available are A Concise History of Color Photography, the second chapter of Hirsch’s book Exploring Color Photography (5th edition, Focal Press, 2010), and Pictures on Glass: The Wet-Plate Process, the fourth chapter of Hirsch’s Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography (2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, 2009).

The former moves quickly through a lot of fascinating territory in photographic history and science, and includes a section on Autochrome, the contribution of the Lumière brothers, “the inventors of the first practical motion picture projector, [who] patented a major breakthrough in the making of color photographs in 1904… the first commercially viable and extensively used color photographic process”.
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Near the Egress (2013)

Still from Antonio Ramirez's Near the Egress

Still from Antonio Ramirez’s Near the Egress

Dreamlike, absolutely stunning.  Antonio Ramirez took 800 dryplate tintype photos of a circus, and combined the still images to make a jerky 5 minute short film, the equivalent of just under 24fps.  Because they’re moving at about the frame rate of modern film, it feels like watching something filmed; because the photos were taken as stills rather than at camera-regulated intervals, there’s a feeling of watching something assembled.  (In fact, it’s a little reminiscent of the feel of watching La Jetée.)  Combined with the 19th century photo process, the film feels disjointed and out of time, entirely surreal. Continue reading


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Chris Marker and DIY Filmmaking

Part of the mythos of Chris Marker’s La Jetée is that he made a film composed almost entirely of still photos shot on his 35mm camera, because he was unable to rent a movie camera except for a small shoot one afternoon – one of the ultimate statements of DIY filmmaking, a film made from essentially no film footage.  The soundtrack is composed of narration, music and an evocative collage of jet engines, heartbeats, and whispering; very little of it location sound.  La Jetée is an incredibly influential piece of storytelling, a classic of cinema, made with a tape recorder and a still camera in the age of film.  It’s hard to find a clearer demonstration that content can far outweigh technology.

The technical creation of La Jetée poses questions about the medium of film and the idea of what a film is.  Is film the capture mechanism, or just the delivery mechanism? What format is the original work of art and what is the adaptation?  Marker described the story as a photo-roman in the opening credits, simply a photonovella; with La Jetée now available as a book, “not a [book of a film], but a book in its own right — the real ciné-roman announced in the film’s credits,” as well as the original film, it becomes less clear which medium this story was designed for and which is the adaptation.  While the original film is certainly definitive, Marker’s calling the film a book and the book a film is an interesting way of muddying the waters, and the fct that the story is equally at home on film and on the page is an interesting statement on photographs as a bridge between paper pages and celluloid frames.

Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) – turn on captions if you’d like English subtitles: