I suppose it was an odd coincidence that I entered puberty around the same time AOL became a “thing”, and it definitely had an impact on my early dating habits. If you wanted to know what someone looked like, you would ask them for a digital photo… and at the time, it could be quite challenging to get a picture of yourself onto the screen.
You had to find a scanner, and then upload it, etc… since this was so labor intensive, you would might have that one good photo of you, and that’s what you would send to people.
The tables have turned, photos are almost exclusively viewed on screens now. So how do we update the photo for the digital age?
A cinemagraph is basically photography for the modern era. Considering that photos are now almost exclusively viewed on screens, it only makes sense that going forward they will be updated to take advantage of this fact.
Unfortunately, the trend with digital media is that once the new tools are available, everyone starts to experiment and end up with a lot of really bad art. I see the challenge as: how to retain the intrinsic properties of a photograph, while adding that little extra oomph of being ambient, alive, and a deeper experience that digital allows?
Ill critique a few:
Unfortunately, the constant stream of cars is too much like a film experience. The contrast with the frozen elements that should also be in motion, reinforces the very aspects that you are not meant to see. Better if just a random car would go by once in a while, but the frozen in time people crossing the street stand out as being inconsistent.
Now this is how to do a taxi animation in a cinemagraph. The static content makes sense being static, the only thing moving is what you would expect to move. And using a reflection instead of an actual cab makes it subtle. Balanced.
Again, the only thing moving on the screen is the only thing that should move. And the animation loops in a subtle way that masks the fact it is repeating. Well done here.
Overall, one of my favs in terms of composition. But the animation loops too quickly, no rest state and the looping is obvious. The goal is to mask the fact that the animation loops, not hi light it by making the motion too constant, or the loop too short.
This one is far more successful in masking the loop, it is just long enough to let us forget that it is repeating. There is a nice mix of different rates of motion, including a long pause, that makes the whole thing appear to be an ongoing snapshot of time, instead of the same short piece of time cycle.
The eyes are distracting here. The movement is very abrupt and comes off inconsistent with the rest of the piece, looking more like animation than video. Ambient, slight motion that you can see but ignore will lead to an optimal experience, as it allows the photo to coexist with text or other static content without constantly demanding your attention. When a person looks at you, it is going to draw your attention, for better or worse.
The type of subtle animation here is ideal. Cloth waving slightly in the wind is ambient, and while it may be more dynamic overall compared to the previous examples with the moving eyes, the fact that it is fabric waving makes it ignorable, and thus ambient, thus a successful application for a photograph.
Overall, the art of the cinemagraph is the art of restraint. In addition to color, composition, exposure, etc, motion is now an additional aspect that needs to be used in tune with these other aspects of great photos. Go too far with it, and just like any other of these aspects, you destroy it.
I won’t be surprised to see the cinemagraph showing up on our ipads and phones very soon, as we transition the magazine from print to digital.
EDIT – PBS just did a micro docu:
These examples and more can be found here and here.