Guest Post, Cole Robertson: Film und Foto und Film: The Animated GIF Renaissance

The animated GIF. Technical throwback, or medium ripe for exploration?

Civil War

The GIF usually consists of two or more images, sequenced together to create a looping animation. GIFs have exploded in popularity, both in fine art and vernacular settings (256colors, i heart photograph exhibition in 2008, blingee, etc). Why? Aside from the fact that Steve Jobs called a hit on flash animation years ago, I think there are a few factors: they’re now easy to make, easy to share, and are losing their previous stigma.

What’s interesting to me is that GIFs exist as a hybrid form in the borderland between video and photography. GIFs can function as movies, but usually don’t—rather, they employ a jerky type of flipbook animation that never completely erases the individual photographs that comprise them. In essence, they exist as a type of photomontage. While it’s possible to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the illusion, viewers can still unpack the individual images and check the author’s work, so to speak.

This uneasy media tension is the inspiration for my own animated GIFs. These images started as before and after photos in low-end mail order catalogs. By overlaying and animating the before and after shots, these images expose the lies that underpin consumerism’s promise: that real, meaningful change is possible through the purchase of this or that product. That the after images have all been doctored in some way (lighting, special effects, posture, makeup, etc.) becomes clear when the two images are compressed.

It’s easy to dismiss this as another Internet meme, but I think it’s something more important. It seems to me that our media are in transition, merging and creating new forms and new ways of thinking about them. A new, much sharper form of visual and photographic literacy is taking hold. Kinda neat. Also, this rocks:

Lindsay Lohan

Cole Robertson

Leave a Reply