I have been immersed in Muybridge lately, thinking about the ways that motion is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to a lot of still photography.
Its persistent taunt to the frozen image presents a tension that I now notice in photographers’ work throughout the twentieth century. Although some photographers succumb to the siren’s song of time-based media, I maintain the belief that the still camera has something profound to contribute to ideas of time, movement, and space.
Here is a visual notebook containing a small group of heretofore non-iconic images that communicate what happens when ideas of motion are arrested with a still camera in a variety of ways.
Berenice Abbott, Picture of Motion, ca. 1958-59 (19.1986)
Berenice Abbott made a series of studies in conjunction with the MIT Physical Sciences Study Committee, which were published in her book Motion, and in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of her work in 1970. Like the strobe flash images made famous by Harold Edgerton, these photographs follow a gesture through space and time. Unlike Edgerton, these are not necessarily recognizable item . This is more elusive like a photogram.
Lou Bernstein, [Steepelchase, Coney Island, Brooklyn], 1951 (47.1992)
This is a remarkable image of a man spinning on a wheel, seeming like he is trying to arrest its spin. I love the abstraction of the spin and the power of the figure expressed in his dynamic gesture.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, De kan ikke se laengere end deres egen naese and VI-or vore bedstemodre, Social Kunst 8: Fotomontage, 1932 (23.2004)
In his Bauhaus years, Moholy-Nagy proposed that “New Vision was a method of using photography to expand his audience’s knowledge and perception of the dynamism of modern urban life,” according to Vanessa Rocco in Expanding Vision: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Experiments of the 1920s. The compositions of his collages sometimes create a sense of motion that brings to mind Calder mobiles.
Unidentified Photographer, As TIME Keeper in “Journey INTO LIGHT.” R.K.O., 1948-49 (20479.1993)
This unidentified photographer’s subject is the all-too-identifiable Weegee, and it is really interesting to see him at work making a motion picture, with a timepiece in hand. Weegee made himself legendary as an intrepid crime photographer, always racing the clock and the other photographers. Here we see a less chaotic, but still determined shaper of motion.
Unidentified Photographer, [Plane vapor trails and mushroom cloud from atomic bomb test April 22, 1952, Yucca Flat, Nevada], April 21-22, 1952 (2006.1.724)
Both the explosion’s cloud and the planes’ trails are time and motion arrested. The photographic documentation of them, together with the gathered audience, confirms that this was a momentous occasion. This picture, we know, was made as a souvenir for the government, that then came ICP so that something more complex could be made of it.
–Christian Erroi ICP-Bard 2013