While some photographers try to resolve the problem of capturing movement within a still image by freezing it, others prefer to leave a trace of movement within the frame. One of the best-known examples of movement blur is Robert Capa’s image of an American soldier wading ashore under fire on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D Day, June 6, 1944. If you view Capa’s Normandy Landings portfolio on the Magnum website you can see that he captured many sharper and clearer images, so why has this shot become the iconic image of D Day? The grain and blur seems to lend a sense of authenticity to the shot, just as noise and pixelated jpegs work as aesthetic codes for ‘realism’ in news photography today. http://www.magnumphotos.com/
Movement blur as style (rather than accident or necessity) was used creatively by Robert Frank (b.1924) in his photobook The Americans (1958). Referring to Frank’s 1955 image Elevator Girl, Geoff Dyer imagines the elevator door as a shutter curtain whilst also referencing the idea of the road trip contained within Frank’s book:
An elevator door is about to close, like a shutter that will open again, for a moment, not on another floor but in another building or another city. (Dyer, 2012, p.216)
The length of time that can be recorded in the frame is unlimited if you use the bulb function on your camera. (An automated release is useful if you don’t want to keep your finger pressed on the shutter release for long periods of time.) The Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto explored very long timeframes in his Theatres series, opening the shutter at the beginning of a film and closing it again as the credits rolled. These photographs are of American ‘movie theatres’ but the New York-based Sugimoto brings a particularly Japanese concern with ‘presence’ to his work. He explains his philosophy in a simple and clear way in the ‘Contacts’ film, which is available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY3nGoZqw9U
German photographer Michael Wesely used even longer exposures of between two to three years in his documentations of the renovation of the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Wesely’s technique seems to capture totally new information about the universe on camera film. Strange streams of light in the sky ‘put our existence, us, our planet into context with the Dance of the Universe, which coexists on an entirely different time scale [from us]’.
See: http://itchyi.squarespace.com/thelatest/2010/7/20/the-longest-photographicexposures-in-history.html [accessed 25/09/14]) http://www.wesely.org
OCA student Alasdair Gill recorded the passage of light through his home over periods of time. He captioned the images simply with a timestamp showing the duration of each exposure.
I began to study how light changed through my home through the course of a day and set up a camera in different positions to capture this ever shifting phenomenon with an automated shutter release system. (from Alasdair’s learning log)
When the movement of the camera rather than the subject is recorded in the frame, it’s usually regarded as a problem, requiring a faster shutter speed or a tripod to correct. The creator of the image below recorded the trembling movement of her hand due to Parkinson’s disease in a series of delicately fragile and expressive shots of night-time traffic on the Kings Road in London.
Artist and researcher Maarten Vanvolsem also uses a moving camera, for example using the strip-scan process to photograph dancers. The technique captures single lines of a frame sequentially, building up the image over time – and is cheaply available as a smart phone app. Vanvolsem observed that if the camera is moving while the shutter is open there is no single viewpoint and therefore no one-point perspective. The moving ‘stills camera’ creates a different perception of space as well as time.
Movement, of course, is the natural province of cinema: at 24 frames a second the eye naturally reads a sequence of frames as movement. Chris Marker used stills from a simple Pentax Spotmatic 35mm film camera to make the classic time-travel film La Jetée (1962). Cinematographer Christopher Doyle shot the opening scene to Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) at 1/8 second, depicting the chase scene through a crowded Hong Kong market with movement blur, which is unusual in cinema. The poetics of time in the film are described by Mike D’Angelo in ‘How Wong Kar-Wai turned 22 seconds into an eternity’: http://thedissolve.com/features/movie-of-the-week/221-how-wongkar-wai-turned-22-seconds-into-an-eternit/ [accessed 16/06/14].
Can the shutter create psychological drama in an image, similar to Guy Bourdin’s use of deep depth of field (Part Two)? Gerry Badger sees the work of Francesca Woodman (1958–81) as combining ‘personalised psychodramas with the temporal and spatial displacements of long exposures and blurred movement’ (www.gerrybadger.com/ francesca-woodman/ [accessed 16/06/14]). In other words, for Badger, Woodman’s emotional state (she committed suicide aged 22) is expressed visually through both time and space in her photography.