"We have learned nothing"
Picasso, after seeing the 30,000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux, France
The Representation of movement has often challenged visual artists. From Hunting scenes in Palaeolithic cave paintings to the semi-abstract geometrical approach of Umberto Boccioni and the other futurists, the difficulty of representing a moving subject in a static image has always presented a challenge.
Balla - 'Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash' 1912
Futurism was an early twentieth century movement that was fascinated by the modern world of machines, movement and sound. They used a variety of media to create dynamic images that had a kaleidoscopic quality portraying movement. In many ways it developed the broken and fractured images of cubism (that was interested in multiple viewpoints) but adapted it to create images that depicted the movement of objects through time and space.
Photodynamism was the use of photography to capture the movement through time and space and used photography’s natural ability to capture time passing through a lens. The Bragaglia Brothers managed to turn the ordinary (somebody using a type writer or sitting down) into the extraordinary. They created their images by using a model against a plain background, a tripod and a slow shutter speed. Their photographs were the photographic equivalent of the italian futurists paintings and sculptures.
These images by German photographer Otto Steinert (taken a few decades later) have a similar look to Balla's 'Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash' 1912. The photographs have very simple compositions and are made up of horizontal lines and circles. These solid forms are then contrasted with the ghostly images of people who appear as a blur apart from one foot as it supports them as they take a step. The daily task of walking down the street is turned in to something strange and other from itself.
Steinert was part of a post war movement that wanted to revive the experimentation and creative spirit of the 1920s (see Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy). This expressive approach was stopped with the rise of Hitler in the 1930's - this saw many important artists emigrating to America. During the 1950's he set up Fotoform to explore these themes (key members Toni Schneiders, Christer Stromholm (website) and Peter Keetman). Often photography is seen as an objective art and many great photographers have created 'pure' images based on this philosophy. Steinert saw photography as an expressive art and his images have a subjective quality (Subjektive Fotografie).
As well as being fascinated by movement and speed The Futurists also celebrated the new. While some questioned the onslaught of technology The Futurists celebrated it. Marinetti kick started the Futurist movement with the publication of the Futurist Manifesto. Expressing dynamism and rapid change, Futurism struck a cord with artists coming to terms with new elements of modern life. The Tate Modern celebrates the centenary of Futurism with an exhibition exploring key figures, works, and also the movements that reacted to Futurism.
Fortunato Despero - 'Sky Scraper and Tunnel' 1930
The glory of technology! The fascination of speed! The thrill of new products! For the creators of the Futurist movement of the early twentieth century, this was what inspired them. Fortunato Despero joined the furists late but was inspired by it ideas throughout his career. This is a piece of Despero's theatre design - this stage set was never built. They represent the sense of vertigo in a city, sometimes by the means of skyscraper shapes placed in precarious perspective at acute angles, sometimes by showing the hidden underground subway system. Despero described a mass of people as "crowd confetti, crowd ants, crowds of human sand flowing, slipping, falling apart". This indicated that in the midst of this mechanical paradise there is a sense of alienation and solitude.
In 1877, 30 years before the futurists, Edweard Muybridge was trying to capture movement with his camera. Eadweard Muybridge helped the governor of California to win a $25,000
bet that at some point when a horse was running; all four hooves would leave the ground.
He set up a row of multiple cameras and each time the horse tripped a wire a photograph was taken. He ended up with a series of images that when combined created the first moving images. Without Muybridge there would no cinema, TV or most of the content on the internet.
Muybridge's taken from two different angles. In his later career he would develop this idea further. In his early work the camera would be it a line and be triggered one after the other - documenting movement. In his later experiments the cameras would be in a circle and take a picture at the same time.
A similar technique was used in the film ‘The Matrix’ to create the Bullet Time effect.
Without the experiments of Muybridge and others Cinema would never have been born. Some of the most exciting early cinema came from George Melies and was truly realized in 'A Voyage to the Moon' 1902. For contemporary artists using animation look at William Kentridge.
Etienne-Jules Marey created similar images. Marey was a scientist who used art whereas Muybridge was an artist who created pseudo-scientific images. However, Marey's images were slow shutter speed shots and he used a strobe light. As the strobe flashed it created an image of the figure - therefore creating multiple figures showing the subject move though time and space.
Photography is, in many ways, where art and science meet and these images show Harold Edgerton’s experiments with high speed photography. This image was created by having the camera on a tripod and using a slow shutter speed. However, Edgerton used a strobe light – each time it flashed it captured the figure in mid movement.
Jon Rafman - '8 Rue Valette, Pompertuzat, France' from 'The Nine Eyes of Google Street View'
Anton Giulio Bragaglia 'Change Of Position' (1911)
In this sculpture above the futurist artist Umberto Boccioni has captured in three dimensions a figure moving through time and space. Notice how the calf muscles are repeated - like a slow shutter speed photograph made solid - like the bluring effect in an image by the Bragaglia brothers.
It is similar to Marcel Duchamp's 'Nude Descending a Staircase' where we see a figure repeated going down stairs.
'Duchamp Descending a Staircase' Life Magazine 1952 by Eliot Elisofon
This image above was part of a 10-page spread in LIFE profiling Duchamp. ("Dada's Daddy," April 28, 1952). It would have been taken with the camera placed on a tripod on a bulb setting. Each time Duchamp took a step Elisdon set off a flash or strobe light - creating a faint impression of Duchamp on the negative.
Marcel Duchamp 'Nude Descending the staircase' 1912
This is a key painting by Marcel Duchamp. At first it looks abstract but on closer inspection you can see a figure walking down a star case. It is similar to a Muybridge than has been overlaid on itself.
Idris Khan rising series… after eadweard muybridge ‘human and animal locomotion’, (2005)
This image above is a muybridge overlaid on itself by th artist Idris Khan - we may come back to him. Duchamp painting looks like a cubist painting but where the cubists were interested it capturing the world from multiple viewpoints this shows a figure moving through time and space. It also wasn't a futurist painting - it was Duchamp's own idea.
Marcel Duchamp 'Nude Descending the staircase' (Detail) 1912
In this detailed section of Duchamp's 'Nude...' we can see it is made up of flat geometrical planes - triangles, lines and sections of circles. The browny yellowish hues allow the abstracted figure to stand out from the darker background. The whole image flickers with movement and jumps between a confusing abstract image to a figure 'decending a staircase'. Not anybody could paint like that.
Nobody liked the painting and Duchamp's own brother asked him to remove it from an exhibition. This experience would encourage Duchamp to follow his own ideas and turn his back on the traditional art world. Five years later he would sign a gentleman's toilet R Mutt and place it in a gallery. The art world was not ready for his 'Nude descending the staircase' (1912). However, his 'Fountain' (1917) would revolutionise twentieth century art.
Marcel Duchamp 'Nude Descending a staircase (No2)' 1912
'Nude descending a staircase (No2)' was the painting that changed Marcel Duchamp's life. The figure hardly looks nude because it hardly looks human. You can just about make out the form of a figure move diagonally across the composition. triangles and semi circles of brown and yellow hues add vibrancy to the image. When Duchamp submitted Salon des Independants, it was coldly received. The cubist painter and theorist Albert Gleizes asked Duchamp's brother to ask him to 'Voluntarily' withdraw it. It did not conform to what the cubist circle wanted to represent their ideas (Cubism showed the world from multiple viewpoints). It seemed too futurist to them since it contained movement (Futurism, although sharing a certain look of Cubism, showed objects moving through time and space).
The Cubists wanted to clarify and strengthen their position against other 'ism' that were cropping up. Embarrassed Duchamp's brother asked him to concede, which he did without making a fuss. However, the incident did affect Duchamp -
"This affair helped me to totally escape my past, my own personal past. I said to myself, 'Well, if that's how the way they want it, then there's no question about me joining a group; one can only count on oneself, one must be a loner.'"
Soon after Duchamp would turn his back on painting and start to question the very nature of art. He started placing objects from the world into gallery spaces, he called them 'ready-mades', most famously in 1917 with 'Fountain'.
Cecil Beaton - 'T.S.Eliot' 1956
Cecil Beaton often used Multiple exposures in his portraits to show different views of the same person in one image. He would have used a tripod to keep the camera in the same position so the back remains the same but the figure moves. This could be achieved by exposing the film four times in the camera (though you have to lower the exposure time accordingly), exposing the same piece of photographic paper with three different negatives or blending Layers in Photoshop.
'Workshop' - Wyndham Lewis 1914 -15
David Bomberg 'The Mud Bath' 1914
The influence of futurism was far reaching and in Briatin it can been seen in the work of Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism. Lewis himself saw Vorticism as an independent alternative to Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism. Though the style grew out of Cubism, it is more closely related to Futurism in its embrace of dynamism, the machine age and all things modern (cf. Cubo-Futurism).
A 1918 woodcut by Edward Wadsworth, from “Rhythms of Modern Life.”
However, Vorticism diverged from Futurism in the way it tried to capture movement in an image. In a Vorticist painting modern life is shown as an array of bold lines and harsh colours drawing the viewer's eye into the centre of the canvas.
Wyndham Lewis' 'Blast - 2nd edition War Number' 1915
They produced their own magazine Blast that contained work by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot as well as by the Vorticists themselves. Its typographical adventurousness was cited by El Lissitzky as one of the major forerunners of the revolution in graphic design in the 1920s and 1930s.
Alvin Langdon Coburn 'Ezra Pound' 1917
This photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn creates a vortex effect from a simple portrait shot. It is an image of Ezra Pound who was a key member of the English Vorticism group (Vorticism shared qualities with Cubism and Futurism). In the darkroom the paper has been exposed three times - with each exposure the image has been re sized and refocused. Exposure time would have to be reduced so the paper did not become over exposed.
Alvin Langdon Coburn 'Vortograph' 1917
At his best Coburn experimented with unusual viewpoints and created some of the first abstract photographs with his 'Vortographs'. They were created by using three mirrors to create a kaleidoscopic images.
Ralph Eugene Meatyard
Steinert's experimental spirit can be found in the work of Ralph E. Meatyard. In this untitled photography from 1961 Meatyard captures a boy flapping his arms so they disappear - an ordinary scene turns into a dreamlike image. Other photographers from this period who experiment with their images were Henry Holmes Smith and Harry Callahan.
Meatyard creates eerie and creepy images by including motion in his images. In 'Two Children'1962 he has created an image that seems to disappear like a painting by Francis Bacon where we recognise forms as figures as quickly as they revert to being an abstract blur.
In 'Two Figures' 1953 we see a blurred image of figures on a bed. Bacon's painting slips from abstraction to figuration with our imagination filling in the gaps - often creating a disturbing effect. Bacon grew up on a farm and claims he had no access to images - no books, television or internet. This led to a fascination with the printed reproduced image and he often worked from secondary sources and photographs. 'Two figures' is based on a image by Eadweard Muybridge that he has then reinterpreted.
These image are by the contemporary photographer David Birkin from his 'Confessions' series. The subject is asked to confess a secret they have never previously revealed. They are then left alone in a room facing a camera. When they feel ready, they open the shutter and when they are finished they close it. Each exposure is determined by the length of the confession. The confession remains a mystery to the viewer but every gesture, squirm and nervous tick is captured on the photograph.
Birkin's images have a Bacon-esque quality - especially when viewed next to bacons portraits of lone figures framed by his trade mark claustrophobic box.
Birkin's 'Confessions' series is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's 'Screen Tests'. Warhol would invite people to The Factory and sit them in front of a single light. He would then film them with a 16 mm film camera for the length of the reel (about three minutes). When he played these films back (often projected in a gallery) he set it to a slower speed - this way every gesture would be magnified. Initially the subject would try to retain the mask they showed the world but eventually little glimpses of the real person would appear. As with several of the references here this is not a slow shutter speed but the screen tests do document the passing of time. A still image is not time based - you can go back to it again and again (often over a lifetime). A film is Time Based and it has a beginning, a middle and an end - you read it differently. Still images can burn their way into your mind - even parts of films or your life are remembered like still images when they are recalled.
Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' video installation
Christian Marclay has made a fully functioning 24 hour clock - out of clips from films - 'The Clock'. He has spent years looking for scenes from films where watches and clocks have been used or referred to. The film is synchronised perfectly with the real world - if you watch it at 10.36am it is 10.36am on the screen. Marclay has also made a symphony out of film clips called 'Video Quartet'.
Sam Taylor Wood - 'A Little Death' 2002
Jan Lievens (Dutch, 1607–1674), 'Still Life with Books', ca. 1627–1628.
Sam Taylor Wood 'Still Life' 2001
Sam Taylor Wood is an artist, photographer and film maker. Her 2001 Film/animation ‘Still Life’ has the visual look of a 17th Century Dutch still life. Sequences of still photographs are taken over a period of time to show the fruit slowly decaying. This is shown as a piece of video art in a gallery space - it is almost displayed like a painting on the wall. It is similar to time lapse photography used to capture the growth of a plant - who move at a completely different pace to ourselves.