Sliced, Frozen and Lapsed

by Gautam Pemmaraju

The world about us is a set of ends to be reached or avoided, and the spatiotemporal distance of the ends is organized in perception as the means by which these ends may be so reached or avoided.

– George Mead in The Philosophy of the Act

Eadward Muybridge’s pioneering experiment Sally Gardner at a Gallop revealed more than just the gait of a galloping horse – it oracularly hinted at an entire range of spatiotemporal possibilities of cameras capturing motion. Subjects, objects, and phenomena move in time and space, but then so can cameras. How cameras and what they film are linked within time and space, and how technological variables can shape, refine and elevate this complex consanguinity is a fascinating area which has profoundly influenced science, art, cinema and popular culture in general, not to mention shaped our ideas of perception of the reality that envelops us, and the meta-realities that we thereby unfailingly, and unwittingly conjure up. The image can transform in a multitude of ways – from progressively slowing down to an intractable stasis, to accelerating at blinding speeds with iridescent blurs and light trails, achieving in some sense, cosmic values. The moving image can warp, slyly morph and shape shift as it travels; it can do so very many things that we can only see in our restive dreams. There exists a rich cosmology of how things move, how plants move, how we move, how friends, and lovers move, how indeed absolutely everything moves about within our minds; it is then our attempts to reframe these movements within, these feints and flights of our indefatigable, cunning minds, that is a human endeavour of significant creative proportions. This endeavour, an enriched (or impoverished) translation of what resides within, is tinctured with ‘an existential gloss’, as Iain Sinclair says on the English translations of WG Sebald’s work in the thoughtful, engaging film Patience (After Sebald).

What Muybridge tantalizingly suggested were the possibilities inherent in the use of an array of cameras on a predetermined path. In effect, he presciently suggested timeslice photography, also known as ‘bullet time’ or ‘frozen moment’ photography, made popular by the film Matrix. What if, asks Mark.J.P.Wolf in Space, Time, Frame, Cinema (pdf), a schematic theorization of spatiotemporal possibilities, Muybridge had placed all his 24 cameras on a curve, and instead of tripwires at periodic distances setting them off, they were instead all triggered simultaneously? It’s a simple enough idea – a series of cameras in a straight-line, a curve, or an arc, photographing the same event at exactly the same time. Although Muybridge did set them in a semicircle for certain motion studies, Wolf writes, he did not simultaneously release them, and it would take another century for this filmic effect to be realised. This temp morts (see also this) is but one of the many intriguing possibilities, Wolf indicates, of how cameras can move in space and time.

Read more »