There’s been some discussion in some forums on Flickr about the possibility of incorporating video into the photo-sharing activities there. Those posting comments seem evenly split about whether this would be a good option. In contrast, a recent TechCrunch blog posting (on news indicating that it is almost certainly going to happen) is more generally welcoming about the change. Elsewhere on the web there are still some reservations, which seem to fall into three categories. First, there seem to be concerns about the invasion of Flickr by Jackass-inspired clips of skateboarders jumping off moving buses and suchlike. Some of this is a little like Facebook members protesting against its opening up for anyone else to join, a kind of ‘it’s my site’ reaction, but there’s an interesting question in here about whether photos on the web tend to be more polished than videos. I’m not talking about fine art, just the work that’s generated by users themselves. Then there are concerns about bandwidth and speed, and also about all that extra video cluttering up the interface (the slightly anarchic exuberance of YouTube seems a little too messy for some Flickr-ites). I’m a Flickr member myself, and one of the reasons I chose it was the clean and effective layout of the site. But we do have the example of other well-designed sites like Humble Voice and ipernity, which show us that video and photography (and music and words) can coexist without actually looking mashed-together.
I’m also interested in another idea that pops up in these discussions: that photography and video are fundamentally different media. Or that they aren’t that different, and having them on the same site is simply an indication of how they’ve converged. It’s partly about the evolution of technology and having cameras able to shoot both video and stills (though not, as far as I know, quite able to do both really well yet). But I think it’s also an ontological and cultural question, about the fundamental nature of the still image as compared to the moving one and also about the uses to which each is put. There’s a thread running through photography and cinema theory about the relationship of the still and moving image. For example, one of Roland Barthes’ points about photography is the existence of the punctum, that element of some photographs that pricks the attention and emotions. Cinema has no punctum, he argues, because it flows by too quickly for us to grab on to it. A recent response to this has been Laura Mulvey in her book Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. She suggests that the proliferation of video technologies which allow us to freeze the frame means that the punctum can now be present in cinema. Which then suggests that still and moving images do different things. I remember My Own Private Idaho, where the sex scenes were shot by getting the actors to hold their poses, rather than using actual still frames, an interesting blend of stillness and movement. What it meant was that we got gay sex scenes without actually seeing anything too explicit (was it a move to head off mainstream viewer squeamishness?), but at the same time our gaze could linger on some detail of skin and face for longer than it normally would. The stilled action served both to hide and to reveal.
The fact that filmmakers use freeze frames means that still images do something different to relentlessly moving ones, at least serving as punctuation. I’m interested in what else happens. What do they tell us differently? Do we respond differently? Do we trust them more or less? I’ll probably come back to this again. But in the meantime there’s the final sequence from Danny Boyle’s latest, Sunshine, to have a look at. It’s a frantic climax, and I reckon one that’s heightened by the freeze-frame bursts of characters twisting, bodies askew, hair and sweat flying, blurred, caught, these nearly final moments allowing us just a little more time with them, until the end comes, as it always does.