When GIFs Become High-Art: Interview with Saatchi’s Chief Curator

Still from Matjaz Tancic's entry.
Still from Matjaz Tancic’s entry.

Speckling websites like Buzzfeed and Tumblr, memorializing favorite moments in TV and pop culture, animated GIFs have taken over the internet. A vestige of Ye Olde Internet, GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, was originally introduced in 1987 by CompuServe. In recent years, it’s been reappropriated as a method of visually illustrating web content, though GIFs are hardly viewed as high art. Motion photography (a sort of just a fancy name for animated GIFs created by photographers, professional or otherwise), though, is raising the bar, offering both a bridge between film and photo, and a peak at the process of photography and film editing.

Realizing the potential of this emerging medium, and wanting to harness “ubiquity of smartphones and rise in photo-sharing services,” Google+ partnered with the Saatchi Gallery and Saatchi Art, a global community of over 35,000 international artists and photographers for the first-ever Motion Photography Prize, a contest which featured a panel of judges including filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and artists Tracey Emin, Shezad Dawood, and Cindy Sherman. 

StefanieSchneiderIn recognition of the exciting potential of this new technology, Saatchi Art, the Saatchi Gallery and Google+ have awarded the inaugural Motion Photography Prize to Christina Rinaldi after reviewing entries from photographers from all over the world celebrating this new creative art form.
Rebecca Wilson, the chief curator of Saatchi Art, who was among the judges in the contest, said one of the main goals of the event was to encourage artists to apply their skills and passion to something new and challenging.

“[Google] had plans to launch their animated GIF tool, and we thought it was a really interesting opportunity for artists and photographers to expand the realm of their creativity and to try to use different tools, and to see what they might do,” she explained. “I think the results have shown some really clever ways of using it.”

And indeed, the contest seemed to spur artists. Finalist Emma Critchley, who has worked in both film and photography, said she’d never tried this hybrid medium until she saw the contest, and viewed it as a challenging new way to work.

“I just wanted to explore it,” she said, “it seemed like a really interesting idea.”

And though the process of creation is new, the medium did seem to lend itself to artists of multiple disciplines. Stefanie Schneider, another finalist who specializes in Polaroids, said that working emerging trends have made her appreciate her medium all the more.

“Technology has only re-­enforced my love for analog film,” she says.

One most compelling parts of the contest, Wilson Says, has been the examination of motion photography as a medium, and the way that it demonstrates both a final product and a process. She calls the medium “a kind of glimpse of a cinematic experience.”

“Photographers take all sorts of images of the same scene, and then they go through the editing process and pick the one that stands out…[Motion photography] sort of reveals a process that the photographer is going through, and we don’t usually see that. We usually just see the one photo that they pick to put on the wall or in an exhibition. It becomes another kind of artwork, in a way.”

 To see the finalists’ work, including winner Christina Rinaldi’s entry into the “Urban” category, check out Saatchi Art’s gallery of entries. Motion photograph via Stefanie Schneider.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.