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News Time-lapse creates a new definition of “art”

3 October 2014 Daniel Curtis

Too often we might believe we have seen all there is to see in the world. But people across the globe are embracing technology as a spyglass to the natural world, exploring the imperceptible changes.

People have been experimenting with photography since the early 1800s and the majority of that time has been focused on developing the still, single-frame image. But now a combination of high quality photographs and clever technology has unearthed a whole new world.

By now you probably will have seen a time-lapse of the night sky, taken somewhere remote – where the stars shine and there is not an inch of polluted sky for miles. And if you have not, it only takes a quick search to find a plethora of results of artists all doing very similar things. The striking visuals are certainly something to admire, but it is already becoming a tired use of time-lapse photography.

Fortunately, more forward thinking artists are now coming up with ways to showcase everyday process in a whole new light. Take, for example, Lance Page’s “Ride the Sky”. The film puts a quite literal ‘whole new spin’ on nighttime time-lapse. Using a little ingenuity, his time-lapse video shows the Earth spinning, using the North Star as a ‘pivot’ point. Of course it must be remembered that the Earth rotates from its centre axis and not a point in the sky above it, but this is still fascinating look at the reality of the sky itself – the sun and stars might appear to move, but they are of course not moving at all.

Achieving such an effect is no mean feet. Page spent over four months taking shots using a DSLR that was attached to two arms – one to pivot the camera and one to rotate it. The latter had to be set so it countered the Earth’s rotation as closely as possible, thus creating the ‘illusion’ that, from the ground, the sky was stationary and the Earth was turning.

Another inventive way to use motion in a time-lapse film is by shooting from a completely new angle. Alexy Frangieh’s “Revolver” is shot from ‘inside’ a leafless apple tree. The focus of the piece is the sky, with tops of lifeless trees intersecting the shot. The camera could not be fixed onto the tree trunk, as it needed to rotate, so a tripod with a rotary part was created to suspend the camera above the lowest point of the trunk possible. The finished time-lapse video is something never seen before – replicating the Earth’s rotations over a set amount of time, played back as noticeable but smooth changes to the human eye.

And once we are done stargazing, there is a whole other world to time-lapse photography that has become an art in itself. There is something completely mesmerising about an ice cream melting, shown through time-lapse photography. Seeing the process, which could take several hours and we might not appreciate properly in real time, is now possible. It is not as simple as speeding up a video either, but threading together each photo as if it were part of a greater tapestry, and from it creating a beautiful sequence of images that tell the unseen story. Ilsoo Yang’s “Ice Cream Melting Time Lapse” is simply breath taking. The artist also takes a clever step in reversing the process toward the end of the video, transforming the time-lapse video into a true piece of art in itself.

Warping reality is also hugely popular through time-lapse, such as Keith Loutit’s “Bathtub II”. This classic example uses tilt-shift – a technique that helps to create a shallow depth of field normally encountered in close-ups – thus making the scenes appear ‘miniature’. Boats bob along as if they were in the bath and people look like figurines. It is a charming way to view the world and without time-lapse photography, it would just not be possible.

In fact, none of the scenarios discussed in this blog would be. They are fantastic examples of how time-lapse has become an art form in its own right, rather than just showcasing the art of nature or the art of the subject.

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