I written many times before that I like to find family photos that encapsulate a feeling — a time and place, a moment in our collective lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite photos of this summer.
Technical note: this was only possible with a water resistant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with previous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is courtesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode. It’s not perfect: zoom in and there’s some distortion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid background of the slide and on bottom where there are artifacts in the contrast with the far background of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imaging works.
One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of season one. Kodak has asked the advertising firm to create a campaign around a new slide projector that has a circular tray. Don Draper presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped presentation that use his personal photographs to move both the Kodak execs and the viewers at home, who know that these semi-focused pictures will soon be all that left of his disintegrating family.
No falling apart family for me, but I find myself already feeling nostalgic for a family vacation to Disney World that doesn’t start for another six days. I’ve recently been looking through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and realize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancée taking a cynical me on my first trip. Later visits bring kids to the photographic lineup: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.
In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new children in this one. “The babies” are both walking and toddling and are at their peak of baby photogenic cuteness. The older two are real kids now and the eldest is starting to show early glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exhalation of air (“uh!”) to show disapproval of inconvenient parental instructions.
Iconic family pictures will happen. Since our last visit five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to cancer and my mother’s been slipping into the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it somehow becomes more possible to see ourselves as part of the turning Carousel. Some decades from now I can imagine myself going through these pictures surrounded by indulging children and antsy grandchildren, exclaiming “look how young everyone looks!”
NPR’s Planet Money recently ran an article on glass recycling, How A Used Bottle Becomes A New Bottle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image format file that web designers leaned on a lot back in the days of low bandwidth. It’s especially good for designs with a few discreet colors, such as corporate logos or simple cartoons. It also supports a kind of primitive animation that was completely overused in the late 90s to give webpages flying unicorns and spinning globes.
Animated gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tumblr. They are often derived from funny scenes in movies and come with humorous captions. The Planet Money piece uses them for storytelling: text is illustrated by six gifs showing different parts of the recycling process. The movement helps tell the story – indeed most of the shots would be visually uninteresting if they were static.
The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video service from Twitter which I’ve used a lot for silly kid antics. They can also tell a simple story (they’re particularly well suited to repetitive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).
In my work with Friends Journal I’ve done some 7 – 12 minute video interviews with off-site authors using Google Hangouts, which essentially just records the video conversation. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the quality depends a lot on the equipment on the other end. If the bandwidth is low or the webcam poor quality, it will show, and there are few options for post-production editing. But honestly, this is why I use Hangouts: a short web-only interview won’t turn into a weeklong project.
Producing high-quality video requires controlling all of the equipment, shooting ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work condensing and editing it down to a story. And after all this it’s possible you’ll end up with something that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actually watch videos all the way through to the end, drifting away to other internet distractions in the first few minutes.
I like the combination of the simple short video clips (whether Vine or animated gif) wedded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight story about a summer afternoon project. Yesterday, I tried again, shooting a short animated gif of Tibetan monks visiting a local meetinghouse. I don’t think it really worked. They’re constructing a sand mandala grain-by-grain. The small movements of their funnel sticks as sand drops is so small that a regular static photo would suffice. But I’ll keep experimenting with the form.