Recently there seems to have been a significant amount of coverage online about “cinemagraphs”, images which contain a shot sequence of frames, giving the effect of a still photograph with limited points of repeated movement. The term cinemagraph is claimed (and trademarked) by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck “for their cinematic quality while maintaining at its soul the principles of traditional photography” on their website Cinemagraph, but they seem to be far from the first or only practitioners of the technique. The Prize Consultancy call the process “photions” and on their now apparently defunct site,, claim to have “invented “photions”, and the idea is protected”, although no date or evidence is provided to support this.

While the invention, naming and development of techniques such as this are rarely clear, it is interesting to see the different directions it can be taken. For all the press coverage Burg and Beck have received (including Washington Post and TIME articles amongst others), their images seem to make little of the power of cinemagraphs, with the images being bland advertising style shoots.

Cinemagraph, The Neverending Commute 2011

While this is their market and approach, the addition of the short movement sequences seems to have no connection or provide any specific strength to the images. The shots of New York seem to work best, the endless passing of a subway train, or occasional yet regular passing of a taxi reflection in a cafe window help to evoke and reinforce the images of New York we all have in our heads.

Cinemagraph, Rosie Tupper for Katie Ermilio 2011

I find the fashion pieces far less convincing, with perhaps the exception of the sparkling Louboutin heels, there seems to be no benefit from the addition of movement to these shots. In these contexts there has been no sense of story added, simply a movement of the model’s eyes, or swinging of the legs, providing no enhancement to the products displayed. Possibly the least enticing of these is the girl in the pink dress by the grand piano who raises her hand to her chin, before dropping it again to her side, the movement here doesn’t even ruffle the sleeveless dress to give a sense of the fabric in motion. The still shot (either with her hand up or at her side) is beautiful, so it seems redundant to add the motion element unless it adds to the overall image.

The cinemagraphs which I have found most satisfying are those which use the technique to create a sense of mystery or an extended narrative beyond the short sequence provided. While this may be simply personal preference, I find this shows the power of the cinemagraph to extend photography without dabbling in video. It may also be connected to my first experience with the cinemagraph, which was through the tumblr site “If we don’t, remember me.” IWDRM is a collection of cinemagraphs captured from movies with a suitable quote from the movie as a caption. So while the content of these images is reappropriated, the artistic effort of selecting the poignant frames is evident throughout the IWDRM collection.

If We Don't, Remember Me. November 2011

Even with the prior knowledge that these images come from movies, the pace and repetition of the sequences selected give a real sense of narrative beyond. The extended narrative we guess at or invent, even for those taken from films we’ve seen, as the sequences are sufficiently divorced from the film plot.

So, what are the other opportunities techniques like the cinemagraph give photographers?

Artists and photographers continue to explore how new techniques can be used in works and cinemagraphs are no exception. Two works have recently come to my attention, prompting this post, both via ConscientiousMarcel Mayer‘s work My Favourite Childhood Nightmares (MFCN) is a stunning series of cinemagraphs with, as the title might suggest, a fairly healthy dose of David Lynch. MFCN makes good use of the implied extended narrative, similar to IWDRM above, and by creating a scene evoking traditional childhood fears, provides the opportunity for a more personal expansion of the story by the viewer.

Marcel Mayer, Dream 4 2011

Along with the cinemagraphic images, Meyer has also included MFCN Analog, a set of images which appear to accompany the work, some of which may have come directly from the sequences, but many which show other facets of the nightmares. The still images carry the same theme and visual strength, but it’s hard to see how compelling a work it might be without the cinemagraphs.

Using a cinemagraphic technique to provide textural context rather than movement, Simone Massera overlays the exaggerated flickering of a computer monitor to reinforce the concepts of the work. I am Not What You See and Hear focuses on the modern loneliness condition, exploring how people identify and attempt to avoid loneliness digitally. The images captured “on video chat websites that randomly pair strangers” attempt to provide both an opportunity to imagine other people, while obtaining a peek into the lives of the actual people on the other end of the webcam, whether they’re there or not.

Simone Massera, I am Not What You See and Hear Image 10 2011

Massera makes a very specific statement about her views on the importance of the medium of the work, noting that the images are designed for digital viewing, but also that they are available as a book and a series of prints. It is interesting to consider the duality of this process, similarly to Meyer’s MFCN above, are the printed versions simply a frame out of the sequence, or a completely new image? The opportunities on this front seem ripe for exploration, as media and mediums adjust to incorporate our (relatively) new digital output and techniques.

Update (17.3.12): Greg Borenstein‘s comment on BERG’s post Swiping Through Cinema, Touching Through Glass (see our upcoming post Motive Photography for more) brought to light Microsoft’s app for automating the creation of a cinemagraph/photion/ciplet (as monikered by Microsoft).