A Durational Space – Project 2: Ex. 3.2 – A Trace of Movement?


This seems to be an annoying oxymoron: how can a still image show movement? By definition they are oxymoronic; paradoxical and bipolar. Every time I tried to capture movement, it always seemed frozen – as Szarkowski (2007, p10) says: “…he discovered a beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do rather with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed…“.
My pictures seemed to be just that though, fragments of time, solidified forms with possibly the suggestions of movement; but certainly not movement itself. So how could I avoid this? I needed to try to capture movement within the frame, or a trace of it at least. How could I truly represent any signs of something moving when there is no chance of that by using the medium of photography? Having looked at, and read up on quite a few artists and their photographic work, I’m still not too sure how to go about this!
I thought about how easy it would be to make a film instead. But even that, when you get down to the nitty-gritty details, is just a sequence of frozen moments too, isn’t it? It’s just an illusion of movement.
Here’s what happened.

Some shots of a view from a window trying to capture traffic car light trails: the very epitome of originality.

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Shot one was purposely blurred to see what would happen –  to be fair, not much did.
Shot two is a double exposure: one shot of the scene (see the lights without the trails) – the other shot was done but slowly moving the camera on its tripod from side to side. Not too successful at capturing movement I suppose. Although there was some traffic car headlights, and, to some extent we can say that the deliberate panning with the tripod has captured the movement of the camera. Overall, not the greatest attempt at a long exposure at night. And negligible movement when all’s said and done.

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Some quite long exposures that have a rather wonderful otherworldly feel – along the lines of Dan Holdsworth, (Cotton, 2014, p95) – although I was also inspired by Michael Wesely (Higgins, 2013, pp 164-165) for this idea; with just a teeny-weeny shorter exposure time on my part. Just a bit. Shots 1 and 2 were double exposures done with the 14-42 mm zoom, while shot 3 was a single shot made with the Fujian 25mm at F/1,4. Some reasonably interesting shots although, once again, not all that much movement going on.
I needed some new ideas, however much I was enjoying these shots they were not producing the intended results (being movement!).


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So, what did I do? Tried to expand a little on the first series above. Instead of just panning left to right, I also tilted the camera on its side and panned again for the second exposure. I was trying to line up the “match head” light effects of the streetlights without getting them to cross over – or overlap – too much. Can we call this movement? I mean, there’s plenty of it here and in undeniably different directions, but is it just lines across the frame that we see, and surely not movement? I’m not convinced. I feel like I was just going round in circles here!

That’s when I decided to change venue. This is a slither of light coming through the gap from the bathroom into the corridor where I had now set up my camera.
Shot one is a double exposure, where I placed the second exposure (intentionally out of focus) over the first to see what effect I could get. Is there finally some glimmer of movement here? Or is it just a glow and nothing else? I find shot one disturbing and tense: the mystery of the unknown beyond the door. Enticing, foreboding somewhat, and maybe not movement but certainly tension.
For shot two (another double exposure) in this set, I tried to keep the lines structured with a dominance of vertical and horizontal; the vertical line ‘moves down’ to the horizontal position and stops with the second exposure, leaving us with a rather pleasant and thick light trail. Could this be the movement I had been looking for? I’m not so sure. It is quite a nice abstract though (which I darkened in Lightroom and cropped to a square here)
I tried to be a bit bolder with shots 3 and 4, as can be seen by the double exposure movements of the light strip. Fun, but not really going anywhere, I think. It’s frustrating: there’s been movement here but I’m still not sure that these photos are showing us that.
Let’s try again.

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With this set I was trying to get the door to open while attempting to swivel the camera. Some ok effects, I suppose. I had Esteban Pastorino Diaz’s wild creamy long negatives in mind (Higgins, 2013, p69) while trying these out: nothing like them, but I was having fun and was not about to give up just yet.

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Then, still thinking of Pastorino’s work, but also that of Idris Khan and especially his “digital  superimposition” technique (Higgins 2013, p95) – although I am aware of how different that technique is to the one I have used here. I tried to recreate Pastorino’s ‘shimmering and staggered effect’ that he often obtains (fortuitously) with his long exposures. I used multiple exposures of the same view and simply placed the next image slightly closer to the previous one in the hope that this would suggest some type of movement. On the seventh exposure I then panned the camera sideways quite quickly to see if that would add anything to the overall effect. Can’t say it does. And, to be honest, can’t really say what is going on here. Still, it’s important to try things out, and that’s what I was doing/am doing.
So what next?

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Here, with this shot, I went with the multiple exposures again. Which due to my camera’s limitations is just the double exposure mode with its (limit of) two frame capturing ability repeated in different areas of the frame. Again, this is a nice effect and something I’d like to try out again, but I think we can safely say that there’s no movement here. Well, apart from the actual camera movement that I used to position the light within the different sections of the frame. But this isn’t the movement that I was looking for, was it?

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My next idea came from a simple thought: what about trying to capture the movement of “time”? Surely a nice double exposure of the moving hands of a clock could portray movement, or a semblance of it? The first two shots here with this set, I used the ambient light of my sitting room; for shots 3-4-5 I added a bike torch to see if I could bring out any interesting effects. Not too successful although i do like the blue hue it gives shot number 5. I don’t think shots 1-5 work too well regarding capturing time/movement or the movement of time; possibly shot 6 does as the different positions of the hands are clearer than the other five. But even then, it just looks like some sort of game between light and shadow rather than evidence of any movement.
Not the worst idea ever had, and some half decent low light effects with the clock faces, but maybe time was running out for me and this exercise?
Time to try something else then.

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I thought I’d go with some humans instead of the spaces and places they inhabit. You would think that the tricky part here would have been the keeping still bit, as it turned out, it was actually the capturing their movement that was hard to do. And, once more: what movement? Doesn’t it just look like ghosts? Smudges made in Photoshop? After quite a few attempts though, I feel that I was slowly getting closer to some type of movement being recorded by the camera – some trace of movement.
For the first photo (shot 1) I got the girl to move her head from side to side quite quickly. The 1 second shutter enabled me to capture that movement (let’s say for argument’s sake that that is movement captured there) like some super hero speedster vibrating through dimensions or something (without the need for tights with pants on the outside either). The boy’s quizzical look trying to understand what he is looking at.
With the second photo (shot 2) I fired the flash too, just to see if I could get a clearer image and still get some movement. The ‘turmoil’ within the boy to the right is either a ghost, or something resembling movement.
Technically speaking, the camera’s in-built image stabilization shows fair results bearing in mind the way they were moving and the one second shutter and the camera being hand-held for the shot. The slight blur of the ‘still’ child in each shot also adds to the overall feeling of ‘capturing a trace of movement’ – add that to the actual camera movement of my hand-held shot and I think we may just have ensnarled that ever so elusive movement  (or movements) within a frame?

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I went back to the double exposure mode here – to see what we could do with it. I think the results are quite nice. I don’t really like the transparentness of the girl as she’s reading in shot 1? Why did that happen? Maybe she moved as I pressed the shutter release? But I do like the second exposure’s movement (no, I am gonna call it that!): it suggests some sort of psychological turmoil, or maybe it could be the girl’s imagination as she’s reading, projecting herself almost into a tangible form next to herself – a manifestation of sorts; or possibly she isn’t enjoying the book and she’s elsewhere with her thoughts.
The same could also be said for shot 2: her melancholic, distracted tilt looking beyond the moment while her inner mind reveals itself in its confusion; or, we could read that as the internal happiness fighting with the external anguish, trying to get free and break out into view – which it is almost doing.
This could turn into an interesting (or not) story book type of project: the trials and tribulations of growing up; the hidden gloom of youth; the joy of being young, and so on…

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Shot 1 I froze the movement here with the relatively fast 1/100 sec shutter. She was pirouetting quite slowly – too slowly for that shutter speed. So, as can be seen I decreased the shutter speed down to 1/8 of a second and just asked herto speed up a bit to ensure some sort of motion blur. I think we got it. Here we can see the clear power of the shutter to freeze (even at quite a slow speed) or create intended blur with careful consideration of what speed to select. Through trial and error I may have gotten closer to capturing that fascinating paradox of movement – or a trace of it at least – within the frame.
Again though, I would still call it a suggestion of movement – semantics and all that – it’s unfair to call it actual movement because the more this goes on the more I accept that it can’t ever be done with the current tools. We’ll see what the likes of Lytro (or someone else) can do in the coming years to change that view…

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Well, technically (or semiotically) speaking, I did manage to capture ‘movement’ with this final series. Even if, judging by the last shot (shot 3) I was left empty-handed, although not disheartened, and certainly not unhappy.

References and sources

Higgins, J., Why It Does Not Have to Be in Focus – Modern Photography Explained, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013,

Diaz, E. (2016). ::: Esteban Pastorino Diaz ::: Oficial Web Site :::. [online] Estebanpastorinodiaz.com. Available at: http://www.estebanpastorinodiaz.com/pastorinoenglish.htm [Accessed 2 May 2016].

Cartwright, J. (2015). Idris Khan: blurred lines. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/04/idris-khan-artist-interview-blurred-lines-photographs-sculpture [Accessed 3 May 2016].

Flickr – Photo Sharing!. (2016). Jked. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinbyrne1971/26496849690/ [Accessed 2 May 2016].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2016). Michael Wesely | MoMA. [online] Available at: http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/8194 [Accessed 2 May 2016].

Danholdsworth.com. (2016). Dan Holdsworth{{pageTitle ? ‘ — ‘ + pageTitle : ”}}. [online] Available at: http://www.danholdsworth.com/ [Accessed 2 May 2016].


Contact sheets

Will be annotating future contact sheets for assignments. But not these – too many.
Probably a good idea to get into the habit of talking about my selection process, as I’ve seen that that skill will be needed in the not too distant future.




2 thoughts on “A Durational Space – Project 2: Ex. 3.2 – A Trace of Movement?

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