Moving stills - Images in Motion

Maarten Vanvolsem
How strip-photography complicated the interpretation of the still photographic image

The strip technique allows to create new forms for the photographically representation of time. The technique itself is based on a partial exposure of the photo sensitive material, which is moving in front of the shutter or visa versa.
The technique is probably first used in 1843 in a panoramic camera, but it has since been used in all sorts of ‘scientific’ fields. As early as 1858, the Italian scientist Ignazio Porro developed his own strip-based panoramic cameras as an aid for mapping. In the same year the Frenchman Charles Chevallier developed his Photographic Plane Table, also a strip-based camera, for the same purpose. At the end of the 19th century the British Museum developed a peripheral camera based on the strip technique, to photograph the circumference of Greek vases. And when aerial photography replaced the panoramas made from land, the strip technique proved to be successful for low altitude flights. The Royal Air Force made an aerial continuous strip camera for survey purposes during the Palestine campaign (1915-1918). And from 1937 onwards the strip technique is in use for the time registration of athletes crossing a finish line. Also in synchro-ballistic research, scanners and copiers, the basic principle of the strip technique are used for making images.
More recently, since the 1960s, there has also been an artistic use of the technique. Although in a first phase this artistic use is nothing more than the use of the traditional scientific cameras in a different environment, from the 1980s onward one can see how more and more artists come across the strip technique in their search for specific image results. George Silk and especially Andrew Davidhazy play an important role in this renewed interest in the technique. In the articles Prof. Davidhazy publishes on a regular basis since the 1970s, not only he is the first to bring the different scientific fields in which the strip technique is used together, but he also discusses the ‘home made’ versions of panoramic, photo finish and peripheral cameras.
However a real accumulation of knowledge can not be noted. Often artists using the technique claim to have invented a new way of making photographic images and often do not know about the results of their colleagues. Michael Golembewski, who developed his own digital scanner camera, is probably the most obvious example. Nevertheless slowly, a shift can be noted from the non-scientific use to the meta-photographic use of the technique in which photography itself is questioned. With artists such as Joachim Bonnemaison, Stephen Lawson, Tim Macmillan, Marie-Françoise Plissart, Simon Read, Jonathan Shaw one can see how the ‘scientific’ manuals of the strip cameras are neglected. The panoramic camera is no longer made level, the photo finish camera is no longer fixed on the finish line.
With this meta-photographic use of the technique it becomes clear, that the generally prevailing thought about photography and time, can no longer be applied to this kind of photography. The temporal component of the images, previously often ignored or reduced to a fraction of a second, now becomes the main subject of the images. With my work, I would like to emphasise this notion of time that is inherently part of the strip images.
After careful re-examination of the art forms that are associated with a strong temporal component, they seem to help us understanding the way the strip images work. It are in particular the Chinese scroll paintings and music that serve as examples. The temporal terms as ‘speed’, ‘rhythm’ and ‘pace’, which are primarily used for the description of these art forms, turned out to play also an important role in the description and the analysis of the strip images.
The prevailing concepts of time imposed on the photographic image, rather than being the result of a reflection on photography and its technology, seem to be inherited from painting and from photographic practices in which only the artistic results are considered valuable. As a result only the snapshot and the time exposure seem to be covered in the reflection on time and the photographic image. As the time components of on the one hand the making of the images, and on the other hand the reading of the images do play an important role in the relation to the strip images, it becomes possible to generate a new thinking on the photographic images and their relation to time.
Apart from their capacity to show, the strip images can also convey an experience. This is a quality of the photographic image that is seldom recognized. It comes to the fore in the relation a spectator has with the work, mentally and physically. Therefore not only the depicted does play an important role, but also the presentation of the photography. In contrast to the ‘tableau’-form as promoted by Micheal Fried, different possibilities are used to enable, enforce a reading of the strip image in which the changing focus, the moving camera, is made more visible. A notion as horizontality plays here an important role, as it stimulates the reading of the strip images, but also the image length to height ratio stimulates a temporal reading, which often prevails on the traditional notion of the snapshot.


Maarten Vanvolsem
Professor at Sint-Lukas Brussels

Affiliated researcher at the Gevaert Research Centre for Photography/
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)

Maarten Vanvolsem (born in Brussels, 1974), graduated as a master in photography in 2000. He was a research fellow at the Jan van Eyck Academy (Netherlands) in 2001 and 2002 and is currently working on a Ph.D. at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) in collaboration with the University of Newcastle (UK).