In an April 2016 interview, Mark Zuckerberg told Buzzfeed News, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.”
Given the proliferation of video features available on millions of smartphones – from image stabilization to incredible 240fps slow mo – it’s no surprise that more and more people and brands are experimenting with moving pictures. Even the venerable portrait is moving away from being strictly medium into something more dynamic.
Portrait photography gained in popularity in the mid-19th century, in part, because it was a relatively inexpensive and quick way to create a portrait. Due to the poor light sensitivity of plates, portrait subjects would have to sit still for up to several minutes. Ironically, with the rise of the video portrait, subjects are again posing for the camera for extended periods of time.
Between 1964 and 1966, Andy Warhol made a series of video portraits called “Screen Tests” in the Decker Building – the same building that houses the my offices. Warhol made several hundred of these film portraits, making them arguably the first well-known moving portraits. Although he shot at 24fps, playback was set at 16fps creating a slightly slow motion effect.
In 2009, Clayton Cubitt created a series of video portraits that he and others referred to as “long portraits.” Cubitt sat his subjects for approximately five minutes, capturing video with a stationary camera and with ambient audio. The long portraits are simultaneously mesmerizing and unnerving. It’s challenging to watch someone staring directly at you for such an extended duration – the effect is reminiscent of Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present.
Artist Robert Wilson experimented with the concept from the early 2000s ending with his collaboration with Lady Gaga in 2013. Wilson instructs his subjects to remain as still as possible, so that the video portraits “resembles a photograph, but on closer inspection reveals Wilson’s highly developed theatrical language.” His early work filmed subjects in real-time, while his work with Lady Gaga used high speed capture to create a slow motion effect.
Similarly, artist James Nares used a Phantom Flex to capture his video portraits at 600 fps. A few seconds of motion is slowed down to a few minutes, but Nares doesn’t have his subject remain still. The ultra slow motion creates silky smooth movement of his subjects.
If all of these examples seem a bit precious, they are. Every video portrait need not aspire to be a work of art. As a part of his Photo Ark project, Joel Sartore captured video portraits of rare animals.
The New York Times has experimented with the format in the past. For their 2011 Movies Issue, photographer/director Alex Prager directed a series of “cinematic villany” which were more akin to moving portraits than their “Making a Scene” shorts …read more