The Joy of GIF
- the London Photographers’ Gallery’s new digital wall
A message appeared on the studio desktop a couple of weeks ago
from the newly re-launched Photographers' Gallery's Curator of
Digital Programming, Katrina Sluis.
'Hi - would you like to produce an animated GIF in seven days
for the Photographers' Gallery's new digital wall?' A crash
course of research into the history of the GIF - the Graphic
Interchange Format - and several days later I have produced my
first animated GIF.
'Born in 1987: the animated GIF' is the opening project
for the Photographers' Gallery's new digital wall. The 'wall'
consists of a digital display made up of eight large screens on
which are shown a running programme of animated GIFS created
especially for the gallery's re-launch,
The Photographers' Gallery re-launched in
central London this week with opening exhibits by Canadian
Photographer Edward Burtynsky and an installation by the New
Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective. The new, expanded
Photographers' Gallery is spread over 5 floors, with a new project
spaces, three floors of gallery space, a Camera Obscura, a
bookstore and cafe. The re-opening of this, London's only space
dedicated to the promotion of the medium, has been much
As you enter the large glass doors of the re-modelled building,
the first thing that you will see is not one of Edward Burtynsky's
hyper-real images (his major environmental project 'Oil' is the
gallery's opening show) but, the gallery's newly appointed digital
wall. This positioning, alongside Sluis' appointment as the
gallery's new curator of digital programming, is recognition that
it is in the digital and social domain that photography
must, ultimately, discover its new purposes and new meaning.
In keeping with the playful nature of the medium, just over 40
artists were asked to produce a moving image GIF in just over one
week for the 'Born in 1987' project. Many of the artists
involved had never produced a GIF - or indeed used moving image -
before, but my guess is that many will do so again. Although
playful in nature (as Daniel Rubenstein says in his commissioned
essay for the project) the GIF, with its inherent emphasis on
'rhythm and repetition, has something comical about it'. The
blinking low-fi GIF is also a reminder of just how fast the
evolution from our static screens of the early 80's to the
image-saturated and animated digital environment of today has
It is fascinating to watch these stuttering images, often forced
into unexpected arrangements by artists who more often work in the
closed loop of a high-res environment. Here, we are all forced to
work in an entirely different domain - what is essentially the
social and political space of the semantic web.
Ultimately, Sluis hopes, she says 'to shed light on the
relationship between the cultural languages of the photographic
image and the language of computer programming and code…. to
understand how the cultural meanings of images in circulation'
This offers up an exciting prospect for a new generation of
artists whose native relationship to online culture dictates that
this must surely be their new frontier. The digital domain is, by
it's very nature, an essentially unknowable space of constantly
shifting horizons. And as such, it's pretty damned exciting.
The newly re-launched Photographers' Gallery opened to the
public on Saturday 18th May. The GIF project 'Born
in 1987:The Animated GIF' runs on the Digital Wall from
19th May -1st July 2012.
For a further info on this project, to submit your own GIF and
to read specially commissioned essays on the GIF by Matthew Fuller
and Daniel Rubenstein, go to:
Wendy McMurdo (Foam Magazine #10/Stories)