Imagining Motion in Film and Photography
This chapter examines how early filmmakers had to invent what motion looked like on screen, imagining it as distinct from stillness, legibility, or clarity. The images of motion in early film are blurred and impressionistic—ocean waves, clouds of dust, puffs of steam and smoke—which render motion itself a kind of obscurity and reveal how film is itself an ephemeral medium of dust and smoke. The precursor to film’s absent materiality is found in photography’s own representation of motion as blur in Etienne-Jules Marey’s strange late nineteenth-century photographs of smoke fillets and the movements of air. These images, lesser known than his other motion studies, reveal how film casts back to its still antecedent to imagine motion in blurred terms of smoke and dust, even as it resists photographic arrest.
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