Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Photographers' Gallery

Exterior of the Photographers’ Gallery as seen from the corner of Ramillies Street, London © Wendy McMurdo

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.

Viewing gallery of the Photographers’ Gallery, looking out to Ramillies Street © Wendy McMurdo

'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 anticipated.

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.

Installation shot of digital wall’s opening project ‘Born in 1987: the animated GIF’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, May 2012 © Jaime Martinez

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 been.

Installation shot of digital wall’s opening project ‘Born in 1987: the animated GIF’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, May 2012 © Jaime Martinez

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'

Installation shot of digital wall’s opening project ‘Born in 1987: the animated GIF’, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, May 2012 © Wendy McMurdo

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.

Wendy McMurdo (Foam Magazine #10/Stories)

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:
Joy of Gif


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