Earlier this month flickr announced that short video clips could now be uploaded to the popular photo site. Some photo purists were skeptical, even spawning a huge “No Video on Flickr” group. After all, the sanctity of the best still images, rich in implied meaning, could be diluted by zillions 90 second video clips of someone’s keg party (and we already have other sites, like YouTube for that). Flickr said the ninety-second limit was to encourage “long photos.” There are contemporary videographers and filmmakers who have used video or film to create sublime still images: the best long photos. And one of my favorites is Godfrey Reggio.
I will never forget the first time I saw Koyaanisqatsi, Reggio’s 1983 film about contemporary “life out of balance.” I was mesmerized by his long drawn out shots. It gave me time to study the scene and, in part, that was the point: to stop moving and consider the consequences of going through life at an increasing interstellar speed. Sometimes there was lots of activity in the frame. But there were times when he pointed his camera at a scene that, on first glance, appeared to be a photograph. It was a still image with all the implications connected with still photography: observations of a slice of frozen time and a consideration of the photographer’s framing and associations within that frame.
Yet given the chance to observe closely there was movement. The characters in this “still” were breathing and blicking and moving. When I saw his scene of Las Vegas waitresses standing still but not still, I was blown away (the vernacular I used in the early 80s when I first saw the film). To this day it is my most favorite scene of any movie I have ever watched. I literally held my breath for its entire duration wondering how long it would go on. The intensity of that shot was immense. It forced me to really look. And that has always been my goal as a photographer: to make people observe what’s going on inside my images for as long as I can. That is the mark of a successful photograph. Not so easy in a culture heavy with daily sound and sight bites always vying for our attention and beckoning us to move quickly from one to another.
Life precariously balanced on a fulcrum. Las Vegas Waitresses is the best long photograph I have ever seen. I could watch those women stand still forever.