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News & Insight

GIFs Featured in The Saatchi Gallery? There’s More To Them Than You Think

By Kishore Sawh on March 21st 2014


Those of you for whom music extends beyond the grips of ‘Drunk In Love’ you may remember a band called ‘The Who,’ famous for once singing the line ‘Hope I die before I get old.’ Then some of them did. Bands, like technology, struggle for longevity, and likewise, judge some success from it. Also like musicians, some tech doesn’t get recognition, or come into its own until later on in its life. For GIFs, making it to the Saatchi Gallery in London is like making it to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. They’ve now been recognized for their artistic value and contribution, and some will be judged by the likes of Baz Luhrmann.

When GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) came about, the Internet was young – it was in diapers. Connecting to the Internet (dial up connection) required being subjected to what sounded like an alien radio transmission, and viewing websites that looked little more than a video game menu, but thanks to the GIF, it wasn’t a barren textual landscape bereft of imagery.

GIFs, at the time limited to 8-bits and 256 colors, were really made to exchange imagery online, but their constraints never made it useful for photography. Yet, anyone who’s been online in the past few years, if only to look up directions to your favorite watering hole, will notice that the GIF is arguably more popular than ever – its hidden talent, it seems, is resurrection. Thanks to an ability to store a sequence of images which can then be played back at a desired frame rate, GIFs bridged a gap between photo and video, are easily embeddable, and small enough to make them a go-to for sharing in a mobile world.


Their limited capability, is in itself a virtue, and perhaps its greatest ability. They tend to be short, and since their color profile still makes them unsuitable for more serious projects, a compelling GIF is content-centric. Even more to the point, they play perfectly to the soundbite attention span of millennials. Now though, they’re being featured by the Saatchi Gallery in London, and there’s a prize awarded to the best.

The new category is called ‘Motion Photography’ and entries can be submitted via Google+ until April 1st. Cinemagraphs, the elegant sibling to the basic GIF will likely take center stage. Nigel Hurst, CEO of the gallery, says,

For the [Saatchi] Prize, between five and 50 stills can be uploaded to produce a motion photograph, but you could use a lot more generally. So gifs may be used to tell simple visual stories in ways that are different from still photographs or film.



Final Thoughts

If you think GIFs are going away anytime soon, I’d wager you’re mistaken. Whether they’ll take hold of the art world and be greatly loved as some sort of high art form is questionable perhaps. But given the popularity for a quick hit of humor through media, apps like Vine and Snapchat that promote fleeting photos and video that are also content centric, not to mention Tyra Banks’ app for creating cinemagraphs, I think the GIF is here to stay. I like the idea of incorporating them into a photography business. It may even be an effective marketing tool. Photographers are often against change, but we must evolve, and GIFs are sort of that link, that shows sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Via: BBC Culture

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael mccann

    It seems we are living in a world where less is more. The limitations of gif’s , whilst useful in a world of low bandwidth, will not survive the future……. In my opinion .

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  2. Jennifer M

    I don’t know how you succeeded in making GIFs interesting. You’re writing is really enjoyable. And so is your profile photo lol

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