by JOSEPH FLAHERTY, Wired 04.28.14
The Saatchi Gallery in London has finally countenanced what Benedict Cumberbatch-obsessed Tumblr users have known for years:animated GIFs are a legit art form. This is a big deal, as the Saatchi Gallery helped make Jeff Koons’s chrome balloon animals and Damien Hirst’s sectioned sharks become some of the best known pieces of contemporary art. Now it has rechristened GIFs as “Motion Photography” and established a prize to encourage excellence in the field.
Curating the exhibition was another departure. Instead of scouring galleries for up-and-coming talent, creators were invited to submit GIFs via Google Plus. In an effort to keep the canon of modern art free of cat GIFs, the gallery employed a roster of jurors that included Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann and photographer/MacArthur Genius Fellow Cindy Sherman.
The competition drew more than 4,000 entries from 52 countries; this groundswell of GIFs was culled into a shortlist of 60 finalists. Of those, six winners were named in the categories landscape, lifestyle, action, night, people, and urban. The exhibit does an admirable job providing recognition to the often nameless creators of these viral masterpieces and showcases a diverse range of photographers, including those who have made a career of exhibiting at coastal galleries and others who make a living shooting weddings.
Emma Critchley, is pleased the gallery is drawing attention to moving photos in addition to their static counterparts. “The creative process differs in the way that you’re looking for a very small movement or moment that can be repeated seamlessly,” she says. “It’s really important that the majority of the frame is very still and you have to be quite specific about what elements you allow to move.”
The only weakness of the collection is it doesn’t fully capture the richness of GIFs as a medium. The shortlist favors minimal compositions, largely eschews humor, and ignores the impact of pop culture on the medium. While reframing GIFs as “Motion Photography” solves the age old “giff” vis “jiff” debate, it excludes computer generated imagery and collage style graphics. It also fails to recognize how GIFs are used conversationally to punctuate a blog post or deliver a sick burn via instant message.
It may be hard for some to accept GIFs as art, but remember, in the 1980s graffiti was seen primarily as a misdemeanor and now Banksy is arguably the best known artist practicing today.
The Motion Photography Prize shortlist will be on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London until May 26th.