Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Of slow motion and modern perception

This blog is still officially on hiatus (for more current updates continue to check my PIA blog), but I had a thought I wanted to put down here, and damn the torpedoes if I can't write here when I want.

Anyway, to get to the point: I've been seeing commercials for this new show called Time Warp on the Discovery Channel. And basically the conceit is, "Let's film cool stuff happening with high speed cameras and then show it in super slow motion." That's it.

It's a simple, beautiful concept. In essence, it's no different from the animal locomotion studies of Eadweard Muybridge, except jacked up to accommodate modern modes of perception. On their forums for suggesting new projects, people still ask for slow motion shots of racehorses. It's like they were watching mythbusters, and trying to figure out what made it successful (besides the engaging hosts and frequent use of high explosives), and realized the following deep truth about humans:

It is fascinating to observe phenomena that exist beyond normal human vision.

...slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.” Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride.
--Walter Benjamin

[It should be mentioned that this not only works for slowing things down, but the converse as well. Even though speeding up a process has become commonplace with time-lapse photography, we are still delighted to see the results a man photographing himself daily for six years.]
...in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens, which is adjustable and chooses its angle at will. And photographic reproduction, with the aid of certain processes, such as enlargement or slow motion, can capture images which escape natural vision.
--Walter Benjamin