Everything starts with the desire to analyse movement, a bet about horses and Eadweard Muybridge. The came the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph, a machine that automatically recorded twenty-four images per second on a film emulsion that could also render the world that was recorded frame by frame by projecting it. The cinematograph captures and reconstitutes; nothing is lost and much is gained. The ordering of the fragments with the addition of silences and sounds create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, a work of the imagination that can seduce and enchant. Films made long before we were born remain etched in our brain once we have seen them. Film is a bet on eternity.
Why is the image recorded on a film emulsion so distinctly different from the digital image? First, there is the grain in the emulsion that changes from one photogram to the next, of which there are twenty-four in just one second. Once copied onto a film print the grain of the original film is re-enacted. It is reborn. Under the digital image is a grid of pixels that is always there, even if unseen, and the image proportions can be rendered with distortions if the pixel size, which varies with the software, is not checked. The digital reproducibility is of the pixels rather than the image. The authenticity of the copy is not guaranteed, as it is with the film emulsion where collage and layering will show.
There is no limit on the potential of film emulsion to record light and shadows: variations in the shades of black. white, and colors are especially subtle. The digital image, however, cannot be overexposed and therefore cannot photograph light sources or the sun. Digital has no black so you cannot photograph a dark night. Each pixel is a light that cannot be totally dark or go beyond 100 percent white. Unlike film, the digital image has no excess. The rendering through projection of what has been shot is very different in analog and in digital. In the film projector the shutter mercifully blocks the light from the screen half of the time, permitting the move of one image to be replaced by the next. So, for half of a twenty-fourth of a second, you are in the dark. Your eyes are resting before viewing the next image. In the digital projection the light is constant. The replacement of one pixel by another doesn’t need any masking. It is done in full view. So, unless you blink, your eyes cannot find solace in a little darkness.
The capacity for film to transmit time, duration and contemplation is not really matched by digital. An entire range of subjects are now impossible to tackle. What still works, at times, is the factual, the cartoon. Even a close observation of natural phenomena seems difficult because digital kills stillness. Looking at a digital image, your senses become dull instead of re-energized as they are after each film frame. Desire vanishes.