The Image

December 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Article One

In this article Alan C McLaughlin explores the origin of cinematic convention and the idea behind the image.


It is an industry rapidly grown with a history spanning little over a century. How often do we stop to think where the image began; what was the transition like from still to motion; and how was the image shaped by the world it was set upon?

Hugo Münsterberg’s essay from 1916, ‘The Photoplay’, explores in great depth the development of the moving image during a key period of cinematic history. During the early 1900s movie theatres started to rise in popularity.

“Everybody’s purse allows him to see the greatest artists and in every village a stage can be set up and the joy of a true theater performance can be spread to the remotest corner of the lands”

No longer was the expense laid upon a theatre, studios were built and one stage could travel around the world endlessly, without fatigue. Theatre, viewed through the moving image, is exactly how Cinema is today. However, the key difference is the time travelling ability of the movement.

“We see the soldier on the battlefield, and his beloved one at home, in such steady alternation that we are simultaneously here and there”

With a moving image you can immediately be transported from location to location, just as changing the set pieces on a stage. But with the moving image this process is seamless, without pause, continuing to lure the audience into the world of the image. It was through theatre that the conventions, or language, of cinematic art were discovered and developed, but it was through thought that they continued to expand.

“If we want to shape the question now in the same way, we ought to ask how it is with the emotions of the spectator”

By asking the question of what a spectator wishes to see it is easy to follow the logic that the close-up, two shot, extreme-wide, were all simply answers. Unachievable on a stage, to see the hint of anger in an eyeball, so why not bring your audience to a point where all they can see is that very thing. This process must be logic bound, because the chances are slim that a cinematographer could bring these feelings to a convincing expression without understanding the spectator.

Although we are aware of the ‘unreality’ of the images captured, we continue to express whatever it is that has made us view the world through a lens. Although something may appear to be a true representation of understandable reality, it will forever be a point of view. Cinematography is an opinion, expressed through an image, and at all times is influenced by motivation.

“the central esthetic value is directly opposed to the spirit of imitation”

What that motivation can relate to is infinite. By allowing emotion, story, or action to dictate the style of framing, lighting, and movement the image can become unique.
But as we have evolved, and live, within a world of natural restraint, and no matter what we do to escape that, our images will always be an imitation of nature.

References from:
The Photoplay (1916)
Hugo Münsterberg


Next week we have an article discussing teamwork and discipline.
Friday 27th at 10am (GMT)


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