Here is a challenge for you. Look at the four pictures below. Each represents an art movement that was influential in the early twentieth century. Can you name them? What are the art movements that they represent?
I won’t beat around the bush. From top left, Art Nouveau has stylized curved lines and natural themes. Top right Art Deco has geometric straight lines and modernist themes. Bottom left Italian Futurism has repetition of objects to convey a sense of motion. Bottom right Cubism has superposition of different perspectives creating a unique sense of distortion. As you can see these styles were all interconnected. Each style has influenced the formation of the next.
This article is about Italian Futurism. Have a look at the picture below by Depero Fortunato. This picture depicts many of the features of the movement. It is entitled Motociclista, solido in velocità (Biker, Solid at Speed) and was painted in 1923. The artist is trying to convey modernity with an emphasis on repetition of shapes giving a sense of movement. There is an appreciation even a veneration of mechanical forms.
The principles of universal dynamism was expressed in the technical manifesto of futurist painting in 1914.
“The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten, four, three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.“
Giocomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) exemplifies the Futurists’ insistence that the perceived world is in constant movement.
The Futurists practiced in every medium of art, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, urban design, theatre, film, fashion, textiles, literature, music, architecture, and even Futurist meals.
In photography the concept of photodynamism was developed very early in the evolution of the movement.
“We are not interested in the precise reconstruction of movement, which has already been broken up and analysed. We are involved only in the area of movement which produces sensation, the memory of which still palpitates in our awareness.”
by Anton Giulio Bragaglia, 1st July 1913
The pictures on which the Bragaglia brothers collaborated, plot the movement of a figure, usually from right to left, with intermediary sections of motion blurred.
Futurist photographic techniques also include the layering of multiple negatives, perspectival foreshortening, and photomontage.
Photo montage had been used as a technique to convey the anatomy of movement from a very early time. For instance bird flight of a pelican, a series of images taken in 1886 by French scientist Etienne Jules Marey. I believe he captured movement by using a battery of cameras each firing a fraction of a second after the former. The negatives from the sequential cameras were overlaid to make a single print.
At this point the story moves to Gjon Mili born in Italy, but who immigrated to the United States in 1923. Upon graduation from electrical engineering in 1927, he worked for Westinghouse as a lighting research engineer until 1938.
With Harold Edgerton at MIT he developed tungsten filament lights for color photography. There were further innovations in stroboscopic and stop-action flash. He used a single exposure, but multiple short flashes from the flash gun. His Images came to the attention of Life magazine.
Mili worked freelance for the magazine from 1939 until his death, producing thousands of photographs–action shots of dance, sports, and theater events; portraits of artists, musicians, athletes, dancers, and actors.
Mili worked with both Salvador Dali and Pabloa Picaso to develop iconic art images.
There has been a modern resurgence of interest into futurism and photodynamism. Have a look at some of the following images.
Well there you have it. When I was a kid a blurred family portrait was a dud. Futurism however values the blurred image because of the expression of movement. Mili added to the form with the development of new Tungsten flash technology. His pictures were sharply focused and yet expressive at the same time. Futurism has given value to my blurred snap shots and has left it’s mark and is still a viable perspective for photography today.