Why Gif?

There is an interesting conversation going on over in the DS106 google group. Sandy Brown Jensen makes some great points which finish with

So for me it has nothing to do with the aesthetics of the gif itself and more to do with crafting a context where placing a gif makes sense.

.Sandy has a great riff in her first column which I’ll leave readers to read in context, but here basic question is:

First of all, figure out your objectives in the cognitive realm, i.e. why do you want to make a gif at all?

This is a question that I sort of asked a while back, But is Gif Art? and had a couple of good answers in the comments. I’d like to expand my ideas here with a few examples. I am sticking to gifs I’ve made, there are a ton of better examples on the

Before I started DS106, like many I though of gifs as the under construction images from geocities websites of the last century. It took me a while to come round.

I had been reading and following ds106 mostly through Jim Groom’s blog when
on a rainy afternoon I wrote:

One of the things that the ds106 folk have been doing is creating animated gifs from very short sections of movies. I am still not sure if I see the whole point of this, but it becomes a very addictive process.


The above gif is, I think, the first one I published, I like it because it isolates an emotion from a movie I like a lot, to me it is some sort of visual commentary on the movie. I was also interested in the process of creating gifs, and this involved some creativity (perhaps not artistic) as I designed my own method.
Later that year I Joined DS106 I had by then been inspired by ds106 and this joined up some dots for me. At that point I could rip a gif from a movie and was mostly interested in keeping the file size down!

This gif is a celebration of DS106 and the energy of Jim Groom in particular, it is 8 frames that I returned too again and again and eventually made a small ds106 meme.

Jim’s Excellent Ted Adventure, Jim in the Air(plane) and Dancing Jim Over the World. These are part joke, part riff on various ideas, they do not tell a story in themselves but become part of a community story that both celebrates Jim and pokes some fun.

I hope the next gif did tell a story, it tries to show a different side of Jack Kerouac.

Most of the Kerouac I’ve seen have been chat show footage with a drunk Kerouac. This clip shows his gentler side.

Like many other folk who watch and enjoy old gangster films, I’ve giffed a few gunshots in my time, I usually feel a bit uneasy about this. It is easy in the relative safety of Scotland, with unarmed police and little gun crime to be complacent, this gif plays with that sentiment:

Over the course of a few rounds of DS106 I’ve become a regular giffer, I’ve a Tumblr full, some from ds106 assignments, some just for fun, some created from movies and some in various other ways. Some are saying look at this, is it not interesting or beautiful. Some are jokes, some are experiments with software, some play with the random and serendipitous. Some have made me see in a different way, to think a bit more visually. Some just provide some relaxation, finding a nice clip spotting a giffable moment, digging it out, optimising it is just nice.

This one is from a film I love and have giffed a few times, Il Gattopardo, the film is made at a different speed that most hollywood offerings, I hope the gif tells some of that.

The next one was, to me, interesting for a couple of reasons, one, it explains something, or give a view and two to make it I created a system so that I can knock similar gifs up in a few seconds when needed to help discuss or explain something.

Ds106 gifs are social, gifs often seem to asks to be reused, remixed, pinged and ponged between groups, there is a special joy when your gif is mixed into something else.

I am not a particularly visual person, as I worried in my first ds106 post:

I am a wee bit nervous about jumping into something that requires visual creativity. While I am happy enough editing images, audio and video I am not good at visual thinking or design.

I preferred podcasting to video because it avoids the difficulties of the moving image. Gifs have given me a way to play with visual elements, think about them notice thing I would have missed and keep alert for the possibilities scrolling by.

I hope that someone, Sandy?, looking a  the first page or two of my tumbling would get a sense of some purpose, fun and diversity rather than things that are mindless and crazy-making as any uncontrollable tic, or at least enjoy the madness around:

For me, instinctively & briefly, gifs are at the heart of #ds106  driven by energy originating from Jim Groom and riffed through the participants. They can disrupt patterns of thought and play havoc with our idea of what a ‘story’ is.

3 thoughts on “Why Gif?”

  1. John,

    What a beautiful and thoughtful post. I think this is the most I have heard you say on a post ever! A gift all the more because I know that making is more your thing than talking or writing. I am really touched by you sharing your creative process and your development since starting working with gifs in DS106.

    It gives me hope that if I hang around for a bit longer I may get as good as you at making them. I go to your Tumblr to relax like I might go to a museum. Your gifs are special and thoughtful.

    Your wee apps that you create for those of us who do not have the technical skills and/or are lazy say something about how you want to share with the DS106 community.

    The Gif TV? What can I say. Precious.

    There is something about the story telling in a few seconds that repeats and allows one to create and thread inner images. Life holding still in a moment chosen by an artist as significant. We fill in the rest and may be that is where the magic is?

    Thank you for this.

  2. John,
    I left these thoughts on Mariana’s Storify on Why Gif? but I think I’ll put them here as well. You have provided ample evidence here that gifs are “creative and fun” and therefore worthy. With all this good conversation going on, I think I will do one of my NMC blog posts on this topic.

    At the end of the comments below, I added the link to Alan’s gif and his comments…a truly funny and meta meta gif!

    “some replies are flippant, some joshing and accepted as such. TalkyTina says they make the viewer look twice at art, but actually gifs blink with equivalent of a visual Turret’s Syndrome.

    I found Tom Woodward’s claims the most intriguing and worthy of/wanting of evidence. He says gifs make the viewer look at media “in a new way.” I agree. I saw an example of this in this morning’s Huffington Post. An article on Starbuck’s adding wine to its menu was accompanied by a nice gif of wine being poured into a glass. Here, the gif made me look at the blog post media “in a new way.”

    Woodward also claims that “sometimes motion is essential or should be.” I think this is an insightful claim wanting some examples. I saw an article on bobsledding at the Olympics that had a bobsled gif next to the title. That let me visually sort the page and decide on whether or not I wanted to read the article. I wonder if your readers can find other, better, examples of “motion essential gifs”?

    Woodward also said that the making of gifs “opens completely unique new possibilities and is one of the first unique art forms of the Internet.”

    I am interested in specific examples, even specific wild speculations about those “possibilities.”

    Gifs as an art form, of course, is the museum argument–make it, put a frame around it, put it on the virtual wall, call it art and it is its own excuse for being. Theoretically, hopefully! these would be gifs of the highest technical challenge combined with a clear aesthetic, but there is always a countervailing folk art movement.

    My current metaphor for understanding gifs is neon art. Neon signs draw attention to product. Mostly, they are visual noise in the urban (read: virtual) landscape, but I remember a neon art installation of life-sized blue neon horses in the barnyards and pastures of over a hundred miles of I-5 one cold, dark winter. I remember driving through the fog or the snow, and one of those luminous horses would emerge in a blue glow to tell me where I was. They were neon spiritualized.

    I have to think blinky blink gifs have the potential to find a context to uplift and guide the internet traveler lost on a snowy night groping a way toward Meaningtown.”

    Alan’s gif:

    http://cogdogblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/psycho-tell-them.gif
    “I also put my animated GIF chops to work to poke some fun at the adage from Aristotle “Tell them what you are going to say. Tell them. Tell them what you said.” If you have to repeat it that often, is the message memorable? what does it say about “then”, which is you, if you need to be banged over the head three times with it? And, as my GIF tried to suggest, what if that was the films style of Hitchcock (The GIF is a bit heavy at 1.5 Mb, but you can watch it yourself).”

  3. Mariana, Thank you, I guess I don’t write much on this blog. It takes me a lot longer to write than think.

    Sandy,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments here and elsewhere. I am probably ‘protesting too much’ as I certainly would not claim that I am involved in art, and only marginally in storytelling. I guess what attracts me to gifs and ds106 activity of all sorts (and I frequently go off course down rabbit holes of my own) is the playfulness and community.
    It is also a safe place to get challenged, and when it comes in a witty a form as your G+ comments it is a pleasure in itself.

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