A Post-Structuralist Look at the Relationship Between Still and Moving Images

Essay, 2016

7 Pages, Grade: 1:1


Table of Content







The literature about the relationship between still and moving images does not give one answer. As words, “still” and “moving” seem to be different concepts that are a dichotomy, which means they are opposite. One of the main questions to ask is why these two concepts are polarised. Still images have been described as the DNA of moving images (Beckman and Ma, 2011). This is because film is made from the rapid motion of thousands of still shots. This creates the big paradox of the relationship between still and moving images: the movement is external, and they are all, in reality, still.

Despite this, there are clear differences in the ways in which still and moving images are conceptualised and understood by the people who look at them. For example Roland Barthes speaks about how placing a still image within the moving image changes the narrative and the viewers, engagement and narrative changes. Arguably one of the best examples of the divide is that of the way in which we interact with still and moving images on a day-to-day basis: people may have the same photograph on their wall for decades, but they may watch a favourite movie only once or twice in a lifetime. It seems clear that we think about still and moving images as being very different things, and we treat them in different ways.

This essay first talks about one theory that can explain the relationship between still and moving images. Then, the essay looks at artists and photographers who have explored the relationship. Finally, there is a conclusion.


This theory is one way of explaning how people might find it hard to understand why there is a strange relationship between still and moving images. The theory basically says that the idea that still and moving are different is not true, but is invent by people. The theory is based on post-structuralism. Post-structuralism was developed in the midl Twentieth century, particularly by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault was interested in trying to understand and explain why society is fair to some people but not to others (Veyne, 2010). In particular, he was trying to understand why homosexuals were so hated. The result of his studies is called his theory of modernity.

In order to construct his theory of modernity, Foucault looked back to the work of the eighteenth century philosopher Kant (Couzens, 1986). Kant was working during a time that is known as the Enlightenment era, or the ‘Age of Reason’. It was during this Age of Reason that ‘modern’ society as we now understand it is thought to have started. According to both Kant and Foucault, this ‘modernity’ resulted in a change in the way that peoples brains worked. First it was just academics, then it became everyone. People began to rationalise the way that they behaved and the way that other people behaved. They began to ask ‘why’.

According to Foucault, this led in time to the construction of a “normative sociocultural behavioural code” (Couzens, 1986, p.32). This means that suddenly, there was a ‘normal’ and an ‘abnormal’ way of being, and society began to construct itself along “fundamental dichotomies” (Couzens, 1986, p.32). A fundamental dichotomy is something that is an opposite. There was ‘normal’ sexual behaviour and ‘abnormal’ sexual behaviour. Some people were ‘sane’ and some were ‘insane’. This can be seen in some of the language that entered the English vocabulary at this time, which included words such as ‘lunatic’ and ‘asylum’. Foucault argued that this process of dividing society was achieved by imposing systems of fear and punishment (Deleuze, 1999). This meant that if someone was gay, they were not merely abnormal, but were perverted, frightening, evil, and a criminal. Dichotomies became through this system the main way that people began to think. Society became separated. Pictures such as Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ show all the poor people together being criminals. This is a group of abnormal people in the eyes of the rest of society.

Foucault’s argument continues to be the foundational paradigm for many theorists who have come to the discussion later on, such as Judith Butler. Butler has taken the argument about the normative dichotomy to show that society is in a constant state of self-performance and that people unconsciously play ‘roles’ (Jagger, 2008). She uses the example of the differences between males and females to explain, claiming that from the moment a child is called a boy or a girl their life is likely to follow a pre-determined path. Any individual who does not follow the expected path is considered to be abnormal. For Butler, this is achieved through discourse (Jagger, 2008). Words and phrases have the power to manipulate and control the way in which society invents and organises itself, and they reinforce the fundamental dichotomies that Foucault talks about. If we think about this in still and moving images, we can say that we think that they are different things only because we keep telling ourselves that they are, and talking about them as if they are, because it is normal that they are. In this way, individuals continue to create and reinforce the myth.

But are they? The concept of the body is one of the important areas that has been focus of post-structuralist thinkers. Many, including Butler, argue that the perception that the body and other objects are separate from each other is not true, it is only a sociocultural construction (Bell, 2007; Haraway, 2004; Schneider, 2005). In her Cyborg Manifesto, feminist philosopher Donna Haraway said that when a person is using a piece of technology like a computer the person and the computer stop being separate and become part of each other. This concept of ‘becoming’ remains crucial to all of the rest of her work, where she keeps saying that the world is a fluid and interconnected space and we just imagine that it is all full of separate objects (Haraway, 2004). Although Haraway has been the most important recent person to think abot that, it was actually thought about even earlier. For example, Deleuze and Guattari’s had the same idea about the Body Without Organs (BWO) published in 1980 says, essentially, the same thing.

What this means in for photography and film is that it might be that still images and moving images are not actually separate things. This theory says that they might in reality be the same thing, but we think that they are different. This helps to explain why the relationship between them is so odd and difficult to understand, and why so many people have tried to understand why but can’t.


Looking back at the history of photography we can see there is a fascination of movement and light, and this has been a major part of the image makers process.(Louis Daguerre1838) Is a still image, which shows a street. It appears absent of movement but this is simply not the case. In those times, the photographic process was in the early stages of development. Slow exposure times were a very long because the camera didn’t have a shutter. After this time, photography seemed to enter a stage of fascination of capturing of movement. Henri-Cartier Bresson's. This is not something that was new in art. Turner, for instance, aimed to capture the movement of waves. Photographers such as Ansel Adams and Eadweard Muybridge who have been influenced by Romantic painting started to photograph vast landscapes. But within these last but within these are amounted images things were not frozen in time such as the movement of water. But the fascination of capturing movement continued, as we all know in my Muybridge created the first stop motion movies and is most famous for his work with a horse. This shows that from the perspective of these artists, the fact that an image was still did not prevent the possibility of it being manipulated so that it could move. This shows the unsettling of the dichotomy between stillness and movement within the context of the image, like the theory shows.

At this time we can see to the start of two areas of interest. Muybridge was fascinated in making movement, freezing it in an almost scientific manner to see what the human eye could not see. Compared to Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat by The Lumière Brothers, 1895, Lumiere, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895) where he left his camera to film movements as they happened in front of the camera.

Muybridge is one of the first people to ever think about the question of the relationship between the still and moving image. He mostly thought about how the human eye sees fluid motion, and because of that the human mind misses lots of ‘still’ details. He was fascinated with the idea that all movement is a sequence of still images that cannot actually be seen. This is the same sort of idea, saying that what we think we know is not actually true but that there are other possibilities out there.

Muybridge’s use of technology is important. Muybridge had to invent all most every part of his image making process, which resulted in innovative ways to take photographs. This was primarily using multiple cameras at the same time, so that he could freeze movement. Muybridge was focused upon movement and science. His intervention Zoopraxiscope, which at the time would have been the first ever moving pictures that anybody had ever seen. In this way he tried to show that we don’t have to play by the rules when it comes to photography.

The idea of the still and moving image is also shown to us through the decisive moment demonstrated in Ori Gersht’s wrok. In his film Blow Up, we witness a fairly typical vase of flowers which are frozen by liquid nitrogen explode before our eyes this shocks the viewer. He has done similar work with typical still life scenarios such as a copy of Juan Sanchez Cotan’s Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (1602). Once again, the viewer is watching what appears to be a still photograph, and indeed for the first half of the film, it is a still image until a decisive moment is made by a bullet passing through the fruit. With such elements of time being manipulated at such slow speeds and high resolutions we can see every detail, of the transition, from an ordered life, to the constructed chaos of death. Here, we see the tension between still and moving images very clearly. Movement itself can be frozen, dislocating it from time and space. Movement is shown to not move, and the viewer is asked to question, the relevance (or irrelevance) of the split second before and after the stillness.

The book the The Cinematic mentions an essay by Victor Burgin, in which he argues that we are interested in the photographic series or group because we remember things as a sequence of images in a dream logic state. The ability to remember things as they were is notoriously a misperception of reality, and something that is open to external influences. This tactic has been used many times within avant-garde filmmakers and vertical narratives, looking at the film La Jett 1964, we witness a film made up of still images, but subconsciously our minds create it almost fluid image within our mind. It is as if one is dreaming.


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A Post-Structuralist Look at the Relationship Between Still and Moving Images
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post structuralism, photography, deleuze, judith butler, haraway, movie, video
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Chul Stride (Author), 2016, A Post-Structuralist Look at the Relationship Between Still and Moving Images, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/376871


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