Creative types are attempting to get a grip on time’s passage by documenting it
By Donna Sapolin
Originally Posted On October 28, 2013
Donna Sapolin is the vice president, editorial director and general manager of Next Avenue. Follow Donna on Twitter @stylestorymedia.
Last November, filmmaker Anthony Cerniello and photographer Keith Sirchio attended a family reunion for Cerniello’s pal Danielle. Sirchio shot numerous portraits of her relatives, both young and old, at the event, and afterward Cerniello culled out the ones that depicted family members whose bone structure was most like Danielle’s. He then enlisted a pair of animators to morph and animate the stills and an expert in 3D visual effects to work on facial details.
The result is a video, Danielle, that captures the process of aging at rapid speed through the nuanced transformation of a face, a process that is all but imperceptible when we’re living in real time.
Due to virtuosic technical manipulation, a composite of multiple people turns into a single individual progressing from the toddler years to the senior ones in a matter of moments. The seamless presentation of time’s forward march is eerie, plausible and remarkable.
Describing his project, Cerniello says: “The idea was that something is happening but you can’t see it…you can feel it, like aging itself.”
Next Avenue wrote about another creative chronicler of time’s passage — Buenos Aires photographer Irina Werning, whose "Back to the Future" series juxtaposes new images of adults she shoots alongside photos taken of them decades before. The subjects wear the same clothes and assume the same position they did in the earlier shot.
Werning applies a great deal of effort to her photo 'reenactments,' traveling to each locale, arranging the outfits, re-creating the settings and copying the original lighting. "With my camera," she says, "I started inviting people to go back to their future."
Her restagings are a fascinating attempt to draw connections between various stages of our lives, giving us a glimpse into how the past gives rise to the present — and letting us imagine the future. But of course, unlike Werning's depictions, the person we are at any given moment in time often bears little resemblance to who we are many years later.
Capturing Time Through Repeat Visits
Other filmmakers and photographers have captured the aging process over an uncompressed time frame through images of the same family or themselves taken at regular intervals. These projects document physical changes to haunting effect.
Photographer Nicholas Nixon has been shooting a yearly portrait of the four Brown Sisters (his wife Bebe is one of them) since 1975. His photographs, which are in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, were published in a hardcover book in 2008.
In it, Peter Galassi, the museum’s former chief curator of the Department of Photography, writes, “We might wish that our family included a photographer of such discipline and skill, but otherwise Nixon’s pictures do what all family photographs do: They fix a presence and mark the passage of time, graciously declining to expound or explain.”
Marking Personal Evolution
Photographer Noah Kalina has snapped a self-portrait every day since January 11, 2000. He has amassed the images of his “Everyday” series and shaped compelling collages and videos. Although they seem to suggest a high degree of self-obsession, even narcissism, I can’t help but feel that this project, like the others, are fundamentally about probing an inexorable and unfathomable process that inches each of us toward an unknown ending.
Just in case you feel inclined to document your own days in a similar fashion — there’s an app for that.
When artist Cesar Kuriyama approached his 30th birthday, he decided that he needed to get a grip on time’s speedy passage (we typically think about time as “flying,” but Kuriyama describes it as “evaporating”) and figure out a way to trigger his memories. So he began recording one second of every day of his life on video and compiling the snippets chronologically to produce a single streaming montage. If he continues, by the time he turns 80, he’ll have a five-hour video that encapsulates 50 years of life. (One wonders if he views the many seconds spent on this project as significant and memorable.)
We Can Construct Time According to Our Preferences
Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova recently highlighted an interesting book by psychology writer Claudia Hammond called Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time.
The author speaks to our ability to “construct the experience of time in our minds.” She notes that we can change “the elements we find troubling — whether it’s trying to stop the years racing past, speeding up time when we’re stuck in a queue, trying to live more in the present or working out how long ago we last saw our old friends. Time can be a friend, but it can also be an enemy. The trick is to harness it, whether at home, at work or even in social policy, and to work in line with our conception of time.”
Though I certainly understand how others gain meaning from setting events down on paper and shaping artistic packages, I won’t be creating a visual or written diary of my life’s transitions. To me, that’s not an ideal use of my time, which is already too fleeting. I prefer to harness time by devoting myself to people I love and to the activities that help me feel I’m making a real difference.