Slices of time

We are asked to consider John Szarkowski’s comment, quoted in the course notes, and consider whether fast shutter speeds capture movement or fragment it, isolating thin slices of time to reveal something new.

… there was a pleasure and beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do, rather, with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement. (Szarkowski, 2007,10)

Szarkowski was referring to Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 sequential images of a horse in motion which, very clearly, slice time into small segments and present them all for our viewing. Famously, this set of images was the first to show how the horse’s legs moved in a gallop  which was previously unobserved and unknown.

The same comment can be made when we are only presented with one image, effectively a single slice of time, such as the milk-drop coronets and bullet-through-apple images of Harold Edgerton (MIT website here). Edgerton’s high speed captures relied on flash technology rather than shutter speed, but the principle is the same. The position of the picture elements at a given instant is defined but I get no sense of movement, except where there is blur.

Another photographer using high shutter speeds to freeze motion is Eyoalha Baker (website here) whose ‘Jump for Joy’ project was a mural compiled of some 200 photographs of people jumping.

The common factor seems to be that the picture elements are fixed in space, but they are in positions that are statically unsustainable. Either levitation or motion must be involved. Intellectually, we know the subjects must be moving but, somehow, it is easier to believe in levitation.

I recall a similar or related impression when viewing ViewMaster 3D images involving water. Waves, ‘frozen’ in a 3D image, appear to have been cast in clear resin rather than being in motion.


Baker, E. (2016) Jump for Joy! Photo Project [online] at:

MIT (s.d.) Harold “Doc” Egerton [online] at:

Szarkowski, J. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye – 2007 reprint New York: MoMA


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