Uncovering the History of Cinemagraphs


During the summer of 2017, while working as a Content Producer at Flixel Photos, a Toronto-based software company, I spearheaded a project to build awareness around an entirely new medium: cinemagraphs. At the outset, the work comprised an exhaustive, encyclopedic-style blog post to chronicle the hybrid photo/video medium's brief but storied history—what they are, where they came from, and what the future holds. But the piece snowballed, eventually to include a video accompaniment that underscored many of its key points. (Which, as I’ll detail below, involved some onscreen reporting.)
However, while conducting additional research with the Flixel team, we chanced upon something extraordinary. Something so far-fetched and so beyond belief, yet at the same time, made perfect sense. A part of history, if you will, that had been completely overlooked: the cinemagraph’s true inventor.

A Second Look

Cinemagraphs first cropped up in 2011, when two American artists teamed up at New York Fashion week to edit a collection of photographs. While playing around with different animation effects, they serendipitously pioneered an interbred medium, inspiring a new generation of visual storytelling. And until this past summer, that’s as much as we knew. That was the extent of it. But then the bombshell dropped, and the facts were unequivocal—yes, 2011 is when cinemagraphs were first introduced to mainstream audiences, but its true origins actually date back to the beginning of the 1980s.
It's inventor?
But David Bowie, of course. You know, the creative paragon of innovation and craftsmanship. Ziggy Stardust himself. The Man Who Fell to Earth. In one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments, the music video for Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”—which served as the lead single from his album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)—contained the first-ever instance of a living, breathing photograph. Or rather, a cinemagraph. Perhaps inadvertently, but deliberately nonetheless, David Bowie broke new ground and provided viewers with a delightfully unexpected visual wonder.
To read the full blog post, follow this link. For anyone who’s interested in how mediums are born, it’s definitely worth a read. And for those who, until now, were not privy to the existence of cinemagraphs, you need not worry. I, too, was once in the dark. Even today, cinemagraphs are still considered a niche medium, having yet to fully infiltrate the cultural zeitgeist. So, your lack of awareness is totally justified.
This idea, however, stayed with me. At work, I was virtually engulfed in a cinemagraph maelstrom. Everyone who worked there was. For all intents and purposes, our job was about convincing the world that cinemagraphs were here, and boy, they were here to stay. So, the only viable method in which to guage public awareness was to go out into the world and see for myself. And like that, with a camera crew following close behind, I decided to hit the streets of Toronto and test my hypothesis once and for all. And to, you know, produce a fun and informative video piece to complement the article.
Am I the next Michael Parkinson? Like some kind of millennial-Canadian incarnation? Perhaps. Only time will tell. Though, in retrospect, one thing is clear: this project yielded both a tremendous amount enjoyment and insight. For me, the main takeaway hearkens back to the pre-digital era, where the pursuit of knowledge relied not on the Internet, but the attitudes, judgments, and ideas of real, everyday people.


Peter Weir

  • Message
  • Writer, Online Marketer, Web Designer


  • F

    Flixel Photos


    Project Tags

    • Cinemagraphs
    • Technology
    • Startup
    • Media Production
    • David Bowie
    • music history