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.
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.