The GIF animation is now officially an art form, thanks to first Motion Photography Prize

by Felix Esser

posted Friday, February 28, 2014 at 2:31 PM EDT

Back in the day when the internet was young, when websites consisted mostly of text and hyperlinks, and when so-called 'modems' made funny noises, there was little multi-media going on in the WWW. Despite a lack of high-definition video and modern compression algorithms, the bandwidth of a typical mid-nineties 14.4k dial-up connection would've hardly been able to transfer the amount of data we're used to seeing today. But it wasn't all just black and white and blue, thanks to a certain file format that made the web a more colorful place.

We're talking about the GIF file, of course, which was originally developed as a file format to exchange graphics online. However, it was limited to 8 bits and a maximum of 256 colors, so it wasn't really suited for digital reproduction of photography. But there was one special trick up the GIF file's sleeve which made it everyone's darling, and which is the reason why it's still popular today: it can be used as a container format to store a sequence of images which can be played back at a custom frame rate. In that sense, the GIF file was the first video format of the internet.

These days, GIFs are used in a more artistic way, namely to create so-called "cinemagraphs." Typically, cinemagraphs are made out of short video clips or out of actual sequential images, and are animated in a way as to combine aspects of both still photography and video. The beauty of the GIF animation is that it's small, that it can be easily embedded on websites or shared via social networks, and that its limitations are at the same time its strength: it only allows for short clips with a limited resolution and color depth, which means the focus in creating an GIF animation lies on content and uniqueness.

The artistic value of the animated GIF has now been officially recognized by the Saatchi Art Gallery in London, who teamed up with Google+ to initiate the first Motion Photography Prize. Anyone can enter the contest which runs through April 1st, by submitting one animation each to one or more of the competition's categories, which currently comprise Landscape, Lifestyle, Action, Night, and two more that have yet to be disclosed. Entries are to be submitted via Saatchi Gallery's Google+ page, and the six finalists will all be featured at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Apart from being exhibited, the finalists will also receive a private viewing at Saatchi's london gallery. The overall winner of a contest will receive a special prize: a "trip of a life with the photographer/filmmaker of his/her choice." If you're a GIF animation artist and would like to participate, all you've got to do is head over to Saatchi's Google+ page and submit your entrie(s). To get your creative juices flowing, below are a couple examples of the works that have been submitted so far.

Motion Photography Prize entry by Simon McCheung
Motion Photography Prize entry by Forma Nuova
Motion Photography Prize entry by Kevin Corrado
Motion Photography Prize entry by Anthony Samaniego

(via Design Taxi and My Modern Met)