Posts Tagged ‘thumbnail’

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

In Tinypic Video Thumbnails, an 85 page artist’s book and .pdf by Travis Hallenbeck, the artist explores the convention of the thumbnail – the still image representation of an uploaded video file (in this case, the thumbnails generated by the video hosting service Tinypic) – and re-presents his own subjective response to them through the display of over 5,000 appropriated thumbnails organized in 6 X 10 grids which almost completely fill all but the first and final pages of the book.

Perhaps the initial thing to be said about the project is that pouring over this massive volume of thumbnails in densely packed grids effectively conveys the sense of surfing through a video website – an experience premised on scanning through hundreds of thumbnails, critically resisting the urge to click on a single one, waiting for the “right” video to catch one’s eye.

However, unlike the heterogeneous mass of thumbnails encountered in a conventional surf, Hallenbeck’s images are:

1. All singularities in their own right:

One views a medium-wide framing on a ten-year old girl in faded blue jeans and a striped tank-top holding a brown clay bowl in the middle of a backyard garden in circa 1970s film stock; a medium-wide framing on a fist-fight between two young men in their 20’s wearing baggy shorts in the middle of the woods shot on marginally pixelated digital camcorder imagery; a medium framing inverted 90 degrees on the sunlight pouring through a floral-patterned curtain illuminating a cat jumping over an armchair in an otherwise black room shot on relatively sharp digital video.

Each image resists being swallowed wholesale by the database as each one affords the viewer something to hold onto – Barthes may have called it a punctum – that which pricks one.

2. Intentionally patterned – there’s a structural order that emerges from the chaos here.

Hallenbeck seems to have narrowed down the iconography of his surf to a few key themes, which appear regularly through the grid. Here is a representative sampling:

1. Young people getting fucked up at random times of the day or generally goofing off

2. Skateboarding video imagery

3. Pixelated digital imagery

4. Obsolete technologies

5. Minimal abstractions derived from glitches in technology

6. Swimming pools

7. Empty wide shots of natural settings

8. Empty baseball fields

9. Empty bedrooms

10. Empty living rooms

The first two themes – youthful goofing around and skateboarding – lend the pattern a light, often humorous, and positive vibe.

However, these positive images are generally surrounded on all sides of the pattern by the heavy, melancholic, and negative imagery identified in the subsequent categories listed above.

The result is, on the one hand, a bummer: it seems to swallow the hope and freedom associated with youthful debauchery and skateboarding up in the surliness of empty rooms, landscapes and technological glitches.

It’s nostalgia for a past time, but a bitter nostalgia.

On the other hand, there is another relationship to time in Tinypic Video Thumbnails.

The work is a labor – a daily, almost religious, performance lived in the present of each moment, as Hallenbeck surfs, scans, and reflects back on the database.

One feels the volume of images, of course; but one also feels the volume of time spent sifting through images, the performance of the surf as an intentional work of art.

Perhaps one could say that the secret message of the book is this affirmation of daily web surfing.

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

A functionality of YouTube is to automatically select as a given video’s thumbnail the frame of the video in the exact middle of its temporal runtime – no matter what the frame’s content or how much relevance it affords the theme of the video.

So there could be a video in which two old men are having a picnic in the park and the thumbnail could be some randomly blurred image of a bunch of grass which happened to be the exact middle of the video.

This convention’s absurdity, which might be described as a Web 2.0 perversion of the movie poster, is regularly exploited by YouTube users who will insert a single frame of a girl in a bikini in the exact middle of a video in order to get more views.

At times, though, the default YouTube thumbnail has a certain unintended power in its own right.

When one uploads a webcam vlog to YouTube, for instance, the thumbnail is often an image of one’s self which one would never think to choose as their personal online representation.

Perhaps one’s eyes are closed or one is in the middle of an expression that distorts one’s facial features in an un-becoming manner. This un-intended, un-becoming-ness might create an anxiety – it shows me what I look like – out of control; not becoming.

It is a portal to see how things look. A post Internet photography.

The light catches a bowl of rice in a living room filled with cigarette smoke; a family unloads a red bike from a station wagon as a blue bike whizzes by; a Scottish teenager’s eyes catch the lens of the camera directly, allowing one to see her.

One of the unspoken dynamics of surfing through YouTube is that, by and large, most all interaction with video online is conducted through these secret messages, these unintended crystallizations, which afford one, not the theme of the video, but a random moment – a glimpse into a world which never agreed to be glimpsed in such a naked way.