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Back to the future: multi-image screen narrative in a digital age

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We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice [...] We never look at one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are. (Berger 1983: 1)

This statement denotes our searching nature, claiming that as viewers we are eager to make sense of what we see, constructing connections across our vision, piecing together fragments of information in search of meaning. We have a central vision that we use to focus on main events and a peripheral one that allows us to be drawn to other areas of interest. Today, in everyday life, there is a constant battle for our peripheral vision, we are continually distracted by a range of moving images. Each time we enter a public space or switch on our computer screens, advertisers have found a way to push their products on us, and now a plethora of moving images have become an accepted part of our experience. This article attempts to explore the aesthetics of this recent phenomenon of multi-imaging to see if there is a historical context in relation to storytelling and to find out what can be learnt from the past in order to help build strategies for creating narratives of the future. I examine a range of visual examples and review the technical and cultural aspects of stories that have been told using more than one image and attempt to draw comparisons. Starting with the visual storytelling of fourteenth century diptych religious paintings, I go on to look at the impact of perspective, then early film form, comparing its arrival to recent developments in digital technology, discuss Abel Gance's cinematic epic Napoleon (1927) and its relation to Russian montage. The avant-garde, Expanded Cinema, and internet art is also examined. The context of my work is practice as research and I discuss this in relation to the conception, writing, directing, editing and exhibition of my film Writ in Water (2009), a narrative film designed for three-screen presentation in a cinematic context.

Keywords: Abel Gance; camera obscura; diptych; multi-imaging; new media; practice as research; screen space

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/jmpr.13.1.45_1

Affiliations: Roehampton University

Publication date: June 12, 2012

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  • The Journal of Media Practice is a peer-reviewed publication addressing practical work in media teaching and research. To this end, the editorial board and consultative panels comprise prominent academics and practitioners from a range of disciplines committed to the achievement of academic and professional ends through means centred on practical work.
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