OAKLAND, Calif. — In an era of ubiquitous photography and advanced editing, it’s fun to look back on old images and bring new techniques to play with them. There’s the popular topic of colorizing historical images, which has been making the rounds lately. And the NYPL made waves when they turned old stereographs into animated GIFs that are surprisingly effective at showing their 3D quality. And meme land has given us the history photobomb.
But what about completely deconstructing historic images all together? I recently encountered the wacky and amazing animated GIFs of Kevin Weird on my Tumblr feed. His Flux Machine Tumblr takes historic images and flips then around. I think the first image I saw was Decoy Howitzer, an interesting enough image of a howitzer from the Civil War era. But while the anonymous soldier stands guard, a ghost comes pouring out of the barrel in the form of the guard and drags away a white ghostly figure.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Weir notes that he started the blog during a slow internship in Los Angeles. “Didn’t have much to do there, so I started messing around with some old images I’d found lying around on the internet,” he wrote. “Started out as collage between old and new imagery, then I became fascinated with bringing old photographs to life. I did a few, then a friend introduced me to the Library of Congress archives and everything kind of took off from there.”
Indeed, most of Weir’s images come from the Library’s extensive archives. Scanning through all the images, he looks for ones “with enough mystique to work for an animation” and begins playing with the images on Photoshop and, more recently, After Effects and Cinema 4d. Rights to the images remain hazy — the LOC’s official stance is that “Rights assessment is your responsibility” — but Weir argues that “Remixing and repurposing imagery is a pretty important part of art on the internet (and probably art in general).”
What makes these GIFs interesting is how they bring the remix culture of the internet to some of the oldest photographs in the world. It’s a lovely creative dialogue with a mixture of offbeat humor and a respect for the power of the source material’s imagery.
“Taking completely unknown situations and bringing them into my own little world of mischief and darkness,” Weir wrote. “In a way, public domain photographs feel like they’re intended to tell the story of our collective history, which is nice, because I like to subvert that.”
“With tentacles and things,” he added.