The Early Promise and Disappointing Career of Time-Lapse Photography

Time-lapse photography—the extremely accelerated recording and projection of an event taking place over an extended duration of time—is almost as old as the movies themselves. (The first known use of time-lapse dates from 1898.) In the early decades of the twentieth century, cineastes, not to mention scientists, artists, and poets, waxed eloquently on the promise of time-lapse photography as a means for revealing “things we cannot see,” and expanding human perception. This essay examines time-lapses tremendous initial imaginative appeal for such figures as Ernst Mach, Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, Rudolf Arnheim, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Collette, and speculates about the possible reasons for its diminution over the course of the century.

Film Studies