Drawing Time: Linear Time

linear time

The experiments of Muybridge and Marey were undeniably of the greatest importance to the development of cinema. Jeffrey describes the ‘controlled aspect’ of the scientific experimentation of Muybridge and Marey as the aspect that links Animal locomotion (the publication by Muybridge in 1887) to Modernism as it was conceived in the 1920: ‘an aesthetic of control and management in which humanity, marshalled by designers, rehearses for a utopian destiny’ (Jeffrey, 61)

In Death 24x a Second Laura Mulvey discusses the development of a ‘horizontal structure’ of narrative (Mulvey, 28); bringing time into the manageable structure of a recognisable movement from past to future. Mary Ann Doane in The Emergence of Cinematic Time, Modernity, Contingency, the Archive suggests that emerging cinema played a crucial role in structuring time in response to capitalist modernity (Doane, 4) She draws parallels between the ‘representability’ of time through the work of Marey and Muybridge and the reconceptualization of time by modernity:
‘Modernity was perceived as temporal demand’ and the example of the diffusion of twelve million pocket watches through Germany, which at the time had a population of twelve million people, is an illustration of the obsession in western Europe with a punctual, impersonal time which would from then onwards be governed by productivity.

In an agrarian society, a worker may have obeyed ‘natural time’ according to how he/she worked - time was passed without urgency. In an industrialized society, a worker is exchanging labour for money, rather than goods. Here his/her time is measured according to efficiency and as a result, time becomes abstracted; broken down into measurable units that can be exchanged for money. This is the commodity value, created by Marx to describe the abstracted system of exchange of labour and goods for money within Capitalist society. The need to deliver goods lead to the standardisation of railway timetables, forced the necessity of stabilised and ultimately globally standardised time.

The introduction of new technology brought about a need for a new response to time; one that reflected the new value it held as a measure of labour, efficiency and productivity. It was not simply that Time needed to be standardised to facilitate the transportation of goods, or the coordination of labour. Time needed to be visualised as constituting individual parts that could be reconstituted into an illusion of continuous movement that allowed the viewer to believe in the possibility of capturing Time.  The cinema offered the possibility of recording Time, allowing travel to other spaces and times with a safe return (Doane, 3)

The new ability to visualize time using moving images brought about a change from thinking about Time as that which is passing and gone, to that which it is possible to preserve, revisit and study.  The use of photography to investigate the efficiency of workers by the Gilbreths is a commonly cited example of the use of static and moving images to picture the body of the worker and use the created material (e.g. the lines created by moving light points) to create working environments that heightened efficiency.


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© Lisa Creagh 2019