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    The GIF Isn't Dead, It's Become Part of Us

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey


    GIF via

    "I have a question for you," a colleague asked me the other day, "Is the GIF dead?"

    "In what sense?" I asked, and then went into some panicky defense mode, my mind on Arthur Danto's After The End of Art. Only a few months younger than me, the file format of repetitive images beaming across the interweb is a close companion my digital experience. With its fleeting tangibility, the light speed at which it can be shared, its lo-fi roots and endless compatibility, I wonder, whoever needed anything better than a GIF?

    The question posed my way was prompted by the argument that the GIF hit its final peak in 2012. There's no doubt that 2012 was a huge year for the format. But with the advent of apps that make them for you like a microwave nuking a hot pocket, GIFs are more accessible than ever. People expect and want GIFs. They dream in GIFs. 

    While I've remained much like a traditional French deconstructionist in my GIF-making adventure, using Photoshop, screen-recording, rapid photography and a lot of trial-and-error, I can't ignore that last year the Graphic Interchange Format did hit a mainstream peak.

    Not only did it land word of the year, but news correspondents on television now broadcast them to national audiences, like some post-modern commentary of their own lossy relevance. Celebrities are now more afraid of being in an embarrassing GIF than being sighted on the beach by National Enquirer. GIFs have changed the way people perceive motion, the tiny files projecting our own obsessions and repeating them in 256 colors or less; maybe GIF booths will begin replacing those snail-pace black and white photo booths. Grizzly Bear's recent video, Gun Shy, explores some circumstance of this fascination with sort-of stop motion, like a negotiation between the bewilderment and hypnotic love we hold for those jolty-subtle-back-and-forth movements.

    But is it over? A lightweight commodity of visual transportation, the GIF performs a wide variety of functions that it's held responsible to perform. GIFs are as integral to the digital society as clean drinking water is to the analog. As the easy-to-loop video-sharing service Vine comes out of Twitter's office as a sharp way to repave the looping image, I'm unsettled by tech writing that describes it in GIF terms, or something related to GIFs. I can't help but find myself constantly stressing how unGIF a Vine video is.

    A Vine is substantially different than a GIF for a simple reason: It's a social boasting tool. It's a new form factor for the insta-brag. It's Web 2.0 and self-publishing-to-develop-your-brand, whereas a GIF holds onto the 1.0 vibes and DIY aesthetic. The masses know little about how GIFs are made. They're just a little gem developed by someone else purely for their enjoyment, often from a third-party source. GIFs aren't (or shouldn't be) branded, they're communal.

    Meanwhile, Vine production includes audio commentary, eyewitness accounts, memory making, stop-motion non sequiturs, and a peek inside celebrity realities, and it's all packaged in. It's a tool solely for self-hype. As much as I love Vine, and have made almost 200 of them, if we're compared to GIFs as tools in art history, the app is a box of kindergarten crayons. That is, if I'm forced to compare it to the GIF.

    So while new potential will seldom arrive for the format, let's check out a couple ways in which our online culture has appropriated the file-format's existence for good. Here's how the GIF will persist:


    "404, not found error," Ben Revere misses a catch. As seen on Deadspin.

    Thanks to DMCA rules, with YouTube, and the mercenary interests of behemoth broadcasters, the tenuous grasp on the means by which third parties exhibit their favorite sports highlights is alleviated by none other than the GIF. With sites like Imgur, SB Nation, and Deadspin channeling the most legendary, most idiotic, and most laughable moments from games, animated sports loops are actually the most prevalent items coming in via my Google alert for "GIF."


    What did he just say?

    Of course we can use and take anything we want from WhiteHouse.gov to relay a story, to rerun one of Obama's speeches, and so forth. But there's nothing closer to the excitement of playing the hard ways on a craps table in Macau than live-GIFing a town hall debate in which Mitt Romney says, "Binders Full of Women."

    Net Art


    GIF by David Ope

    Then there is the an assortment of artists who simply wow us with simple, yet magical animations. David Ope, Mister GIF, Paolo Ceric, Yuriy Mironoff, Ryder Ripps; here is just a handful of talented interdisciplinary net-artists that qualify the GIF in terms of heightened aesthetics.

    The Wide World of Entertainment

    Via IWDRM Tumblr

    Every distributor wants a beautiful cinemagraph of the films they're trying to hustle nowadays. It's gotten to the point that they'll even invite GIF makers to screenings or hand off a hard drive of the full film in hopes to becoming the next thing to land Tumblr's radar. (I think I hear a leak.)

    GIF via Perez Hilton

    I believe I mentioned this aspect a little earlier.

    Oh yeah, Cats

    Via catgifpage.com


    Read more about GIFs:

    GIF Your Own Adventure: Gifmelter

    The Year 2012 in 50 GIFs

    Superstorm Sandy in 10 GIFs

    Happy Twenty-GIFth Birthday