Fake News: Blow Up


One of the pivotal scenes in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) follows the protagonist, Thomas, as he enlarges a series of images. From these close-ups, he determines he accidentally photographed a murder. The viewer must decide if these photographs are evidence of a crime or merely abstract forms? The core of this question touches on our need to assign narrative to any shape, pattern, and imagery we see.

In 2014, people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every day. Today, in two minutes, people take more photographs than existed in total in 1866. In a culture flooded with this magnitude of imagery, the lines between truth and fiction are vague and confusing. Coupled with the ability to manipulate images digitally, the integrity of a photograph cannot be proven. The viewer must repeatedly determine on a daily basis if he or she believes the representation as actual or false. An uneasy and endlessly shifting sense of truth replaces the comfort of “seeing is believing.” Read More

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The Meaning of a Second

Like most of you, I have a closet of plastic shoeboxes filled with printed photos. Last week began scanning many of them. One of them is the image above of my grandmother, mother, aunt, and me sitting on the steps with dappled light. It's not particularly well composed, but it feels like summer. It reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford looks through his own family photos. For a second, the light dappling on the subject of the photo he holds begins to move.

That scene has its roots in Chris Marker's La Jettée. La Jetée is the story later remade into 12 Monkeys. It was created with only still images, no motion. But there is one moment in the film when, for a brief second, one of the characters opens her eyes. Then the film continues with the series of still images.

A similar concept is used in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up. A series of black and white photographs display the sequence of events of a murder. There is no motion, but the sound of the trees is added to strengthen the narrative. The effect in all of these is an increased sense of connection for the viewer.

I may be simple, but it's those quiet moves that I like in a film. I'm okay with blowing up spaceships too, but I think Guardians of the Galaxy would have been improved with a sequence of still images and the sound of trees.

sequence begins at 1:00

Blade Runner

Blow Up, sequence begins at 1:15

Be Very Still and Quiet

I promised myself today that I would not do a post about anything pre-1990. Then on my drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the still photo scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. I’ve shown this scene to my students at Art Center as an example of narrative and images in pure form. Blow-Up is a film made in 1966, yes, I’ve broken my promise, about a photographer (David Hemmings) in swinging London. He spends time hanging out, shooting naked skinny models who wear Mary Quant outfits, having sex with them, and going to Yardbirds concerts. It’s all very hip and Carnaby Street. On an outing to a park he shoots some random shots, and later after blowing up the images determines that he has photographed a murder. The images are individually beautiful. The scene when he examines the photos is pure and minimal. A series of 16 still and abstract images tells a clear narrative in less than a minute. The only audio is the rustling of the leaves in the park’s trees. This is the pivotal action scene in the movie. Now imagine the same scene filmed today. You see why it’s so amazing.