Images are gripping, iconic, powerful. They define eras. Who hasn’t seen Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother of the Great Depression, the American soldier kissing a young nurse on V-J day, or the naked young girl burned by napalm in the Vietnam War. Three snapshots, three incredibly powerful images. Their power comes from that specific moment in time. The photographer captures that moment forever in the chemical reaction of silver and light—not the second before, not the second after.
With film, images are captured 24 times a second. That’s 24 individual still frames every second. So if the saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, then a minute of video is just a little shy of being worth 1.5million words. In great films, the composition of each shot is meticulously designed to the extent that a still taken from almost any moment will result in a powerful image capable of standing on its own.
Take the opening image of Francis Coppola’s The Godfather which shows a desperate man worked into a corner so that his only course of action for true Justice is to turn to the mafia.
Or the deep focus shot in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane that tells three stories with one image.
Or this image from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which shows the roving samurai, a puppet master, perched above his puppets.
Photography underwent a revolution with the advent of the digital camera. So many haphazard images flood the internet now that we can document every moment of our lives. Film is undergoing a similar revolution as digital cameras provide higher quality for fewer dollars. While the mass availability of these media allow for teenagers to mindlessly post photos of their breakfasts, it also enables any individual the opportunity to create great art. And despite all the fluff, the truly great will rise to the top.