Encountering a camera on the street
In our daily lives, we frequently stumble upon cameras on the street: people taking selfies or recording videos is a common sight that none of us find odd. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, encountering a camera on the street was anything but normal – for many, it was an appalling surprise. One of these awkward moments is engraved on celluloid around 1900 at Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
De Dam te Amsterdam omstreeks 1900*, a little film from the Collection of EYE, shows Dam Square at the turn of the 20th century buzzing with trams, bicycles, and pedestrians crossing over the frame in all directions. What makes this little film so peculiar is the group of people that stand without the slightest motion at the centre of the frame, in great contrast to the fleeting passers-by. A municipality worker, a young boy, and a band of children – all seem stunned, looking directly into the camera. As being photographed would then require, they are doing their best to pose perfectly still to avoid a blurred image. Ironically, however, the machine before them is not a photography camera that requires stillness, but a film camera that is designed to capture movement.
Embalming this confusion and surprise, this little film testifies to the initial stages of a transformation in the visual culture brought by the influx of the film camera to everyday life. Portraying those that stand still and those that walk through the frame, the film captures the coexistence of stillness and movement at once. The transition from the still image to the moving image is rendered visible. The aesthetics of photography and cinematography are united in one single frame for over two minutes.
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçı, curator of Silent film.
*This film was restored in 2014 as part of a crowd-funding campaign called Amsterdam in the Picture. Read and watch more here.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Altyazi, a monthly film magazine from Turkey. English translation by Asli Özgen Tuncer.