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Rhythm Aesthetics: Vine & contemporary mobile moving image production practices

by Ethan Tussey

by Flora Magdalena Olszanowski for IN MEDIA RES

Written with Will Lockett

To better understand the creative capabilities of Vine’s limitations, we analyze its formal elements. The interface centers on a timeline: the video recording begins as the user touches the screen of their mobile device, and the recording takes place only so long as they’re touching the screen. Given this touch-and-hold interface, there’s no post-production editing: edits can be made by letting go of the touch before the end of the six seconds, framing a new shot, and then touching again to capture the next image in the montage.

One of the main reasons for Vine's success is that its specific mode of video content production allows for, both, the appropriation of aesthetic tendencies, such as the GIF, and the distancing from other contemporary aesthetic tendencies, such as the faux vintage aesthetics of Instagram and Hipstamatic.

Vine’s developers insistently dissociate themselves from these apps: 

Old things are beautiful, but new things should look, well...new. That's why Vine doesn't have a play button. It also doesn't have a pause button, a timeline scrubber, a blinking red light, or dials and a brushed-metal finish to give you the impression that you're using a dusty video camera. (vine.co/blog)

This description can be nuanced in two ways. First, Vine does have a play button; it’s simply the entire screen: Vine is relying on the user's habituation to the touch screen interface to pare down the number of icons and avoid the simulation of an antique UI. Second, although apps such as 8mm (2010) and Cinemagram (2012) tried to use the faux vintage in order to popularize moving image mobile-social-networks—and Vine is perhaps wise to dissociate itself from these products—Vine is in fact relying on similar processes of appropriation to drive the development of new forms of individualized creative practice. 

In other words, we're arguing that, although Vine doesn’t use the faux vintage to do so, the basic parameters on Vine still allow users to tap into aesthetic attributes that are specific to preexisting image production technologies: particularly looping GIF animations, the jump cut, and framing tropes specific to the embodied practices of mobile image production. The former two appropriations are related to moving image technologies writ large, whereas the latter are common to mobile-device image production. These formal elements of Vine can be tied to the need to create an information-rich creative 6 second video loop within a system of constraints.

Rhythm and Vine

A vine video

from Vine (2013)
Creator: Magda O
Distributor: Vimeo
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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