Dan Bull’s globally popular video is composed of daily self-portraits shot from Jun. 8, 2012, to Jun 8, 2012. Ever since he posted the project to YouTube, this short film has generated a conversation in photographic circles about its artistic merits.
“Dan’s video represents a phenomenal amplification not just in what he produced and how he did it, but how many people the piece touched in such a short period of time,” said Mr. William Ewing, the author of “Face: The New Photographic Portrait”. “There is nothing comparable in the history of photography.”
Mr. Bull used a combination of digital tools and technical know-how that has become routine for his generation. By adroitly joining digital still photography, computer software, and the Internet, he turned a student art project characterized principally by self-absorption into a global phenomenon. Before now it was just about impossible to do what Dan Bull has done.
Just one facet of the film project took real devotion: Mr. Bull’s daily routine of snapping his own picture for nearly two days. The other part — transforming a portrait that had attracted no attention into a film that is riveting — was almost too easy.
One June afternoon, Dan Bull downloaded the digital self-portrait he had taken that morning into his desktop computer, set the film to a shadowy and insistent soundtrack and wrote the credits and title.
Making the film took four minutes. That’s all. Then Mr. Bull, like millions of others of his generation for whom stylized digital self-portraits are an important personal message and a form of self-actualization, posted it to YouTube. The response, he said, was instantaneous and unnerving. Thousands of young people, who regard the Internet as a vast digital campfire, found the video, shared links with their friends and built an enormous audience that is growing every day.
“Until that moment it was always a still-photography project,” Mr. Bull said. “A friend suggested that it could be a movie. I was never convinced it would really work.”
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the new age of digital portraiture is the ease with which photographers, professional or amateur, can so easily produce images, videos, sequences and other projects that are dramatic, fresh and interesting.
Whether the other project qualifies as art is in dispute in some quarters of the photography world. Richard Benson, a photographer, painter, and professor of photography at Yale University since 1979, called them “a complete waste of time.”
“This guy doesn’t know what he is doing,” Mr. Benson said. “I find it completely boring.”
But Mr. Ewing and Mr. Benson say such views may reflect generational insecurity, prompted by the old-guard notion that good work that isn’t laborious isn’t worth much. Mr. Bull’s video is a dramatic challenge to those conventions, Mr. Ewing said because it breaks barriers, has helped to establish a new form of portraiture and sets a new standard of audience interest.
Mr. Bull’s instinct for narrative makes the film work. The soundtrack, which Bull now sells on the Internet, is appropriately portentous. Mr. Bull doesn’t age, though at times he looks worn. His gaze doesn’t waver.
“He hypnotizes you with those eyes,” Mr. Ewing said. “The background and hairstyle enhance a frenetic pace, the feeling of hurtling through space. But there is also a sense of a kind of dispassionate distance, the feeling of being the observer. in this film, there is a sense of infinite possibility. It’s a remarkable piece.”
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