Notes on the "Reading-Image"

story © Michael Betancourt, April 27, 2018 all rights reserved.


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Reading is a particular engagement with letterforms guided by the audience’s familiarity with written and textual languages, a distinct and parallel mode of engagement from their visual perceptions: an encounter that resolves the visuality::legibility dynamic into a “natural” hierarchy where legibility always dominates. In contradistinction to how motion graphics overlap with some of the concerns established in graphic design’s use of typography, their superficial relationship to established methodology does not alter the essential difference that movement and development-over-time makes for lexical recognition. Motion typography allows a delay in this assertion of order without undermining or challenging it by presenting the process of lexical recognition as the emergence of legibility: the separation between the recognition of language, and the ability to identify and read the contents presented. This procedural demonstration expands the autonomous and internalized activity of recognition—interpretation into the emergence of letterforms, allowing the transition from illegible to legible to become an expressive subject. This excess arises in the three modes kinetic, graphic, and chronic that define this semiotic process immanent in/as the “making sense” of letterforms in motion. The distinct engagements with non-lexical dimensions of typography and design these modes provide have their foundations in static typography and the printed page, but exceed them because the addition of motion is transformative, allowing the presentation of interpretive processes through animated motion.

The apparently obvious role of time in comprehending typography and images is a feature of motion pictures that does not appear in the fixed format of printed text and graphic design. Instead, of the page, the stream of pictures in a movie (that may include words) offers the possibility of dramatic transformations and the projection of the typically internal process of figuring out what something is into the revelation of that thing on-screen. The time of discovery defines the recognitions and assignment of values combined into words, sentences, lines, paragraphs and on into the higher-level structure of pages, chapters and books; in cinema, the internal and instant decisions that render text as immanent can and do expand into the “reading-image” as a exploration of the articulation’s expressiveness.

In describing the kinetic, graphic and chronic modes of the “reading-image,” what unites them is their shifted engagement: they are an alternative to the narrative and realist foundations of Giles Deleuze’s’ “movement-image.” In place of a referential basis in the fictive world on film, the “reading-image” describes a series of expressive functions that augment the lexicality of text: the kinetic, graphic and chronic dimensions of motion typography that impact and alter the meaning of the words themselves. It is an externalization of the reading process as the presentation of text on-screen in which the mediating role of time allows a separation between visuality::legibility.

Motion graphics reveals its historical origins in the abstract, avant-garde (or experimental) film through the “reading-image” and its non-narrative, non-lexical engagement with language. These foundations with works that articulate their meaning through visual structures with analogous organization to musical structures that build significance through formal means of rhythmic, harmonious, conceptual and graphic orchestrations on-screen and synchronized with their soundtracks test and challenge our abilities to create meaning and significance within an ad hoc and dynamic relationship between immanence and past experience. Instead of looking to conceive of the screen as an imaginary window into a fictive world whose space-environment is an expression of the dynamic between naturalism::stylization familiar from realist dramas, the “reading-image” draws attention to the surface of the screen as a field in which complex representational and lexical operations can occur. Changing the conception of motion picture from shot to frame, from transparent window to opaque screen is precisely what the heritage of avant-garde cinema means for motion graphics.

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  April 27, 2018  all rights reserved.

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