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Sean Cubitt

Sean Cubitt is Professor of Film and Television at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Cinema Effect and the coeditor of Relive: Media Art Histories, both published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

A Genealogy of Visual Technologies from Prints to Pixels

Light is the condition of all vision, and the visual media are our most important explorations of this condition. The history of visual technologies reveals a centuries-long project aimed at controlling light. In this book, Sean Cubitt traces a genealogy of the dominant visual media of the twenty-first century—digital video, film, and photography—through a history of materials and practices that begins with the inventions of intaglio printing and oil painting. Attending to the specificities of inks and pigments, cathode ray tubes, color film, lenses, screens, and chips, Cubitt argues that we have moved from a hierarchical visual culture focused on semantic values to a more democratic but value-free numerical commodity.

Cubitt begins with the invisibility of black, then builds from line to surface to volume and space. He describes Rembrandt’s attempts to achieve pure black by tricking the viewer and the rise of geometry as a governing principle in visual technology, seen in Dürer, Hogarth, and Disney, among others. He finds the origins of central features of digital imaging in nineteenth-century printmaking; examines the clash between the physics and psychology of color; explores the representation of space in shadows, layers, and projection; discusses modes of temporal order in still photography, cinema, television, and digital video; and considers the implications of a political aesthetics of visual technology.

It has been said that all cinema is a special effect. In this highly original examination of time in film Sean Cubitt tries to get at the root of the uncanny effect produced by images and sounds that don't quite align with reality. What is it that cinema does? Cubitt proposes a history of images in motion from a digital perspective, for a digital audience.

From the viewpoint of art history, an image is discrete, still. How can a moving image—constructed from countless constituent images—even be considered an image? And where in time is an image in motion located? Cubitt traces the complementary histories of two forms of the image/motion relationship—the stillness of the image combined with the motion of the body (exemplified by what Cubitt calls the "protocinema of railway travel") and the movement of the image combined with the stillness of the body (exemplified by melodrama and the magic lantern). He argues that the magic of cinema arises from the intertwining relations between different kinds of movement, different kinds of time, and different kinds of space.

He begins with a discussion of "pioneer cinema," focusing on the contributions of French cinematic pioneers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He then examines the sound cinema of the 1930s, examining film effects in works by Eisenstein, Jean Renoir, and Hollywood's RKO studio. Finally he considers what he calls "post cinema," examining the postwar development of the "spatialization" of time through slow motion, freeze-frame, and steadi-cam techniques. Students of film will find Cubitt's analyses of noncanonical films like Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as enlightening as his fresh takes on such classics as Renoir's Rules of the Game.

Titles by This Editor

Media Art Histories

In Relive, leading historians of the media arts grapple with this dilemma: how can we speak of “new media” and at the same time write the histories of these arts? These scholars and practitioners redefine the nature of the field, focusing on the materials of history—the materials through which the past is mediated. Drawing on the tools of media archaeology and the history and philosophy of media, they propose a new materialist media art history.

The contributors consider the idea of history and the artwork’s moment in time; the intersection of geography and history in regional practice, illustrated by examples from eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand; the contradictory scales of evolution, life cycles, and bodily rhythms in bio art; and the history of the future—how the future has been imagined, planned for, and established as a vector throughout the history of new media arts.

These essays, written from widely diverse critical perspectives, capture a dynamic field at a moment of productive ferment.

Contributors
Susan Ballard, Brogan Bunt, Andrés Burbano, Jon Cates, John Conomos, Martin Constable, Sean Cubitt, Francesca Franco, Darko Fritz, Zhang Ga, Monika Gorska-Olesinska, Ross Harley, Jens Hauser, Stephen Jones, Douglas Kahn, Ryszard W. Kluszczynski, Caroline Seck Langill, Leon Marvell, Rudy Rucker, Edward A. Shanken, Stelarc, Adele Tan, Paul Thomas, Darren Tofts, Joanna Walewska