Gaits and gestures

The sequence we’ve just seen is the initial one of L’Ordre [the order, the disposition] by the director Jean-Daniel Pollet, shot in 1973 mainly in the ex leper colony (functioning from 1903 till 1953) in the Greek island of Spinalonga part of the Crete archipelago.  In 1973 the island isn’t anymore (since twenty years) a leper colony and the director reconstructs the story of a structure of enclosure starting from its abandonment, gradually and with intervals passing from a contemporaneity, the one of the director, to a past time and addressing then the gaze toward a possible time to come. The initial sequence opens, as we saw, with an entering, a particular kind of entry to a place. I wouldn’t define this entry nor a subjective shot, nor a real dolly, but a movement which vibrates between these two ways to give shape to a place in its crossing. The smooth movements are then irregularly suspended with shorter and quicker sequences, where open other shreds of landscape we’ll pass through.
The title of this workshop is «Gaits and gestures». In particular we will pause today and tomorrow on walking, and we will have the possibility to see how this form of movement isn’t a simple one at all. We’ve already seen in this short sequence how to walk is something wider, able to give shape both to our everyday reality and – in a different way – cinematographically to a situation and a place.
Another footnote I would like to add is that the examples I will show during this presentation are shown in order to open our imagination toward different ways of crossing places, the effort we should do is therefore the one of searching not exemplary forms, which, at my sight, are instead to be searched here, that is from the space and the time of this collective work. We’ll rather look for suggestions.
To walk is part of those actions and movements marking also a particular passage in our infancy and this moment is the one of learning, apprehending, beginning. This means that, as with other countless movements and with language, it is something that we do not have inscribed since our birth, rather we start this movement from a certain moment on in our life. Instead of beginning offering a possible definition I would like you to near to it as in infancy: if from one side it is true that it is possible to problematize the form of habit in our way of walking that we assumed within time, from the other what we would like to think together is the learning of how to walk in images-in-movement.
Another way on how to intend the approach I’m proposing is in assonance with the move that the Cinémathèque Francais did in the preservation or, even better, the translation of the photographs by Etienne-Julies Marey (and also in the cinematographic translation of the photographs by Edward Muybridge), that is in the temporality of images. We’ll notice the need of a rhythm with an extended articulation, or at least the desire to question different articulations of time.

The street, to get over the frame of a microdrama, of a microsociology. From where does this liberation of language in and through the street? Prohibitions disappear, all that was bound to home, abode, school, temple. As if the words pronounced in the abode would risk to remain and compromise it, as if the disputes behind closed doors would run the risk to take a dramatic and intolerable pace […] Outside they will not be husbands anymore, nor brides or sons, but men and women speaking in person, in the same way in which we breath, we walk, we digest.  [Pierre Sansot, Poetique de la ville, Klincksieck, 1971, p. 177]

In this short excerpt by Pierre Sansot it is evident for everyone a strong dissonance with what we face in our daily experience of the street and in our relation with it, a dissonance that I find in some way near, even if not totally identical, to the way in which we can intend our way of learning how to walk, that is by imitation – someone wrote an excellent form of imitation – and the walking as physiognomy of our body – in the same way in which Honoré de Balzac describes it in his text Theory of walking [Théorie de la démarche, 1883]. The physiognomy (etymologically, the knowing of a nature) can be seen as a way to gather aspects and forms characterizing a typology for the distinction a nature. And so, saying it with other words, how is it possible that something we learn by replicating, repeating, imitating a multiplicity of movements become at the same time something through which we are identified? And simultaneously, but differently, how is it possible that something that we singularly appropriate is, at the same time, something placing us in common with a multiplicity of other singularities?
To walk is a form of movement which potentially is open to transformation, multiplication, simulation and, more poetically, to theatralization, but it is also a form of movement that was historically incorporated to techniques, disciplines and forms of government of the body. Today we are assisting, as one hundred years ago (even if in a different way) to the use of techniques of registration, or even better, codification informing this very special movement.

Spot Vicon telecamere e sistemi informatici modello T-series

I’ve decided to show you this particular spot by the production company Vicon (working mainly in France and Belgium) when and because while I was preparing this workshop, I reflected upon a device I noticed at the airport of Bruxelles. If you ever go to this airport, you will pass at some point through a very long corridor with a tapis-roulant connecting two sides of the transit area. This tapis roulant goes to an incredibly slow speed. For this reason, before you’ll reach not even half of the corridor, you’ll automatically start to walk (except the ones that could find a form of pleasure in spending more than five minutes in the heart of the airport in a tunnel without any window). At half of the path on the right and left sides of the corridor there are two big screens reproducing in an infrared image your silhouette in movement. As I was saying, the first time I passed through this corridor I couldn’t avoid thinking at biometrics and in particular at the gait identifiers. It is for this coincidence that I’ve chosen, among many others and maybe even more developed ones, this specific company for cameras and biometrics technology.

Biometrics is that discipline devoted in transforming and relating biology – an existence exclusively considered on a biological point of view – with measurement. In a more specific way it can be the examination in mathematical terms, but mostly statistical ones, of physiological and behavioural variables.
If until today we could have considered as classical methods the ones focused on facial traits’, digital prints’ and the voices’ clues, already since ten years the techniques started to consider the possibility of incorporating also the gait. In this kind of context, walking is translated into a unique attitude, subjective for each man. In 2000 started the more intensive studies and the gait identifier systems are still in development, but in some recent articles they’ve guessed that in the next five years these systems we’ll be available on the market. The gait identifiers are just a part of a much wider group which is the behavioural biometrics. We should therefore imagine that under this umbrella a much broader quantity of everyday life passes through statistical calculations and normalization. An example is given by another kind of system, which is already on a similar phase of development, the Steps Identifier.

One of the main reasons why faith, but mostly money was given for the development of this new techniques is that, differently from the other old systems, they do not require any kind of interaction with the subject, instead it is necessary that the person in question is sufficiently far and unaware of being recorded. It is interesting to underline how the different studies published by the inventors and developers of those systems introduce the arguments, for persuading investors and governments, with the assertion that unawareness determines acceptance by the ones paradoxically called «users», that is also clients. The second reason is the cheapness of the technology involved, because from a technical point of view the intention is the one of using not sophisticated video cameras, but I would say, excellent calculations.
The start of the research and production of the gait identifier systems was suggested by psychology, which considered and let emerge under a different light an aspect we experience everyday, the one of recognizing people we know, often also at big distances, by their way of walking. It is in this way that scientists start to wander about a code able to identify us, a presumed or produced code.
The systems use video sensors capturing a lateral view. They developed cameras with a low number of information and images quality, yet maintaining some needed dimensions. At the beginning the procedures were using a great number of collected data, data coming often from the same institutes and universities were they were researching, and it was done also because the attempt was the one of deriving a formula from the simple accumulation of different samples. In biometrics the variation is something that has to be, in some way, tolerated, which is to say often excluded, as with gait the level of tolerance should be really high, being the variables very wide and differentiated: the kind of terrain on which one walks, the kind of dressing, possible weight loaded, shoes and maybe also mood, tiredness, etc…
The first move is the one of identifying a normal walk and from there a cyclicity in the gait, extracting a behaviour and a periodical movement, that is divisible in periods. In the wide range of possible formulations attempting the identification in a sufficiently effective way, there are two big groups or schools, the one with and the one without a model, yet both of them aim to extract characteristics, that is characters’ clues.
For what regards the systems using models, the research and techniques costs, as well as the one for data elaboration are really high.
This is a small example of a database in which samples were collected.

The second approach (the one without model) consists in extracting characteristics of positions, speed, form, texture and colour of an optical stream or flow, from here it is then possible to define a typology.
The camera in those systems is necessarily static and needs an entire figure. An important passage is the one of getting rid of the background, separating a silhouette in movement from the static background, for this operation are often used infrared camera systems (as for example the one of the Bruxelles airport). The persistency of the cycle is taken into account together with the possibility of also considering the size and form of other body parts, as legs’ length, trunk and their respective relations. From the silhouette, in the case of the «Bundle rectangle approach», a rectangle is drawn on the ends of the body parts and the calculations starts from the dimensions and deformations of this rectangle.

From here on it is pure mathematics, that is to say that the codifications of information and the extraction of algorithms starts. The video cameras that are experimented and produced are actually sensors recording systems transmitting information and the first codification is assigned to a particular modelling software. Indeed Vicon, next to the production of recording systems and codifying and modelling softwares for the so-called «life science», is occupied with modelling of artificial forms, known also as animation.
The aim in researching a formula able to synthesize the specificity in the movement of walking is to identify, to normalize and afterwards also to regulate a form.
The scientific research, not only for normative purposes, related with the walking had a central role already in the first half of the nineteenth century. And this was thanks to the effort of anatomists, physiologists and physicist that will give shape to a discipline that only toward the end of the century will near the classification of social typologies. A relevant contribution was given by the brothers Ernst Heinrich Weber, Wilhelm Eduard Weber and Eduard Friedrich Weber, that collaborated for the researches in the field of physics, anatomy and locomotion. Ernst Heinrich and Wilhelm Eduard Weber will publish in 1836 their study, «Mechanik der menschlichen Gehwerkzeuge» [Mechanics of the human gait’s tools]. The body becomes here an instrument, or even a machine, that can load weights, dividable in parts: legs, trunk, head and arms.

The images of support or validation for the research followed the bone structure gait, schematizing the possible moves, but later Ernst Heinrich and Wilhelm Eduard Weber will use and will develop also new animation machines, as the ones that were experimented by Joseph Plateau and Simon Stampfer, respectively the Phenakistiscope and the Stampfer Disk, or as the Zoetrope or Dedalo by George William Horner (1834).

Next to the invention of new machines that would have been able to reproduce the movement, in our case the one of walking, the inscription of gaits, that is the attempt of being able to decipher a functioning, was initially addressed at re-directing the adoption of a correct gait. The definition of a modality, of a functioning was therefore simultaneously definition of a normality and a pathology, and in the case of the normality, the correct gait was the one that would have been informed through the military service and the educational structures, such as the schools.
But during the first half of the nineteenth century, among all the scientists, Etienne-Jules Marey was certainly the most named one for his researches on the human movement, moreover he is mentioned as an exemplary figure in the recent reports on the development of the gait identifiers.
I would like now, following the suggestion of a researcher in photography, Marta Braun, to propose you a comparison between two bodies of work that in a different way approached the relations between body movements and the ones of images and that exactly because of that were considered the initiators of cinema, for some historians archived in the pre-cinema experiments (together with the works by Plateau and Stampfer we just mentioned): namely the works by the physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey and the photographer Edward Muybridge.
Etienne-Jules Marey was a physiologist and worked at the Cochin Hospital in France. His first studies focused on blood circulation, the wider attempt was the one of being able to comprehend the movement of the living being. In 1869 he was nominated for the chair of Natural History of the body at the College de France and it’s here that he started to record all which is moving: the animal locomotion (with their pathologies), the cats jumps and the movement of the words (a really interesting research in its relation with linguistics). I would like to recall you what I mentioned at the beginning of this presentation, to search for a time as in the work done by the Cinémathèque Francais for the preservation of Marey’s photographs. I will show you now in fact some videos part of the collection of the editing done with Marey’s pictures, remembering you that the systems reproducing the movement at Marey’s time, the means at disposal were totally different from the ones we nowadays have.

Étienne Jules Marey and Georges Demenÿ – Chronophotographic films

Among this videos also the work Marey done together with Georges Demenÿ and that invented the Phonoscope (it isn’t yet a sound recorder) with the desire to invent a machine in particular for deaf people.  Going back to Marey, the first methods were precisely the ones experimented together with Demenÿ using graphical systems; one of the most known was the system which was operating tying up to the birds’ wings a beaten gold paillette and projecting a sun ray, in order to be able to follow the oscillation of the points.

After the first graphical experiments Marey started quite soon to use photography, in fact in 1882 the city of Paris offered him a photographic studio. Inspired by the American photographer Thomas Eakins, Marey developed a new model of the photographic gun.

In Neaples Marey tooks images following the gull’s flight and one of Marey’s assistant will later tell the story of the French scientist’s nickname given by the locals, «the madman of Posillipo». They saw in fact Marey several times pointing for a long time the birds with his strange machinegun without shooting, nor seeing any bird falling down, and after this long time he would put back the gun visibly satisfied.
Both Marey and Muybridge used the Phenakistoscope to let their images move and Marey also built a zoetrope with three dimensional models of seagulls at various intervals of their flight cycle.

One of the first images in movement, that is a filmic image, is from 1889 and represents a hand opening and closing.
With the photographic gun Marey is able to shoot twelve images in sequence at the speed of 1/720 of a second. It is in 1882 that Marey invented chronophotography, getting to control time, separating each shot: a photographic writing of the modifications of the forms within time. The photographic camera allows the superimposition on the same plate of the different shots through the shifting of the shutter closure. The shuttering works through the movement of a fenestrated rotating disk. In this picture you can see the rear of the camera.

and the pictures realized by Marey.

The men hired to walk at the Center for Physiology were often athletes from the military school of Joinville and we can already see in these pictures how graphical systems and photographic language are crossing and intersecting.

The story telling how Edward Muybridge started his work on the photography of the movement is known, what interests us here is to understand how he took his pictures and the different approaches of Muybridge and Marey. In order to capture the horse running, Muybridge sets twelve cameras on a line, each of them is tied with a string to the release button and the string is perpendicular to the horse path, so that the horse passing breaks the string activating the button. Through inclined panels Muybridge was able to gather enough light and expose the plates with humid colloid (with the discovery of the silver bromide gelatine the exposure times will reach in his photographs 1/500 of a second). Muybridge will get to use up to twenty-five photo cameras.

This is an editing of the first shots by Muybridge, I think it is misleading in relation with his work, and we will understand later on the reason why. But it is important to look at what happens in the background.
Both Muybridge and Marey used a procedure of initial decomposition of movement, but in Muybridge I would speak of a following moment of recomposition, while with Marey I would rather speak of synthesis.
Muybridge, as we saw with the running horse, uses different takes, that is different points of view, while Marey uses a single point of view on the action and focuses on the rigorous decomposition in different and sequential phases, there is in some way a continuity. Marey will locate in a line on the same celluloid band his views following the order of the persistence of vision (retinal persistence), that was believed to be of twelve images per second. It was Joseph Plateau that invented the theory of the retinal persistence, imagining that a light impression would last on the retina in a persistent manner, therefore also after the act of vision and for one twelfth of a second, he will conclude in 1829 that images follow one another more than twelve per second for giving the impression of movement.
Going back to Muybridge instead the recomposition, or even better the composition of the photographic movement coincides with the juxtaposition and the spatial coexistence of different points of view. Marey realizes a continuous time, Muybridge proposes a simultaneous time unfolded in the shape of an album or a collection of different elements.

In this sense I find much more interesting this editing proposal done with Muybridge photographs: it remains much more near to the intention, distanciating from the reproduction of a continuum between one shot and the other.
We can say that with chronophotography the movement becomes the mere sequence of distinct facts where body becomes the displaying set. I would not conclude, as many researchers did, the for Marey the aim was just a pure visibility.
Despite the impressive work done by Marey on the fluids, many critics pointed out the difficulties he had in confronting the waves movements using the same technique. I like to recall this example confronting it with an excerpt from a text by Gilles Deleuze in which the philosopher reflects on swimming, and I think it is possible to near it also with the walk in some way. Deleuze says:

Alors, au contraire je sais nager, ça ne veut pas dire forcément que j’ai une connaissance mathématique ou physique, scientifique du mouvement de la vague, ça veut dire que j’ai un savoir faire. Un savoir faire étonnant, c’est-à-dire que j’ai une espèce de sens du rythme. La rythmicité. Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire le rythme? Ça veut dire que mes rapports caractéristiques je sais les composer directement avec les rapports de la vague. Ça se passe plus entre la vague et moi, c’est-à-dire ça se passe plus entre les parties extensives, les parties mouillées de la vague, et les parties de mon corps, ça se passe entre les rapports. Les rapports qui composent la vague, bon, les rapports qui composent mon corps, et mon habileté, lorsque je sais nager, à présenter mon corps sous des rapports qui se composent directement avec les rapports de la vague. Alors c’est: Je plonge au bon moment, je ressort au bon moment, j’évite la vague qui approche ou au contraire je m’en sers, etc. Tout cet art de la composition des rapports. [Gilles Deleuze, Cours sur Spinoza]

To explore the different points of view in a movement can also mean to explore the different and small relations composing a gesture and recompose them following the rhythmic of this multiplicity. So, if it’s true that for Marey the body writes and it is just a question of being able to read it, for Muybridge every movement is related to a body proper of that precise movement, that is that movements are never dissociated from the bodies.

Yet there is an important note to add, there is in fact for the photographer a form of social hierarchy between bodies, through which customs, the habits of an epoch, have been inscribed. The customs, as the habits are intended here as manners, modalities in which a gait is constructed following the different postures or the different ways of articulating the movements that can place in common different singularities. In her research on Muybridge Marta Braun found out together with the cyanotypes also the notes that the photographer was taking during his work and in reading them she suggested a sort of rule, for example dictating the choice of having naked or dressed subjects in his pictures. Nakedness was apparently reserved for young women and men, athletes and students to which, in the files, was also assigned the common or proper name, dressed were instead, and also with their family name, married women and mothers.

Another note that should be added regards the grid we’ve seen until now and on which we didn’t pose yet. It was apparently inherited by the ethnographer John Lamprey, that used it for the first time in 1869 for his ethnographic images, that he will call anthropometries (the judicial anthropometry was introduced later on by Bertillon).

Muybridge worked for the Pennsylvania University and his work has to be considered in relation with this scientifical context. At that time the university had also many members interested in anthropometric studies. But it is also important to stress how the non linearity of the photographic composition, for example in the corpus on Human Figures in motion, would affect and make difficult any immediate scientific reading. This difficulty is mainly dictated by the way in which the photographer mounted his photographs on the plates, composing them in horizontal stripes in sequence but including between one passage and another something that can be maybe neared to the cinematic ellipse, an interruption, a pause suggesting another passage, a passage as a persistence between one sequence and the next one.

The spectator finds himself going around the body, in his gaze he composes the movement, also thanks to those ellipses, to those phases between one sequence and the other one. Yet, it is right in this moment I think it is enough evident how my interest in showing here these photographs was not for reconstructing the history of the differences between cinema and photography, rather suggesting perhaps how through the cinematographic image what is at stake is the gestural expressiveness, or a gesture rediscovered again in the folding and discontinuities rather than in a continuous flow, or even better in the intervals opening between a flow and a possible phase. Also another element has to be pointed out, that is that there are at least three if not multiple factors at stake: the position of the point of view, its relation with other ones and with the means, and the body in movement (the one created in the image in its relation with the spectator).
In Muybridge photographs the indication or the suggestion is that there are infinite and multiple points of view and that the simple formulation of a singular one is already the beginning of a movement, that is that the form of being able to sense, to perceive is a bearer of a form of life, of one of its own possible forms.

Trying to articulate the images of Marey and the ones of Muybridge, being capable of gathering them, it is if two times, two rhythms articulate themselves; in these rythms Marey’s pictures extend horizontally, offering quasi a panoramic view, eliminating the particular cases in order to follow the fluidity of movement (Marey himself compares his work with the writing of a score where it is a matter of expressing graphically, in a certain sense and for his view, fugitive movements, delicate and complex ones). Also, if Marey imposed a time of permanence in order to observe the movement, Muybridge reproduces the movement through the shifting of the observation of the image. Trying to translate it in other terms, it is if from one side we are searching for  synthesis of a reality and on the other side we would look for a possibility in the attempt of articulating a problem.

Before passing to the screening of some film excerpts, we can try to conclude. To walk indicates a multiplicity of gestures and relations, and we can suggest that the images reproducing a gestural expressiveness, in the case of cinema, can be in a very simple and initial way composed by three moments: from one side we have the frame, as a passing image, the framing determines a place which is just provisionally limited and constantly addressed toward the out of field, the cuts, the cuts can be the movements of this distribution and in the editing we can imagine the variations of the movement. The intensity in images is the degree of potential, or a form of sensation putting in common and differentiating too the movement in its daily unfolding and in the images. Between these two movement what I like to imagine is that in cinema there can be, as when we learn to walk, a form of stumbling, as I could have discovered it in a sequence from the film Kairo by Kyoshi Kurosawa.

J’étais donc au milieu de cette cour, où tròne le mouvement, et j’y regardais avec insouciance les différentes scènes qui s’y passaient, lors-qu’un voyageur tombe de la rotonde à terre, comme une grenouille effrayée qui s’élance à l’eau. Mais, en sautant, cet homme fut forcé, pour ne pas choir, de tendre les mains au mur du bureau près duquel était la voiture, et de s’y appuyer légèrement. Voyant cela, je me demandai pourquoi. Certes, un savant aurait répondu : – Parce qu’il allait perdre son centre de gravité? […] En cette conjoncture, par une de ces déterminations qui restent un secret entre l’homme et Dieu, cet ami du voyageur fit un ou deux pas. Mon faubourien tomba, la main en avant, jusqu’au mur, sur lequel il s’appuya ; mais, après avoir parcouru toute la distance qui se trouvait entre le mur et la hauteur à laquelle arrivait sa tête quand il était debout, espace que je représenterais scientifiquement par un angle de quatre-vingt-dix degrés, l’ouvrier, emporté par le poids de sa main, s’était plié, pour ainsi dire, en deux. Il se releva la face turgide et rougie, moins par la colère que par un effort inattandu. [Honoré de Balzac, Thèorie de la démarche, Eudène Didier, Paris, 1833, pp. 20-22]

In a scene from Kairo a phantom appears to one of the main carachters, but in manifesting itself, the ghost loses for a moment the equilibrium, and I could have never distinguished if it was intended as the moment before an attack, a catlike jump. I always liked to imagine it as if in its becoming image the ghost was starting to learn how to walk.

In Japanese Kairo means circuit, the film is by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and shot in 2001. Follows a selection of film excerpts, among them Wanda, 1970 film by Barbara Loden, Russian Ark, 2002 film by Alexander Sokurov, Lost Lost Lost by Jonas Mekas, 2076, D’Est by Chantal Akerman, 1993, Place de la Republique by Louis Malle, 1974, Let Each One Go Where He May, Ben Russel, Chung Kuo Cina by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1972, Intervals by Peter Greenaway, 1973 and other films.