Belinda Reich

Annotated Bibliography…of GIFs

Topic: The development and application of GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) in visual art.

  • Burgess, Jean. “'All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us?' Viral Video, YouTube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture.” In Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube, edited by Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer 101-109. Amsterdam: Institute of Network, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2016.

Burgess is a professor of Digital Media Studies at Queensland University of Technology and in this article she examines viral media content with an emphasis on the participatory culture that creates much on the content.  Burgess gives examples of some of the most popular videos online and also explains how creation can flourish around corporate released product such as music videos. For a large chunk of GIFs, this is where they originate: from studio and corporate made audio-visual product. She continues on to use the examples of amateur made content that build large participation and creation around it. While this is not important to my research per se, participatory culture is important to GIF creation. The online participation Burgess speaks about includes “parodies, mashups and remixes”. While this is a good examination of participatory culture, this article will not form part of my research. If I do talk about participatory culture I will use Burgess’ citation of Henry Jenkins.

Eppink is an Associate Curator of Digital Media at Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and in this article he attempts to give a thorough history of the GIF, from it’s technological beginnings to where they may fit in the history of the moving image. He provides a great deal of technological information, and how the formation of GIFs are very much bound up with early internet users and culture and an ‘ethos of the commons’, which will make this article useful. He also points out that the technical limitations of a platform can produce an aesthetic effect on the GIFs that can give them a similar feeling or appearance, such as saturated colours on Tumblr.


Eppink is interviewed for the Library of Congress blog that is centred on digital preservation. The interviewer, Owens, raises a number if interesting questions pertaining to GIFs, mainly in the context of curating GIFs in museums, as Eppink has done. The exhibition is The Reaction GIF: Moving Image As Gesture. Eppink explains what GIFs are and specifically what Reaction GIFs are, his thoughts on the role they play in a linguistic sense, and how the GIF can enhance communication by substituting our own gestures with that of a set of appropriated frames that form the GIF. They also discuss authorship of GIFs, or more specifically the de-emphasization of authorship. Obviously authorship is of value for an artist working in the GIF medium, so this idea of the move away from authorship will be of use in my research, along with his thoughts on gesture and language.

Feifer is the executive editor at Entrepreneur magazine. In this article he explores the company Giphy, an online and mobile app platform for creating and sharing GIFs, with millions of searchable GIFs in their database. The company is seemingly at the forefront of these kinds of applications and this article identifies areas where Giphy are pushing their product and service, and therefore having a large influence in the culture and future direction of the GIF online. As an example they have begun live GIFing, along with creating licensing deals with major content producers such as Hollywood studios to create GIFs that result in millions of views of their content. The article also explains how they are working on further mashups, with images and imported data combined to create a new kind of GIF. This article is important for me to understand how platform companies shape and propel the use of GIFs, and the underlying mechanisms in their use and the creation of audience. Giphy is also working on ways to mechanize the production of GIFs made of popular content, creating a software system that autonomously records and creates GIFs, eliminating the need for people to create the GIFs. The co-founder sees that Giphy has create a massive searchable database of emotion and experience, which is an interesting concept for my research. He also believes that people within popular culture are conducting themselves to be interpreted into highly shareable GIFs, giving the example of music videos and politicians.

Artist and writer Hagman’s aim is to illustrate that the effectiveness of the GIF lays in its communicative value, using predominantly gestures, be that of a person or object. Particularly for GIFs made with pre-existing footage, he contends that the looping gesture creates cinema anew and has the power to create strangeness in moving images again, liberating the original footage from its need to ‘carry out narrative goals’. A goal or destination never reached. Hagman employs narrative cinema theory in several ways throughout the article, to good effect. This article will be of use for my research in that regard, along with his ideas on gesture.

  • Highfield, Tim and Duguay, Stefanie. “Like A Monkey With A Miniature Cymbal: Cultural Practices Of Repetition In Visual Social Media.” IR16: Association of Internet Researchers Annual Conference, October 21-24, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2016).

Highfield and Duguay are researchers at Queensland University of Technology, and in this conference paper they have begun a textural analysis of ‘looping visuals’ on social media, using in particular LGBTQ cultural context on Tumblr and Vine videos as their pilot study. They indicate that the textural analysis is supplemented by looking at the technology and platform ownership, citing “van Dijck’s (2013) approach to ‘disassembling platforms’”. Their research (thus far) is limited in its use in my research to foundational ideas of the GIF, which is helpful in its self. Their bibliography is also of help in identifying foundational ideas, particularly ‘mimetic practices’ and ‘vernacular creativity.'

Manovich is a professor of Computer Science at City University of New York. Early in this article Manovich cites Eduardo Navas (see my bibliography entry on his book chapter) as a resource for remix culture. Manovich sees the remix as an era defining function, seen in an array of cultural activities from digital communications and software, to music and fashion. He gives a brief contextualization of how the remix came to be and where it is now, drawing historical precedents of appropriation, quoting and collage, and technological changes. The main objective of the article is to examine what comes next, which he fails to answer or take on in any length or depth. While the article was unsatisfactory in that respect, it is a good question and Manovich defines remix culture well. This article may come into my research and will look into more of Manovichs’ writing.

Murray, a journalist and editor, writing for the website for technology news, writes about the history of remixing and mash-ups and its broader applications in art and music, and provides examples. He brings up issues of copyright. This is a good overview of recent visual remix work, identifying older assemblage works as done by Joseph Cornell, to newer remixes made for a YouTube audience (‘Vidding’). As shown elsewhere, this author does not differentiate between remix and mash-up, which are different, but does give a great overview of remix culture, which may be useful.

  • Navas, Eduardo. “Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture.” In Mashup Cultures, edited by Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, 157-177. New York: Springer Springer Vienna Architecture, 2010.

Navas, from Pennsylvania State University, puts forth a definition and differentiation between remix and mashup, and identifies categories within each one. He identifies reflexive mashups as something that exists in a Web 2.0 world, and of interest to me in the evolution of the GIF, with its relatively new ability to mashup images with streaming data. Navas calls this Regenerative Remix, and he posits that one element needs to be in a state of change to mirror the constant change in discourse. The crux of remix culture is centred on the digital technological advancements made in the past several decades, beginning with music sampling in the 60s and 70s. Much like GIFs, as in music, creators reinterpret pre-existing material. Navas explores Jacque Attali’s definition of Representation and Repetition and similarly Fredric Jameson’s logic of postmodernism being a progression of modernism and capitalism, and the idea of modernism being ‘mashed up’ with postmodernism in a plurality. There are many useful ideas and theory leads for me to pursue in this chapter.

The article by Pogue is located in the magazine Scientific American and explores the trend online of low-fi oddities (including GIF), in comparison to an off-line world of hi-resolution image and sound technology, and his theories of why this is so. He puts forth three theories of why this is happening. Each idea will be useful in my research, from his explanation of the technical and bandwidth limitations which GIF force us to embrace, to the creative challenge imposed by the medium’s limitations that require quick, precise expression. The limitations of the article are its brevity and lack of depth, but some good ideas to look for in others’ research.

Poulaki is a lecturer in film and digital media arts at University of Surrey. In this article Poulaki speaks of loops, so includes video, Vines and GIFs, all with similar durational characteristics. She states that loops are used commonly online to “illustrate and communicate thoughts, emotions and moods”, and compares the short loop as a micro-video blog tool, to Twitter’s micro-blogging function. She also points out that GIFs are a series of still images run together, whereas Vines are video loops. Poulaki addresses the difference between background loops and foreground loops, claiming the background loop may be used to “prolong the duration on non-action” such as a log burning in a fireplace. She situates the gesture as a foreground loop and sees them as displaying “narrativity or narrative probing”, and in the case of Vines, mini-narratives. These distinctions will be of use in my research.


Rourke wrote this article when he was a practice-based PhD student at Goldsmiths, in the UK.  The aim of the article is to identify the most common types of GIF that are viewable in an online environment. Rourke categorises GIFs into ten distinct types and examines them in the context of them being quick and abundant forms of “mimetic faculty” expression, drawing briefly on Walter Benjamin’s thoughts. The article is useful for my research as a jumping off point for the idea of “mimetic faculty” and how that relates to the GIF, as well as containing a useful guide to breaking down the types of GIF found online, and their defining characteristics.

Co-founded by Intel, the Creative Project is a website specializing in creativity, art and technology with this article written by journalist/artist Sugarman. He aims to highlight artists using GIFs to create ‘art’. Highlighted artist explain how they see GIFs as photography with the added dimension on time, occupying a middle ground between still and moving images. The artist would like to see GIFs moved from online to real physical space.

The article also talks about remix culture being the bedrock of the online GIF culture, and how successful GIFs emanate wit and irreverence, build on bad taste and remixed popular culture. This article is useful to illustrate how more ‘art’ oriented GIFs have evolved out of internet culture and the more commonly seen ‘reaction’ GIFs, and all go hand in hand with the remix ethos. There are many links to such artists in this article that may be useful as illustrating examples.

Walker, writing for the self-described ‘libertarian’ magazine, Reason, explains the popularity of GIFs online. Walker aims to inform of a revival of short films online, and in a trend for shorter formats, explains that GIFs have become very popular online. He uses the example of  ‘frame capture’ GIFs as a point of difference for the exploration of GIF ‘art’, which he defines as photography with movement, animation, movement in panel cartoons, and collage. Walker’s scope is very narrow and only highlights several artists, but does illustrate some nice examples. If I do use this source, it will be to locate artists working in GIF to use as examples.

Zittrain is a professor of internet law at Harvard Law School, and author on the subject, and in this article he elaborates on internet culture and the way memes operate and travel on the internet. While this has some relevance to the GIF, in that they can become ‘viral’ and travel through networked environments, this article does not specifically address GIFs and is more about the legal rights of public members becoming the subject of a meme. Therefore, this article will not be useful in my research.

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