Shorts, like statements, have a power of their own that might be built upon or aggregated, or that might just as easily remain singular, declaratory, and clear. Whether mini-narratives or the raw assertion of fact, these units have a haunting power, traces of reality that—whether anchored or free-floating—always maintain their power to evoke.

Archive of the Planet

French financier Albert Kahn funded a global effort to document life on Earth, using the new technologies of color photography and motion pictures.

Impressed by the diversity he witnessed during a 1909 business trip to Japan, French banker Albert Kahn contracted a team of photographers and filmmakers to document life worldwide. One of the richest men in Europe, Kahn was able to fund the global photography initiative for more than two decades, during which his team travelled to over 50 countries, compiling more than 72,000 color autochromes and 180,000 meters of film. Patented by France’s Lumiere brothers in 1903, autochrome was the cutting-edge color photography process of the first decades of the 20th century.

The 1929 stock market crash bankrupted Kahn, and financial troubles forced him to suspend the “Archive of the Planet” initiative in 1931. In 1936, the French government acquired Kahn’s photographs, which have been preserved at the Albert Kahn Museum in Paris.



For the first half of the 20th century, newsreels—short compilation films related to the major stories of the day—were one of the primary ways people obtained news.

The first newsreels were created by the French media conglomerate Pathé Frères in 1908. Comprised of brief segments covering the news stories of the day, these silent shorts usually lasted no more than 4 minutes. Within a decade, Pathé issued newsreels biweekly. Their popularity grew during the First World War (1914-1918), and by the 1920s, newsreels were a central part of the cinema-going experience. This Pathé newsreel recaps the major news stories of 1936.

The newsreel format was adopted by Soviet avante garde filmmakers, notably Dziga Vertov. Vertov’s Kino Pravda (“Film Truth”) was a series of 23 shorts focused on workers’ experiences. Vertov believed that his newsreels could help forge class-consciousness. When the people of the Soviet Union could see each other working via Kino Pravda, he argued, it would help them build a greater sense of solidarity.

Vertov’s dreams outstripped Kino Pravda’s influence. Dismissed by critics as too experimental, the newsreel series was discontinued after 3 years.


Encyclopedia Cinematographica

The Encyclopedia Cinematographica was a compilation of scientific and ethnographic shorts documenting the natural world and human behavior.

Soon after the invention of the motion picture camera, scientists and anthropologists realized film could further their research. In the following decades, film shorts that documented natural phenomena and human behavior became central tools in scientific research and anthropology.

The Encyclopedia Cinematographica (EC) harkens back to a mandate for ‘films of subjects for which verbal descriptions are inadequate’ pursued by German filmmakers since before the First World War. Although the current EC took form in the 1950s, its collection of short scientific and ethnographic films, most under two minutes in duration, includes materials gathered as far back as the 1920s. Housed at the Göttingen Institue for Scientific Film (IWF), the EC accepted shorts for research purposes and commissioned scientific works until the collection effectively stopped in the mid-1990s.


Aggregator Television Shows

Television shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos and Cops aggregate short clips to create full-length programs.

Two of America’s longest running television programs, America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC, 1989-Present) and Cops (FOX, 1989-Present) are made of thematically-unified non-fiction shorts, given narrative coherence by a host’s introduction or voiceover commentary. Like newsreels, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Cops are the sum of their parts.

Television shows Tosh.O (Comedy Central, 2009-Present) and The Soup (E!, 2004-Present) use a similar format. A host comments on short clips from web videos or other broadcast television shows to create a full program.


There’s a fine line between things like libraries or archives – assemblages of all knowledge, and collections – more coherent and focused subsets thereof. Where one ends and the other begins has fuelled many arguments.

Our interest lies in the potentials for coherence: for stories or themes or mosaic composites that might, from a certain distance, reveal a portrait. As our examples show, there is no end to techniques that might be used to tie seemingly disparate documents into a broader pattern of meaning. Intertitles and voice-overs, scientific quests, algorithms reflecting the user’s behaviors, the logics of problem or place… any and all of these can activate disparate fragments, galvanizing them into meaningful interaction.

In some cases, the short is self-contained and tells its own story, joining with other shorts, other stories, to forge a larger narrative. This might be by design – a serial; or it might be a simple act of thematic aggregation – a ‘mosaic story’ or narrative Rorschach Test. In other cases, the short works as part of a larger act of iteration and variation, like the many compound eyes of a household fly. Whichever analogy fits, the short is enjoying a huge comeback at a moment when our media technologies facilitate the production, selection, annotation and recombination of parts into countless new wholes.

Vimeo and YouTube

Online video streaming sites YouTube and Vimeo popularized short, user-generated video clips, redefining the way people consume and create media.

In 1995, Seattle-based Progressive Networks streamed a Seattle Mariners baseball game over the Internet—a technological first. Less than a decade later, the explosive growth of online video streaming would shape the way a generation consumed media. was founded in late 2004 as a site where people could upload and view short streaming video clips. Launched less than a year later, YouTube popularized online video streaming. Continuity between YouTube’s short clips is created by algorithmically generated recommendations that prompt viewers to pursue related video material. By the end of 2005, 8 million short videos were watched on YouTube each day. Bought by Google for 1.65 billion dollars less than two years after its launch, YouTube quickly became the preeminent online video platform.

People watch more than 4 billion hours of video on YouTube every month—most consumed as short clips. In 2011, YouTube counted over 1 trillion views, or 140 for each person on the planet.


Driftless: Stories from Iowa

Affectionate but unpitying black-and-white images capture the tough existence of people still living in declining rural areas of Iowa.

As Tumara Gosnell bluntly puts it, “There’s only three things you can do in Iowa: drink, do drugs, or have sex.” She is a former barfly who swapped life in the Iowan countryside for the big city — and she is not the only one, not by a long shot.

Rural America is emptying out and a way of life is disappearing. This web documentary by photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier, who comes from Iowa City, is a portrait in six vignettes of “those who were left in the wake of outmigration,” as Frazier himself describes them in the accompanying interview.

Frazier has been working on a series of photographs entitled Driftless: Stories from Iowa for several years. This film of the same name tells the backstories, shows the making process, and is itself part of the series.

Sometimes expressly diffuse, sometimes mercilessly sharp, Frazier’s tightly framed black-and-white photos and static shots capture the harsh realities of existence in an area that is losing its lifeblood; nostalgia for a faded glory is permeated with the knowledge that there is nothing left to stay for.

Butcher Joe Kuba understands all too well why his children don’t want his life: “It makes an old man out of you fast.”


David Lynch Interview Project

People are randomly found and interviewed on David Lynch’s road trip.

In the trailer for Interview Project made for his website, David Lynch describes it as “A road trip where people have been found and interviewed.” Only Lynch could succeed in being so cryptic in this seemingly banal explanation of the nature of a project.

The group of filmmakers Lynch refers to as “The Team” includes the directors Austin Lynch (his son) and Jason S., producer Sabrina Sutherland, and interviewers Angie Schmidt and Julie Pepin. They traveled 20,000 miles throughout the United States and filmed 121 interviews with people they encountered on the street.

One new interview lasting several minutes has been appearing online every three days since June 1, 2009. The interviewees talk in their own words about their lives.

Some are loquacious and flamboyant, such as Clinton from Fayetteville, West Virginia, who expresses his admiration for Stevie Nicks. Others speak hesitantly, like Lynn from Graham, Texas, who talks about her father mistreating her. In whatever case, the interviewees are always sincere and openhearted.


California is a Place

Scrapertown from California is a place. on Vimeo.

An expanding series of brief impressions of sometimes intriguing, sometimes alarming and always compelling stories of the Golden State.

California Is a Place offers a look at California as part of an expanding series of brief impressions of people and places in the state. The subtitle of the project is Tales from the Golden State, and indeed, everything is bathed in golden light in the films and photo series by makers Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari. The stories themselves are less sunny, however.

Borderland shows how the endless war against drug smugglers along the U.S.-Mexican border has a disheartening effect on the locals. The “original scraper bike team” in Scrapertown seeks to flee the back streets of Oakland by means of decorated BMX bikes. And in Cannonball, a group of skaters has some illegal fun in the empty swimming pools of houses left unsold thanks to the recession. Elsewhere, Cooper and Canepari pick out the eccentric, artistic souls attracted to the state such as Matt McMullen, maker of expensive “real dolls”: sex dolls so realistic they are almost undistinguishable from the real thing. Or the unemployed car salesman Big Vinny, whose nickname comes from a starring role in a pizza ad.

The short, poetic, smoothly edited films allow the people of California to speak for themselves, while an intuitive flow of images illustrates their words. Brightly colored photo series show the same topics, often in a slightly different light.

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