Ynon Lan does something not many would have the patience for — he creates videos using thousands and thousands of still images. Though these passion projects of his take a lot of time and effort, Ynon keeps coming back to this type of work.
We talked with him about his latest video, NYC Textures, his process, and why he’s so enamored with this very specific type of video production.
Where did the idea for this video come from?
This project started with a short experiment that I shot on my iPhone in a subway station and shared on my Instagram profile. I tend to experiment with stop motion ideas on my phone first, just because it’s very quick and accessible. If I like how it turns out, I’ll then develop it into a longer piece. I really liked how these textures came out and decided to make a longer video with the same concept and technique.
The description of the video says, “An experimental journey through New York City…” What was the journey of making this video like? What did the process consist of?
I would say this journey was twofold. First, my process of making these videos was literally a physical journey. I walked around for days in different areas of Manhattan and took thousands of photos of the most interesting textures I could find. I made a list in advance of specific textures I wanted to capture, but I also let myself wander around to discover new things. So I literally walked around, a lot.
Second, I had also edited and organized the final video in a way that makes it seem like a real journey many would take in New York City. The video starts by walking the streets, then going down into a subway station, waiting on the platform, and getting on a train. It reemerges, back to the streets, ending in Central Park for a little glimpse of nature and a breath of fresh air.
What about New York City do you think this video captures well?
One of the things I like most about New York is the hecticness of colors and shapes and people and buildings. The city is very much alive and immensely diverse. Through the making of this video, I also learned about the massive amount of different textures the city consists of. Once I started walking around looking for these textures, I couldn’t help but notice the endless variety. For example, I think a whole video could have been made on the different types of bricks alone.
How did you go about sorting and organizing thousands of images into a cohesive video?
After I finish shooting, I get back to my computer and start organizing all the photos into subfolders — sidewalks, construction walls, subway tiles, building bricks, and so on. When I started editing and playing around with the photos over a timeline, I came up with the idea of organizing the textures into a clear narrative, structuring the video so that it resembled the narrative of an actual walk through the city.
How did you choose the music and sounds for the video?
I’ve made a few videos about New York City already, and in each one I view the city through a different lens. My first video was almost like a catalog of the vast and varying? people and scenery I saw in NYC. My second video was about the daily ritual of commuting, and how much of our personal time is spent in public spaces like the subway. I see these videos as a series, and one element that unifies them is the New York jazz music tracks I use. I feel the music connects to these visuals both historically and symbolically. For the ambient sounds, I record them on location — in the subway or on the street — and later match them to the visuals, which adds another layer to the final video.
Were there any challenges in producing the images or putting the final video together?
The editing process of this type of video is very labor intensive. The hardest part is sitting for hours, organizing the individual photos into subfolders and repositioning them one by one to create a particular effect. The second biggest challenge is trying to not be bothered by how crazy everyone around me must think I am when I’m in a packed subway station taking hundreds of close up photos of the dirty floor.
Why do you think still photograph videos are so interesting? What can they help convey?
I studied classical animation and I’m very passionate about experimental animation. In animation, you work with frames to create the illusion of movement with frame-by-frame drawings. If you come from a film school background, you’re not necessarily as involved with each individual frame, and the smallest basic unit you’re concerned with is your shot. So even when I approach videos with real footage, I like “hacking” it frame-by-frame to create the illusion of a continuous shot when it’s actually made up of different photographs taken at different times in different places.
What is your next project?
I have notes and plans for future videos about NYC — I wonder if I’ll ever run out of new ideas. For now at least, this city just keeps inspiring me.