It’s more than nostalgia or retro charm. Somehow, as we reflect on early digital creations through modern filters, we see something oddly new. And so it is with the animated GIF.

In an unusually-frenetic video from the USA’s viewer-supported public broadcaster, PBS, you can trace the animated GIF from its early history through some surprisingly-fresh experiments with the medium today. In those short, flickering images, a new kind of stuttering movement emerges. It’s informed, too, by VJ culture and club visuals, by rapid-fire experimental editing, by the interplay in digital realms between the still photograph and the video.

I watched the video first, only to discover as I write this that my friend Mike Rugnetta did the story development. Nice work, Mike!

Bonus: I was pleased that several interviewees got the technically-correct GIF pronunciation right (like the peanut butter), and then at the end, you get an amusing discussion of why.

Be sure to make it to about the halfway point, for contemporary images and art and animated GIF fashion you may not have seen before. In fact, with live and club visuals so often unimaginative, it’s time to inject some of these same experiments into live visuals, too. Full details on these artists and the film:

GIFs are one of the oldest image formats used on the web. Throughout their history, they have served a huge variety of purposes, from functional to entertainment. Now, 25 years after the first GIF was created, they are experiencing an explosion of interest and innovation that is pushing them into the terrain of art. In this episode of Off Book, we chart their history, explore the hotbed of GIF creativity on Tumblr, and talk to two teams of GIF artists who are evolving the form into powerful new visual experiences.


Patrick Davison, MemeFactory
TopherChris, Tumblr
Pamela Reed and Matthew Rader, Reed+Rader
Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, Cinemagraphs

Story Development: Mike Rugnetta, Internet Culture Researcher, MemeFactory

GIFs by:

The Internet. We wish we could attribute all the GIFs we used, but we aren’t even sure if that would be possible!

But…a special thanks to:

Please let us know if you see your work and want attribution!

Music by:

Space Frequencies:
Shamil Elvenheim:
Kevin Macleod:

Follow Off Book:

Twitter: @pbsoffbook

Produced by Kornhaber Brown:

I could finish off this post, but that’d take the fun away from you. Let’s see some animated GIF reactions in comments, please.

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  • I’ve been using Tumblr GIFs for VJing. Checkout this video live jamming retro GIFs with VDMX:

  • Hagar

    Does anyone know of a (cheap) photoframe that will play animated gif’s? Would be prettay cool to have this stuff on the wall!

  • Guest

    Both are correct according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  I have a preference for simply “gif,” not like “gin.”  The creators had a preference for the peanut butter pronunciation though. Meh.

  • Hello

    Isn’t wonderful how every discussion of a technological art form eventually winds up with somebody who is marketing clothing. Actually no it’s not wonderful.