Persistence of Vision - Page 3

"It is very unlikely that after-images contribute to the fusion of successive image presentations in film"
Nichols & Lederman

So 'persistence of vision' is not even the mechanism by which we are made unaware of the blanks between images. So why don't we see those blanks? Quite simply because they are dark periods of nothing, and are sufficiently short that they do not register in our brain.

Some film-system engineers have long been aware of the problems with the 'persistence of vision' theory. In 1913 Kasimir Proszynski, who designed the popular Aeroscope 35mm cine camera and was a pioneer of 'flickerless' shutters for cine projectors, gave a lecture on the subject : "The theory received a rude shaking" reported the Amateur Photographer, "when Mr. Proszinski gave his very lucid lecture before the Royal Photographic Society last week. That there is a certain amount of persistence is undeniable....but it is very weak, and this purely physiological effect, in Mr. Proszinski's opinion, is altogether insignificant, and may be put out of the reckoning as far as the phenomenon of the moving picture is concerned. ..In his opinion the continuity of the cinematographic vision is due to no such physiological phenomenon as persistence, but is purely an illusion. It is psychological, and not physiological at all." (Cinema Notes, Amateur Photographer, 3 March 1913).

A final word from Joseph and Barbera Anderson:

"Since most film scholars may feel unprepared to conduct experimental research, they may be tempted simply to acknowledge the inadequacy of the persistence of vision explanation and proceed with their work. The temptation should be resisted, for in any theoretical discussion of the cinema basic assumptions are embedded about how we see form in motion."

So having put to rest the suggestion that we see apparent motion in motion pictures by means of 'persistence of vision' - how then do we perceive the effect?

Well, it's a bit complicated.....and perhaps we'll look into that, some other time.

Stephen Herbert


Joseph and Barbera Anderson, 'Motion Perception in Motion Pictures', and Bill Nichols and Susan J. Lederman, 'Flicker and Motion in Film', in The Cinematic Apparatus (New York, 1980)
Michael Chanan, The Dream that Kicks, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980)

Stephen Herbert runs The Projection Box, and publishes monographs about pre-cinema, early film and optical recreations.

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