Let’s go back—130 years or so—to when a chap named Eadweard Muybridge and bonhomme Étienne-Jules Marey were each creating the first rapid photographic image sequences, primordial motion pictures which sought to do for time what the telescope and microscope had done to space: infiltrate the invisible in-between. Indeed, the primal cinematic impulse was not to make pictures move, but to literally take a picture of motion itself. Flash forward: armed with ridiculously high-speed digital cameras, a slew of devotional websites (chief among, UltraSlo.com) are keeping the slo-mo flame alive in the 21st century. UltraSlo offers such marvels as a banana exploded by a firecracker, a ladybug unfurling its wings for liftoff, and a kernel splaying itself midair as it blossoms into popcorn—all at tens of thousands of frames per second.
At these speeds, everything is fluid dynamics: air parted by a bullet billows into sweeping shockwaves, a flicked lighter begets a fusillade of drifting sparks and cresting plumes of fire, a striking rattlesnake glides like a kite. Not surprisingly, liquid itself is always the showstopper—shattered wine glasses and ruptured soda bottles bespatter gravity with viscous undulating auroras. The skin of a popped water balloon peels away to reveal a shimmering aqueous egg, hovering interminably before dissolving from within. A whorl of spilt milk is a cosmos unto itself.
Benjamin called this roiling world, beyond the retention of the naked eye, “the optical unconscious.” We’re content to call it totally fucking awesome. It’s a dream come true for any video streamer who’s ever wanted to hold infinity in a blender full of blackberries, and eternity in a ten-thousandth of a second. (A word to the Web-wary: at the time of this writing, UltraSlo’s homepage features a slow-motion duet between some wetness and a snug T-shirt. It seems even the most wondrous of visual technologies cannot divert the Internet’s steadfast gaze from such un-obscure objects of desire.)