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I Outsmart the Authorities . . . Three Years Late

In 2017 I was thwarted by a museum guard at the Rijksmuseum.

I hadn’t meant to cause any trouble in the peaceful city of Amsterdam. I had already taken some time-lapse videos of popular tourist sites elsewhere, such as the Cologne Cathedral (video here) and the historic Hotel Monopol (video here). When Cheryl and I visited this notable museum, I noticed that it was crowded, way too crowded to view the work of art I was so anxious to see: The Night Watch by Rembrandt. The painting was justly famous, apparently for its tenebrism.

So why not film it? I thought. A twenty-minute session of patrons standing in front of it, then moving on. But maybe do it in a different way, as a time-lapse. That would reveal the entire painting in about twenty seconds, because it was static and the crowd mulling about it was active.  I started to gloat over this sudden burst of creative intent. Was this the ideal way to present it, or not?

But aww shit, it was not to be. The force of authority stopped me cold, like a 17th century toll-keeper. A museum guide approached me and said, in flawless English, “It is prohibited to film here.”

“But lots of people are using cell phones to take pictures.”

“Not permitted. You cannot do this.”

“Some of them are probably even taking videos.”

Even though I was right, I knew I couldn’t win this argument; I just wanted to see how long she’d stay cool and patient with me. I concluded probably thirty more minutes if I really pushed it. But I didn’t.

I was forced to pack it in after a mere one second of time-lapse footage. That meant I’d managed to pick up only about thirty seconds of real time before they’d discovered and nabbed me. My efforts lay in ruins. I filed away the clip and almost forgot about it.

Fast forward to 2020. I started examining old footage to see if anything could be done with any of my aborted efforts.

I found this clip in the bin and slowed down the one second time-lapse. My eyes widened. Was something going on there?

My prosumer camera ordinarily creates video at 29.976 frames per second. But it looks quite different in time-lapse mode [1]. Here is the original footage:

Not too impressive, right? Still, I took a few stabs in the dark. Was that a little drama that had taken place in the short period? I suddenly realized I could salvage this footage. I’ll not bore you with details of how I did it here, but rather here.[2]

Below I’ve inserted a still from the altered sequence. Kind of looks like digital goop, don’t you think?

Still from One Last Look

Rembrandt would shimmy and shake in his grave.

Now I had to find insert an appropriate soundtrack, one that indicated that something was indeed going on here. That involved about a fifteen minute search. Here’s the final product:

Why’d I bother with this exercise? Partly because it was a challenge, of course, but mostly it was because I hate wasting artistic effort. If I can rescue something I did a long time ago, I will, rather than discard it. I don’t plan on getting back to Amsterdam soon, but if I do, with my luck the same guard would be standing watch at the Night Watch.[3]

Therefore, I didn’t have any choice but to throttle away at what I had until it screamed out and revealed its truth.

  1. Canon G7X Mark II. When in time-lapse mode, it films at one frame per second. This means there’s a gap between each frame of motion, which ordinarily gives time-lapse photography its rickety charm. In this case, the clip itself was too short. All it revealed was one unsatisfying little burst. 

  2. I loaded the Adobe After Effects video editor and expanded the clip, effectively uncompressing it back to (a sort of) real time. Of course, that made the frames look really herky-jerky. Then I altered the appearance via the Frame Blending tool. Normally this tool is used just for touchup. A fix to enable the frames to move slightly more smoothly. In my case each frame was missing nearly twenty-nine other frames. So I just slathered the effect onto it. After Effects dutifully churned away, trying to smooth out all the frames. The effect it spat out was quite unexpected.

  3. I wonder what she’d think of my video. And of the fact that I beat the rules.

Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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  1. Ann Ann

    Beautifully written, extremely creative idea and appreciate the tech specs for those who might want to try to replicate this idea.

  2. Alec Hirschfeld Alec Hirschfeld

    interesting effect, but how you got there is the special nugget.

    • Thank you Alec. That’s why I think it’s good to be both a visual artist and someone who writes. The two complement each other. This is a path you are currently choosing, which I hope is going well.

  3. michael M michael M

    It’s the chronic editor in me–in the intro you say an idea ruminated. No. You ruminated. The idea marinated. Careful. I’m watching.

    • You are absolutely correct (as you are about other matters of fine detail). I took your advice. How much would you charge to go over my memoir, which is here: http:\\
      When it’s ready, of course. There are only five chapters up there now.

  4. Harold Hutchinson Harold Hutchinson

    Nice job with your Bodega Project website, Peter. Good stuff! Or, to
    say that in time-lapse format: G o o d s t u f f.
    (That’s supposed to be funny but hey, it’s early.)

    • Thanks so much, Hutch! I do like your little witticism too. Always good when writers respond to writers.

  5. Fascinating story of artistic persistence and creativity! 🎥 Your journey from a thwarted attempt at the Rijksmuseum to eventually transforming the footage is inspiring. It shows that great art can emerge even from the most challenging situations.

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