These Hypnotic Looped Portraits Turn Real Into Surreal

Magritte would be impressed with Romain Laurent’s inventive GIF portraits.

Last month, while eating a banana on the set of an Hermès commercial, digital photographer and videographer Romain Laurent had a vision. “I was like ‘Dude!” Laurent said to his line producer. “I want to do a loop with you and the banana spinning above your head!” So Laurent finished the banana and tied a string to the peel. Then Laurent filmed his colleague making silly expressions as he spun the object over the guy’s head. Back in his office, Laurent picked out a single still from the footage (his producer with closed eyes) and made a GIF from the spinning fruit.


“I let myself get surprised by what’s happening,” says Laurent, who has been making these looped portraits since September. “It’s about letting the creativity out without pressure. It’s not about making sense.”

So far, Laurent has created 35 portraits and he intends to continue the project for a year, making at least one each week. The idea for the project came to him after he saw some fashion stills, in which the models’ hair and clothes were subtly blowing. “There was so much more to do with this medium,” he says. “The actual weirdness of it.”

All of Laurent’s portraits start with video footage, which he scans for the best moment. “It’s like finding a photo inside a video shoot,” he says. He uses a high-speed shutter to capture movement and a lower speed shutter when his subjects are standing still.

In Fall Leaves he shot a woman holding out the hem of her dress. Then he stood in the exact same spot and filmed himself dumping out a bag of leaves. He used After Effects to cut out the image of the leaves and overlaid the dress on top of them. He turned the pouring leaves into a GIF and voila! The leaves appear to be flowing from the woman’s dress.

Laurent says the trick to the style is making sure his subjects stay absolutely still. In some images, like the woman surrounded by camera flashes, you can see her finger move just the slightest bit. But Laurent doesn’t mind these technical imperfections. “I like being a little bit sketchy,” he says. And because there’s no client–“it’s only for me”–he decides when each portrait is a wrap.

About the author

Jennifer Miller is the author of The Year of the Gadfly (Harcourt, 2012) and Inheriting The Holy Land (Ballantine, 2005). She's a regular contributor to Co.Create.