GIFs are the lingua franca of the Internet, short bursts of video that quickly convey a thought, emotion, or point. They’re frivolous and fun, not at all the type of thing people give much thought to. But Bill Domonkos considers them an art. “I think of them as very short films,” he says.

He isn’t interested in kittens popping out of boxes, guys falling from rooftops or Michael Scott of The Office yelling No!. Domonkos blends vintage photos, old films, and other found material in strange, almost surreal ways that mix genres and eras. “It’s the idea of manipulating the past with the present that interests me,” he says. “The GIFs in particular are kind of like stranded moments that hover somewhere between the past and the future. They seem to exist in a specious present.”

His fascination with film started as a child growing up in Toledo, Ohio, where he shot his own version of Valley of the Dolls with a Super 8 camera. Later, he studied video art at Cleveland Institute of Art. Even now, as an interactive designer in San Francisco, films remain his greatest source of inspiration. He goes to the cinema twice weekly, and whiles away hours at a time watching old movies on Fandor. “There’s such a beauty to images that were made on actual film,” he says. “It’s kind of hypnotizing, the flicker that exists within the frame.”

He is equally fascinated by the past, and was ecstatic when the Library of Congress and others placed their vast archives online for all to use. Before long he was mining the repository to create spellbinding films like Nocturne and Beyond the Blue Horizon.

Those films led Domonkos to GIFs. Five years ago, he started adding odd elements—a hovering knife, a glowing radar screen—to old photos. He found the eerie loops soothing. Hundreds more have followed in the years since, and Domonkos spends an hour each day searching for photos online. Sometimes he’ll whip one up in a few hours. Others can take weeks. The dreamlike scenes bring to mind a fantastic world somewhere between the past and the future, one that is a whole lot more fun than that laughing baby GIF your mother just sent you.

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Weird, Creepy GIFs Take You Into the Twilight Zone