Archive for Documentary

Photographers of post Katrina New Orleans

Posted in Photography, Photography: subjective documentary with tags , on March 6, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

After being so fascinated by how Robert Polidori photographed ravaged interiors in his ‘After the flood’ series, I looked into other photographers of post Katrina New Orleans in order to find out how they each approached the subject, dealt with the ethical implications, and what aesthetic choices they made.

Seesaw magazine presented ‘Remnants’ by Wyatt Gallery and ‘After the Cry’ by Will Steacy.

I like the colours, depth and shadows in Wyatt Gallery’s photographs.

'Remnants' by Wyatt Gallery

https://i2.wp.com/seesawmagazine.com/photos/stegal_photos/stegalchairs.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/seesawmagazine.com/photos/stegal_photos/stegalplayboy.jpg

Will Steacy adopts a more documentary perspective, focusing on heaps of debris and a near scientific study of molds. He is interested in environmental concerns.

https://i1.wp.com/seesawmagazine.com/photos/stegal_photos/stegalcartrophies.jpg

In his photo essay In the Wake of Katrina, Larry Towell adopts the trademark Magnum B&W documentary style. Some pictures devoid of people have a strong haunting quality, particularly long branches and debris near the Mississippi shoreline, a stuffed fox in a glass tank escaped from a museum or collection and a flooded cemetery with the trees and tombs reflected in the water (You need to watch the whole essay on the provided link, I cannot embed particular photos from a flash presentation).

In In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, Chris Jordan mostly adopt a documentary ‘outdoor’ perspective but a few pictures convey a more aesthecized and disturbing perspective.

https://i1.wp.com/www.chrisjordan.com/img/gallery/katrina/reddoor.jpg

I found this ‘Baptist Church, Lower Ninth Ward’ particularly amazing.

https://i0.wp.com/www.chrisjordan.com/img/gallery/katrina/church2.jpg

Jane Fulton Alt is both a photographer and a social worker. Her photograph series ‘Look and leave’ was taken while she accompanied displaced Lower ninth Ward residents revisit the ruins of their former home as a volunteer worker on the ‘Look and leave’ program. The photographs are accompanied by narrative about the reactions of the people who visited their destroyed homes, but these people do not appear on the photographs. Only empty homes and personal belongings are shown. She comments ‘As a photographer, I prefer to let pictures speak for themselves. But as a social worker, I know that there are some images that stories can illuminate.’ She makes a point that the pictures were not taken while the residents visited their destroyed homes, but on her own after her social worker shift has ended. It is interesting how her perspective as a social worker influence her vision as a photographer, yet the two activities are kept formally distinct. (Again follow the link, the pictures don’t embed.)

John Woodin was raised in New Orleans. A year before Katrina, he photographed his childhood neighborhood and the interior of the homes of his family, focusing on the architecture of the ‘working poor’. After Katrina, he came back and took pictures of the exact same locations. (follow link for portfolios ‘City of memory’ and ‘After the flood’, I cannot embed pictures from a flash presentation.)

In ‘Color of Loss’, Dan Burholder uses HDR (High Dynamic Range) to picture interiors devastated by Katrina in great details despite the darkness. The photographs are supposed to look like paintings. However I find them rather disappointing because I feel the HDR process is taken too far. Moderate HDR enhancement can look striking, but here, the shadows are completely obliterated and most pictures have a completely even lightness on their full surface. To me, the colours appear both saturated and washed out because of this even bright quality to them. The total absence of shadows combined with a choice of lens giving a distorted perspective in some of the pictures cause the feeling of a total loss of the sense of space, at least to me as a viewer. It is possible that the HDR process was taken a bit too far due to over enthusiasm for a back then new technique.

Portrait of Neglect by Debbie Fleming Caffery consist in B&W photographs of displaced residents and ravaged places. There is a striking picture of plaster hands from a statue in front of a wall with peeling pain, but again, I can’t embed from a flash essay.

There are more close up portraits in Debbie Fleming Caffery’s series than in any other work considered. I find it darkly ironic that the work of Robert Polidori has been attacked as immoral for being too anaesthetized, and the documentary work of other people, for example Alec Soth, is sometimes judged dubious for having a too ‘poetic’ perspective. Documentary photography is never neutral, it always shows as much the photographer’s perspective as the events depicted, and it is even clearer when comparing the work of several photographers on a same subject.

As a viewer, Debbie Fleming Caffery’s close up portraits are the only Katrina pictures that made me feel uneasy. Though I’ve never done portraits myself, I’m always fascinated with portraits where the subject is given the opportunity to try and show themselves as they wish to be seen, such as Diane Arbus. Of course, they most of the time will project a different image as intended, or let something slip, but that’s the interest of it, the subject cannot fully control the photograph any more than they can fully control their life, any more than the photographer themselves can fully control the picture they’re taking. But at least the subject is given an opportunity, they’re given power, and the photographer takes some kind of risk than their subject may subvert the picture. I find it exciting that, because there are different inputs to the picture, the result is uncertain. With ‘candid’ portraits showing expressions with a lot of pathos, I don’t think I’m so much made uneasy by looking at people suffering, than by being presented with a picture carrying a label of ‘raw emotion’. It’s almost like the picture carries a label ‘this a truth! this person is not performing for the camera!’. But I only see the finished picture, I cannot see how it was taken, and it is still possible that the subject performs. It’s only my subjective experience as a viewer, but I think what makes me most uneasy with ‘candid’ pictures, is that they give me the impression that the photographer is denying presenting a viewpoint.

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Sarah Turner – Perestroika

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Cinema, Psychogeography with tags , , , , on January 24, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In Perestroika, filmmaker Sarah Turner uses documentary footage shot during a trip made on a Transiberian as an Art School student in December 1987-january 1988, and footage shot on the same trip repeated 20 years later. The film explores psychogeography, the unreliable nature of memory and the ambiguity between truth and fiction. The film contains a voice over spoken by a fictional character called Sarah Turner who both is and isn’t the film maker and addressed to ‘you’, who is Sarah’s friend who accompanied her on the first trip but is now dead. However, the use of ‘you’ gives the audience the ambiguous feeling that they are being addressed directly.

As the voice over monologue becomes increasingly hallucinated, psychic reality increasingly replaces documentary reality, culminating in an apocalyptic hallucination where Sarah believes the lake Baikal is on fire. In an interview with Sight and Sound, Sarah Turner explains: “I wanted the indexical and the uncanny to change places by the end of the film. I needed to believe in my stomach that that fictional character ‘Sarah Turner’ believed that the water was on fire. There are real facts of life within a fictional structure, but what is evidence, fact, and what is affect?”

I went to see the film at Cambridge Film Festival and she answered audience questions and commented further on her film. She considers that ‘memory is as much fiction as it is fact’ and the film was a ‘conscious decision to play with the space of fact and fiction’. ‘Everyone that makes some kind of artwork uses their emotional experiences and connects them to the real world.’

About the use of autobiographical material, she considers that the 1987-1988 footage has a quality of ‘unknowing naïvete’: in 1987-88, Sarah Turner realised only after a day that the camera captured sound. So when the students talk among themselves on the recording, they don’t know they are being recorded. Today we are used to the constant presence of cameras, we constantly perform for them. Turner calls our attitudes resulting from our constant expectation to be watched a ‘register of performativity’.

Sarah Turner also seems interested in cinema as a social phenomenon. She considers that, nowadays, ‘our experience of the world is mediated by lenses’. Cinema is ‘a social experience that we have anonymously’, ‘a collective emotional experience, that actually also occurs in public transport’, which she links to her interest in trains. ‘The only two places where people sleep in public are trains and cinemas’.

This idea of constant surveillance is echoed in the sound design where the recurring sound of a shutter clicking symbolises ‘the violence of photography’. Sarah Turner worked on the sound design herself and ‘all the sound in the film is recorded by the tape in situ, including the music’ (people were actually singing in the Church).

Commenting on audience engagement with artworks, Turner considers that ‘the most active experience is reading a novel where people project their own canvas on the frame provided by the author’.

She also gave a technical about how to shoot landscape from a train: one needs to ‘focus beyond the dirt on the window’.

I was interested in this film because of the themes of psychogeography and truth/fiction ambiguity which echo my own concerns, but also because it is an ‘artist film’ almost entirely made by one person with just a bit of technical help from others. It made me wonder how I could introduce some form of narrative in my video art while still continuing to shoot documentary/unstaged footage.

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-5_420.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-2_420.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-4_420.jpg

Documentary, fiction and the problem of truth

Posted in Cinema, Critical theory, Reading notes with tags , , , on September 28, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

The documentary chronotope, Michael Chanan

from Jump Cut, no. 43, July 2000, pp. 56-61
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 2000, 2006

“When Bakhtin speaks of how “space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history,” he is advancing a notion which becomes more concrete in Henri Lefebvre’s work on representational space. In Lefebvre, a representational space is a system of symbolic representations, constituted by artistic and other media and forms, each with its own material characteristics, comprising a culturally and historically specific system which in some way maps the elements and relations of the physical, the social and the mental worlds. In doing so, the medium incorporates or signifies the physical space of the actually existing world, and makes symbolic use of it. Representational spaces thus tend towards a more or less coherent system of nonverbal symbols and signs. The products of representational spaces (to follow Lefebvre) are symbolic works, in this case, films, either fiction or documentary, or some admixture of the two. Does this also mean we can distinguish different types of representational space which correspond to different modes of filmic utterance? Is documentary perhaps a different screen world from fiction?”

“the almost universal prohibition in fiction (with certain notable exceptions) against actors looking directly at the camera, so as not to be seen by the spectator as staring directly at them. […] The rule functioned to maintain the illusion of the camera as an unseen observer, always in the right position to show the unfolding action, the appropriate scene; thus transporting the disembodied viewer into the space of the screen world. This ban does not have the same force in documentary, even in the most conventional examples. In documentary, the illusion the camera seeks to maintain is unnecessary. Indeed, it may well go against a stronger imperative — to present a sense of actuality, of testimony, and of the presence of the camera as a witness in the same space as the events unfolding. […] the acknowledgment of the camera serves to reinforce the reality effect, whereas later, in fiction, it will break it.”

“Fiction is the work of pro-filmic construction, even, one might add, when it is constructed in order to imitate documentary. Documentary, however, even when it imitates fiction, is a form of selection from the actually existing world. Although it runs the gamut from the filmographic interpretation of what is already there, to a constructed or reconstructed rendering of selected elements, the incursion of noise and accident provides evidence that the image is taken from the space of lived experience. Therefore it has a quality or degree of veracity which is not greater than that of fiction, but different. In short, the representational space produced by documentary has different co-ordinates from those of fiction.”

“If documentary depends on a disposition to believe, then fiction evokes what is traditionally spoken of as “the suspension of disbelief””

“Fictional screen space creates the unities of the scene and the plot. Through the ubiquitous camera and altering frame, the spectator becomes a vicarious unseen observer, transported into an imaginary space which is very similar to real space but behaves according to its own generic rules. These rules are different in the case of documentary from those of fiction. Where the space of the fictional narrative produces continuity, documentary space is composed of discontinuities, both spatial and temporal, produced by dialectical (and dialogical) associations across time and space. Neither of these modes of articulation is absolute or totalizing, but fictional screen space, ever since the ban was first raised against the actor gazing at the camera, has an ineluctable tendency towards closure and abstraction from lived experience. In contrast, in the space of documentary the represented world is not separated from the viewer by reason of narrative principle. On the contrary, the social reality portrayed here is one in which a viewer could in principle find themselves present, putatively, or as a potential historical subject, and sometimes palpably. It is a world, in other words, which is continuous with the space in which the viewer lives their own life, not separate from it.”

Wreckage upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory, Paula Rabinowitz, 1993

“The sense of immediacy-as-truth/truth-as-immediacy was central to the earliest scientific and modernist uses of the cinema”

“History is where pain and death occur but it is in representation that the facts and events gain meaning.” As “star” of the documentary, the presence of the body, especially the body in pain, signifies a truth and realness which seems to defy contextualization.”
Bill Nichols, Representing Reality (Bloomington, Ind., 1991), 265.
“the purely psychosexual manifestations of lack and plenitude, differentiation and identification, which characterize the fetishistic forms of narrative desire”
“The spectator of documentary, this subject of agency, also desires, but desires to remember and to remake history. But how is this spectator hailed by the documentary if the psychosexual processes of identification and disavowal central to narrative address are routed away from interiority and located in evidence? Primarily through an appeal to feeling over thinking.”

“the fragmentary quality of truth”

Jill Godmilow, director of Far from Poland (1984) calls for “deconstructing the documentary . . . to reformulate language -not just verbal language but visual language as well. To poke holes in the existing language, to make spaces, so that there is a possibility for imagination and action to work through it.”
Jill Godmilow, “Far from Finished: Deconstructing the Documentary, An Interview by Brooke Jacobson,” in Reimagining America: The Arts of Social Change, ed. Mark O’Brien and Craig Little (Philadelphia, 1990), 181.

“This desire to dream, to provoke imagination, seems to lead the documentary away from the realm of history and truth into the realm of art and artifice. How are we to judge historical documentaries if they call themselves dreams? In documentary the viewer is asked to participate in a series of contracts -between film and its object, between filmmaker and audience, between reality and representation. In the traditional documentary- including its use for historians -the response to the film is usually confined to whether the viewer agrees or disagrees with the content. On rare occasions the “protagonist” of the film succeeds in convincing the viewer to follow its position- save the dolphins by boycotting tuna, for example- but the construction of the cinematic argument is left unexamined. In the deconstructionist documentary like Shoah and Far From Poland, the object of the film is to produce a new and disturbing knowledge of history and of its rhetoric-of both its content and its form. Like the Angel of History, we are asked to become complicit in the process of making meaning, of making history. We are made uncomfortable, not by images of cute dolphins bleeding on the deck of the tuna boat or by the emaciated limbs and swollen bellies of hungry children in Somalia, but by the codes which allow the images to make us say “Oh, how awful” and go on about our lives.”

Surrealism, Photography, Cinema

Posted in Art History/Theory, Artists that inspire me, Cinema, Photography, Reading notes, Surrealism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

Notes from “Explosante fixe”, Exhibition Catalogue at Centre Pompidou

Some notes are in French, I do not fully translate everything, only the most important bits. I’ll translate later what will actually be used in the essay.

André Breton, L’entrée des mediums (1922)
Definition of Surrealism
“un certain automatisme psychique qui correspond assez bien à l’état de rêve, état qu’il est aujourd’hui fort difficile de délimiter.”

Breton “hasard objectif”

George Bataille “L’informe” “Bassesse”-> chûte

Salvador Dali
“Photographie, pure création de l’esprit” (1927)
in Dawn Ades, “Salvador Dali”, Thames and Hudson 1982
“Ils trouvent vulgaire et normal tout ce qu’ils ont l’habitude de voir tous les jours, si merveilleux et miraculeux que ce soit”

Dali, “Film Art, Fil Antiartistico”, Gazeta Literacia (1927), in Dawn Ades
“Le monde du cinema et de la peinture sont très différents: les possibilités de la photographie et du cinéma résident precisement dans cet imaginaire illimité qui nait des choses elles-mêmes. Un morceau de sucre sur l’écran peut devenir plus grand que la perspective infinie d’édifices gigantesques.”

Dali, “Psychologie non euclidienne d’une photographie”, Minotaure 7.
“La donnée photographique est toujours et essentiellement le plus sûr moyen d’expression poétique et le procédé le plus agile pour saisir les plus délicates osmoses qui existent entre la réalité et la surréalité. Le simple fait de la transposition photographique implique une invention totale: la capture d’une réalité secrète.”

Salvador Dali – Realité Secrète
The image reflects reality but forces people to see the world without prejudice/preconception. Therefore the representation of the world presented by the image (i.e. By Art) is truer than the world directly gazed at.
-> the reflection of the world in the mirror (=Art) is truer than the direct image.
-> Alice Through the looking glass

Benjamin Péret, Minotaure 12-13
“Ruine des ruines”

Dawn ades, “La photographie et le texte surréaliste” in Explosante fixe
“ces visions litteraires ou photographiques de produits de la civilisation engloutis par une nature triomphante et vorace traduisent symboliquement l’opposition des surréalistes à leur propre culture. Et celà, chose curieuse, se situe dans le prolongement du culte romantique de la nature, propre à l’esthétique de la fin du 18ème siècle, qui prend le parti de l’état sauvage contre la domestiqué, et celui de la nature contre la civilisation.”

Notes from La subversion des images: Surréalisme, Photographie, Film, Exhibition Catalogue at Centre Pompidou

I saw this show in December 2009.

Les images du dehors, Michel Poivert

“definition de la photographie comme empreinte”
“une odieuse laideur dont le pouvoir de fascination révèle la jouissance inavouable que procure le mauvais gout” George Bataille

Un photogramme, à l’instar d’une photographie documentaire, exemplifie une relation interiorisée au monde

Le fantastique moderne, Quentin Bajac

techniques d’enregistrement indicielles

Louis Aragon
“ne conçoit pas de merveilleux en dehors du réel”
“un fantastique, un merveilleux moderne autrement riche et divers”
“La réalité est l’absence apparente de contradiction. Le merveilleux, c’est la contradiction qui apparait dans le réel. Le fantastique, l’au delà, le rêve, la survie, le paradis, l’enfer, la poésie, autant de mots pour signifier le concret” La révolution surréaliste 3
“sentiment du merveilleux quotidien”

About Eugène Atget, self taught photographer of Paris whom the Surrealist admired:
Waldemar George: « un quart de siècle avant Aragon, il a écrit Le Paysan de Paris en sondant, en dépouillant de sa gangue et en mettant à nu cet immanent mystère qui a pour nom: banalité. »
Albert Valentin: « tout à l’air de se passer au delà, dans la marge, dans le filigrane, dans l’esprit »
« une même poésie spectrale et populaire de la ville. Eloignés des utopies modernistes urbaines contemporaines, ils prennent leur source dans un Paris où seuls les lieux banals et surannés peuvent faire surgir un merveilleux moderne. »
« une nouvelle mythologie moderne urbaine dont les clichés d’Atget, dans leur brutalité primitive, fourniraient une des clefs d’accès. »
« autant de contenus manifestes, d’apparences trompeuses qu’il convient de déchiffrer »
« mettre au jour un contenu latent, souvent chargé de mystère et de percer littéralement l’ombre, lieu de tous les fantasmes »

Below some pictures by Atget:

Atget - Hell Mouth

Atget - librairie

atget - vitrine

atget - mannequins

atget - stairs

atget - appartment

atget - cabaret

atget - foggy street

atget - stairs

atget - cabaret

Dali, « Le témoignage photographique »
« la nature intrinsèquement fantastique du médium photographique »

Pierre Mac Orlan, « Masquer sur mesure », 1928
« révélateur d’une puissance merceilleuse »

About the photographs illustrating André Breton’s Nadja:
« hallucinations simples »

André Breton about night in « Les vases Communicants »:
« la grande nuit qui sait ne faire qu’un de l’ordure et la merveille »
This may refer to Brassai’s photographs of Paris by night.

Below some photographs by Brassaï:

brassai - foggy paris

brassai - gutter

brassai - house

brassai - foggy

brassai - broken windows

brassai - marechal ney

Random quotations:

Henri Cartier Bresson p152:
« laisser l’objectif photographique fouiller dans les gravats de l’inconscient et du hasard »

Dali, « Mes toiles au salon d’automne », 1927 p219
voir le monde « d’une manière spirituelle, dans sa plus grande réalité objective »

Freud:
Schaulust = pulsion scopique p220

André Breton, « Le Surréalisme et la peinture » p274
« L’oeil existe à l’état sauvage » = the eye exists in a savage state (he means that people see things instinctively, the sense of sight does not need to be educated, tamed.)

about strange perspectives in Dora Maar’s collages p275:
« les décors sont sombres et composés de perspectives dépravées: une fenêtre disparaît derrière une colonne pour ne jamais reparaître; un couloir penche vers la gauche jusqu’à se tordre; une voûte s’avère à la fois concave et convexe selon le point de vue qu’on adopte. Ainsi les personnages chimériques ont-ils l’air d’errer dans des espaces qui, par leur contiguïté et leur hétérogénéité, ne peuvent qu’être mentaux. »

Warped spaces in Dora Maar collages:

dora maar

dora maar

dora maar

dora maar

Original Surrealist published material, reprinted

Louis Aragon, « Du décor », 1918, p417
« Doter d’une valeur poétique ce qui n’en possédait pas encore »

Robert Desnos, « Puissance des fantômes », 1928, p418: a poetic ode to cinema and the power of imagination
« Nés pour nous, par la grâce de la lumière et du celluloïd, des fantômes autoritaires s’assoient à notre côté, dans la nuit des salles de cinéma »
« le cinéma ne saurait être que le domaine du fantastique. En vain le réalisme croit-il régner sur les films ».
« Le merveilleux se manifeste où il veut et, quand il veut, il paraît au cinéma à l’insu peut être de ceux qui l’introduisent. »

« Heureux l’homme soumis à ses fantômes. Certes, il connaîtra des nuits désertes, d’inexplicables nostalgies, des mélancolies infinies, le désir sans raison, le spleen, l’implacable spleen. Mais il remettra la terre à sa place parmi les astres et l’homme parmi les créatures. Jamais l’or ne le détournera de son chemin. Jamais un boulet d’esclave n’entravera sa marche. Mieux, tout ce qu’il désirera, il l’obtiendra par la magie même de son imagination et les visites mystérieuses charmeront sa solitude. Libre, il agira librement en toute chose et sorti du dédale terrible de ses rêves, est-il quelque chose sur terre qui pourrait l’épouvanter? […] Initié au fantastique par la seule puissance de la surprise, son esprit connaîtra bientôt la sérénité, née du conflit de son orgueil et de son inquiétude. »

I translate this particular bit because it is very poetic and I like it:
« Fortunate is the man who submits to his ghosts. Sure, he will be prey to deserted nights, unexplainable nostalgies, infinite melancholies, mindless desire and spleen, the merciless spleen. But he will put the Earth back in its place among the stars, and man among the creatures. Never will gold sway him from his path. Never will he be hindered by a slave’s ball and chain. Better, all that he may desire, he will get it by the mere magic of his imagination, and mysterious visits will charm his solitude. Free, he will act freely in all things and, out of the terrible labyrinth of his dreams, is there anything on Earth that could terrify him? […] Initiated into the Fantastic by the mere power of surprise, his mind will soon know serenity, born out of the conflict of his pride and anxiety. »

Note: « ghost » = « fantôme » in French = « fantasma » in Italian (learnt from watching too many Dario Argento subtitled movies 🙂 and also spanish
« Fantasme » in French = « a fantasy » in English
« Fortunate is the man who submits to his ghosts. » I’m wondering whether there is some kind of pun here about fantôme (ghost) -> fantasma → fantasme → « Fortunate is the man who submits to his fantasies. » May be worth looking into the latin root of « fantasme » and « fantôme »

Antonin Artaud, « Sorcellerie et cinéma », 1927, p419
« cette espèce de griserie physique que communique directement au cerveau la rotation des images »
« cette sorte de puissance virtuelle des images va chercher dans le fond de l’esprit des possibilités à ce jour inutilisées.  Le cinéma est essentiellement révélateur de toute une vie occulte avec laquelle il nous met directement en relation. Mais cette vie occulte, il faut savoir la deviner. »
« le cinéma […] dégage un peu de cette atmosphère de transe éminement favorable à certaines révélations. »
« un certain domaine profond tend à affleurer à la surface »

« Le cinéma me semble surtout fait pour exprimer les choses de la pensée, l’intérieur de la conscience, et pas tellement par le jeu des images que par quelque chose de plus impondérable qui nous les restitue avec leur nature directe, sans interpositions, sans representations. Le cinéma arrive à un tournant de la pensée humaine, à ce moment précis où le langage usé perd son pouvoir de symbole, où l’esprit est las du jeu des representations. La pensée claire ne nous suffit pas. Elle situe un monde usé jusqu’à l’écoeurement. Ce qui est clair est ce qui est immédiatement accessible, mais l’immédiatement accessible est ce qui sert d’écorce à la vie. Cette vie trop connue et qui a perdu tous ses symboles, on commence à s’apercevoir qu’elle n’est pas toute la vie. »

I translate this bit because it is crucial:
« To me, cinema seems to be made to express thoughts, the inside of the consciousness, and not so much through the play of images than through something more fleeting that communicates them to us with their direct nature, without interpositions, without representations. Cinema was discovered at a turning point of human thought, at this very moment when overused language has lost all of its symbolic power, when the mind is weary of the game of representations. Clear thought is not enough. It paints a word overused to nausea. What is clear is what is immediately accessible, but what is immediately accessible is nothing but the mere surface of life. This life that we know too well, that has lost all its symbols, we start to realise that it is not the whole of life. »

Benjamin Fondane « Du muet au parlant: grandeur et décadence du cinéma » 1930
« un nouveau moyen d’expression qui non seulement remplacerait la parole mais la mettrait en échec, soulignerait son creux; exiger d’autre part du spectateur une sorte de collaboration, ce minimum de sommeil, d’engourdissement nécessaire, pour que fût balayé le décor du signe et que prît forme à sa place le réel du rêve.
Que le spectateur perdit pied, c’est tout ce que le cinéma voulait. »

Albert Valentin « Eugène Atget, 1856-1927 » 1928
« tout a l’air de se passer au-delà »
« Le reste est au-delà, vous dis-je, dans la marge, dans le filigrane, dans l’esprit, à la portée du moins perspicace ».

Brassaï « Images latentes » 1932
juste cette expression « images latentes »

Dali « le témoignage photographique » 1929
« essentiellement le véhicule le plus sûr de la poésie »
« percevoir les plus délicates osmoses qui s’établissent entre la réalité et la surréalité »
« l’enregistrement d’une réalité inédite »

Raoul Ubac « L’envers de la face » 1942
« Une image, et surtout une image photographique, ne donne du réel qu’un instant de son apparence. Derrière cette mince pellicule qui moule un aspect des choses, à l’intérieur de cette image il en existe à l’état latent une autre, ou plusieurs autres superposées dans le temps et que des opérations le plus souvent dues au hasard décèlent brusquement. »

Jean Goudal « Surréalisme et cinéma » 1925
« Au cinéma comme dans le rêve, le fait règne en maître absolu. L’abstraction perd ses droits. Aucune explication ne vient légitimer les gestes des héros. Les actes succèdent aux actes, portent en eux mêmes leur justification. Et ils se succèdent avec une telle rapidité que nous avons à peine le temps d’évoquer le commentaire logique qui pourrait les expliquer, ou tout au moins les relier. »
« hallucination consciente »
« cette fusion du rêve et de l’état conscient »
« ces images mouvantes nous hallucinent, mais en nous laissant une conscience confuse de notre personnalité et en nous permettant d’évoquer, si c’est nécessaire, les disponibilités de notre mémoire. »
« Dans le langage, la donnée première est toujours la trame logique. L’image naît à propos de cette trame et s’y ajoute pour l’orner, pour l’éclairer. Au cinéma, la donnée première est l’image, qui, à l’occasion, et point nécessairement, entraîne à sa suite des lambeaux rationnels. »

Canterbury University Symposium: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”

Posted in Critical theory, Methodology, Moving image techniques, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

In June 2010, I attended a Symposium at Canterbury University: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”. Below are reading notes from this symposium. I was interested in it because it focused on lens-based images creating an awkward feeling of ambiguity regarding their documentary or staged nature, something I came to identify as a key concern in my practice.

Jon Dovey ‘The Limits of Vernacular Video’

Gaza Sderot: interactive video
The Himan Pet: Fake hostage video asking viewers to save the filmed subject
Derrida – Kate Modern on youtube ? the camera crew is no longer invisible

“Creative manipulation of reality” (author?)

Sarah Turner ’On documentary and Perestroika’

In Perestroïka, Sarah Turner repeats a journey to Siberia done 20 years ago (1987-88). Two friends present in the original trip are now dead at the moment of refilm in dec 2007- jan 2008

external events internalised
“Why and when does a documentary work display the truth of fiction ?”
memory, loss, photography, truth/fact, evidence
ourselves vs others and how it makes us
uncanny/real
refuses the duality between facts and the fiction of memory
psychogeography/dream

questions from audience:
Does the web esthetic of autobiographical filmmaking infect normal filmmaking?
I thought of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. Someone names Eli Harrison
“Who holds our story if the other is not here to do it?”
There is a more democratic access to cinema than to Art (just buy a ticket and be anonymous in the dark, compared to gallery environment)
Stiegler – Montage

Elizabeth Cowie  ‘The Contingency of the encounter in  documentary video art’

Rien que les heures – Cavalcanti – 1926 shows the city of paris and images of poverty
Badiou
Deleuze – intervals ????
Walter Benjamin “dialectical image” = image charged with history

Lauren Wright ‘The time between reality and fiction’

Curator at Turner Contemporary, Margate

picture by Turner of an imaginary landscape: he had read the description of it but never seen it
temporality shaped by artwork shaped by artwork and exhibition space
Bergson “creative evolution”

Matthew Buckingham: situation leading to a story
The visitors hears the sound but they have to walk around some walls to see the images (the sound continues in 2nd space with image)
the images are found footage: 4 rolls of 1920s home movies. The soundtrack is the artist’s comments/reflexions about what these films are about, who are the people in it, why the films have been thrown away, suppositions about unknown family drama and the possible cause of it.
Time as a collection of different temporal frames ? it does not let us collapse the different temporal frames

Robert Smithson, spiral jetty

Irit Rogoff ‘Bared Life – On the Documentary Turn in Visual Culture’

I missed most of this because I was watching the screenings.

Foucault: territorial ->population

Adam Chodzko ‘Latitudes’

ghost, echo, journey

Salam Cinema, 1995, Teheran

1998: Meunien ? he tried to find the 16 young victims from Pasolini’s Salo. Only one responded, he found doubles to replace the other original actors
The actor that responded was the one whose character did not do the final execution scene !!!
originally, Pasolini wanted footage from the cast party at the end of the film. But he finally decided against it, decided it was more disturbing not to explicitly tell the audience it was “only fiction”
-> makes me think of the ending of Greenaway’s The Baby of Mâcon

fabricated images from Milosevic trial ?check?

1967: David ?Holsman? Diary. Story of a director who obssessively records everything. Against the claims of “direct cinema”

Strawberry pickers
archive show “migrant workers” from East London come to pick hop in Kent in the 20’s and 30’s
the archives were edited by contemporary Romanian strawberry pickers. They said that the workers in the archive looked happier than themselves. By the end of the archive watching session, their attention start to drift and they start talking about themselves and their dreams

Chris Marker, Sans soleil: People sleeping in the tube, intercut with scary images of their dreams

An actor comes to an audition for a movie and pretends to be blind. When asked why by the director, he says he did it for the love of cinema.

A man burns himself with a cigarette, saying it is the only way to show the effect of Napalm (which causes a 3000°C burn compared to 400°C for a cigarette.
-> Does trauma/hurt guarantee authenticity ?
-> My own work on Magdalene/asylums ? Is it a cheap trick ?

Agnostic anxiety: not to know whether what you see or think is real or not, correct or not.

As a spectator, do you expect transformation from an artwork ?

Questions:

My question: in “A letter to Uncle Boonmee”, “soldiers occupied the place, killed villagers, forced them to flee to the jungle”. Yet the deserted houses are very clean (and houses in ireland show how very quickly they deteriorate). So this image hints at recent trauma/violence. This is reinforced by the presence of fictionnal soldiers played by local teens. Are they real houses or stage design ?
-> previous speaker: trauma/hurt guarantee of authenticity
-> I point out to a urbex forum discussion of the moral implications for the artist/urbexer of picturing recent trauma. Are the moral implications different between taking pictures of Tchernobyl and post Katrina NOLA?

Michael Newall

Pyramid – Adam Chodzko: Folkestone residents reaction to the appearance and disappearance of an otherworldly object, the pyramid.

International God Look-alike competition – Adam Chodzko

Philosophy of Art
Cognitivism: the value of Art is to offer knowledge/deepen understanding
Bourriaud – relational aesthetics: art that facilitates communities
-> critic of it: it designs only social situations where there are no conflicted interests. Different from real life.
-> he argues that activist art can change social situations, as opposed to relational
-> my objection: Activist art gives an answer to the audience (thesis, propaganda) whereas relational art make audience make their own meaning
-> later I actually get the opportunity to ask this and here is the answer: he refered not to propaganda/thesis art but to activist art in situ that have uncontrollable consequences where the happening takes place. And also other things like Antisocial Networking which used Google advertising revenues in order to buy google shares.

Brian Dillon

André Breton and Dogma 95 have in common a confusion between fact and fiction, and put serious and comedy together.

Artists are increasingly encouraged to be academics (“practice led research”). The relationship between Art and Academia is ambiguous. He says that the artist does not like the label of intuition and wants the image of rigour (my unvoiced objection: Certainly not all artists !!!)

The museum values what is not Art in Art: what looks like Art is called kitsch! That’s how the Avant guarde gets into the museum, because it looks different. The Avant guarde blurs the line with everyday life. In order to be successful, the artist produces something that does not look like Art. My unvoiced objection: this is a recent “postmodern” phenomenon. Dada and surrealists certainly did not make it to museum when they first started making strange objects, rather they were insulted n the press by respectable art critics.

What is now valued in Art is the research/knowledge underneath the work. References to other disciplines, “the world as such”. My unvoiced objection: “the world as such” is not the same as “the world as observed by academics”. What did art refer to before ? Didn’t it refer directly to “life” as opposed to an academic representation of life?

Jeremy Millar

Human Forms in Art (2008)
-> taken from the name of a display case in the Pit Rivers Museum (Oxford) that was emptied for building works
-> When interviewing someone for a documentary, people first say what they want to say. You have to keep looking at them without saying anything or stopping the camera and after a while they end up saying what they did not want to say, which often turns out more interesting.
Withdrawal of responsibility by pretending to be just passing on some found material: this is an old tradition in literature.
-> he found something about Duchamp by making a film, a fact that no academic knew of, but someone commented to him that a Phd would be more valued than the movie: the Big Duchamp stained glass “The Bride stripped bare by her bachelors” was apparently inspired by sash windows he saw for the first time in a little town in Kent.
-> My idea: there may be a pun behind this. Sash window = fenêtre à guillotine. A nickname for the guillotine was “La Veuve” (= “The Widow”) which sounds a lot like window. This coincidence may have amused Duchamp -> sacrificing a bride to make a widow?

Jeremy Millar filmed “Ajapeegel” (“Time-Mirror” in Estonian), a video set in the abandoned plant where Andrei Tarkovsky filmed “Stalker”.

Ajapeegel (2008)
Digital Video / PAL 16:9 Anamorphic / Stereo
Narrated by Simon Paisley-Day

The work has been developed from an earlier, abandoned video of the same name, that was to explore the relationship (or lack thereof) between groups of English men on stag-weekends in Tallinn, Estonia, and the three men in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’ (1979), which was also shot in and around the city. In ‘Stalker’, the eponymous guide, a scientist and a writer all travel to a room in the ‘Zone’ where, it is said, their inner-most wishes will come true; similarly those men on stag-weekends also make a transitional journey, where, they hope, their desires will be made real also. However, after having filmed a great deal of footage on the original locations in 2005, I found it impossible to realise this planned film, and this new work is, in many ways, a documentary of this failure; an ‘unmaking of’ rather than a ‘making of’ film.

Time-Mirror (2007)
Duration 00:19:20:10
Digital Audio File

This project has been developed from another work, ‘Ajapeegel’, (2008) inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, ‘Stalker’, much of which was shot just outside Tallinn, in Estonia. ‘Time-Mirror’ — the English translation of the Estonian ‘Ajapeegel’ — was made by mixing recordings made at the site of a disused hydroelectric power station outside Tallinn, where parts of ‘Stalker’ where shot, with recordings made at Grain Power Station during an artist’s placement there. The similarities between the ‘Zone’ and Grain — the power stations, the desolate landscape, even the military installations — mean that they act as ‘Time-Mirrors’ to one another, or perhaps, more appropriately in this context, as echoes; these are places that reverberate.

Ajapeegel (2005)
Colour Photographs

These are photographs taken in and around Tallinn, Estonia, on locations used for the filming of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, ‘Stalker’; these locations were also used for my own film, Ajapeegel (2008).
The title of these works was taken from that of a book by Tatjana Elmanovits, the first monograph on the Russian director, which was found in a second-hand bookshop in the centre of Tallinn; it means, in Estonian, ‘Time-Mirror’.

Untitled Drawings (2002-onwards)
50 x 70cm
Colour Photograph

Part of a series of photographs that take as their motif the throwing of a metal nut and bandage which is found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979). In the film, the Stalker ties bandages to the nuts and uses them to navigate around the mysterious Zone; if the nut travels true through the air and lands safely, then the Stalker and his two companions may travel that way also. While the actions were carried out in similarly uncertain spaces, between nature and industry, and suggest an uncertain presence also, they might also be considered as a rather elaborate means of merely making a line on a piece of paper. The first photograph was made in 2002 in Blean woods, between Whitstable and Canterbury; the remaining photographs were made in Hungary in 2003, during a brief artist’s residency.

One of the speakers?: the inventor of anthropology invented fieldwork techniques because he was forced to stay extensively in Australia in order to avoid being drafted in 1st world war.

Photographing suburban America: New Topographics / Wim Wenders

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Photography with tags , , , on February 11, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

In the 1975 Exhbition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered landscape, photographers started showing an interest in the banal, the creeping uniformed landscapes of suburban America. Previously, landscape photography was aimed at showing the beauty of Nature. The New Topographics had an interest in social comment, irony for some of them. An interesting feature of the show was that all the photographers in it were linked to academia (students or teachers) whereas documentary and landscape photography previously had a long tradition of self taught artists. This show may be seen as the start of a new photographic tradition, still very important in contemporary photography where the subject matter is all and aestheticism either irrelevant or actively avoided. “Conceptual Photography” or “Essay Photography”, one may call this tradition.

Most of the photographs were black and white and had a rather bland, clinical look, probably due to the flat lighting.

Robert Adams, Tract House, 1974.
Robert Adams, Tract House, 1974.

Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, 1968.
Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, 1968.

Henry Wessel, Tucson, Arizona, 1974.
Henry Wessel, Tucson, Arizona, 1974.

However, other photographs, while still depicting bland, anonymous places, have a more dramatic or eerie lighting that give the pictures at atmosphere of non specified creepiness, of impending doom, of surreality. As though too much bland realism crossed over to the point where the image is not believable anymore, where we get the feeling that we are gazing at a too-perfect movie set.

John Schott, El Nino Motel, 1973.
John Schott, El Nino Motel, 1973.

Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, 1973.
Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, 1973.

I particularly like the images of Stephen Shore. I like the way the technicolor feel of his pictures evocates Hollywood and the American Dream, while his subject matter reminds how grim it turned for most.


Stephen Shore, 2nd Street East and South Main Street, Kalispell, Montana (August 22, 1974).


Stephen Shore, Alley, Presidio, Texas (February 21, 1975).

His images remind me of the photographs and films of Wim Wenders. I feel in them the same love/hate fascination with the archetypes of the American Dream. “Americans have colonialised our subconscious” says Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) in “Kings of the Roads”. They look a bit like paintings by Edgar Hopper too.

I think what catches my eye in a documentary photograph is a cinematic look with dramatic lighting and colours that creates an ambiguous contrast with the unstaged nature of the scene.