Man with a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov, a Soviet filmmaker, was a member of the Kinok movement. The Kinoks believed that cinema should only exist the documentary style, that “the camera lens was a machine that could be perfected infinitely to grasp the world in its entirety and organize visual chaos into a coherent, objective picture.” In 1929 Vertov made an experimental film called Man with a Movie Camera. The film has no story or actors and serves as an example of non-fictional, unstaged cinema. The purpose, to comment on Soviet ideals in their present and shape them to a perfect city.

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Man with a Movie Camera, 1:02

The film begins with a series of slides giving the viewer background on the film. One of which discusses the goal to create “a truly international absolute language.” It’s a tall order and the success of it in this film can be left up for debate. I believe it’s most important to consider if nonverbal-language is a valid form of language to begin with. In general, to create a common language, we need to not only be able to understand, but also communicate the desired intent through a single medium. Language is taught from a young age and is, eventually, completely natural for people — ebbing and flowing without effort. A simple example of non-verbal language is writing. I can express my thoughts through characters on a page, another person can read them and understand my meaning. At times, there are misunderstandings, but as a whole it works.

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Another non-verbal language is, of course, sign language. As with spoken word, deaf children learn sign language from their parents and other surrounding influences. In fact, deaf children are able to sign at an earlier age then hearing children can speak. So, what does that say for communication through cinema?

To prove it can be cinema alone that forms an absolute international language, the “speakers” of this language should be able to create amble content and teach its meaning in such a way that every person in this community can, without thought, create unique content that conveys their inner mind. I would argue that the creation of said content is possible, but currently we do not express it with such ease. The Kinoks believed the camera could eventually become “hidden,” a natural and unseen part of its environment. As cameras become more and more common, we come to have an additional eye through the screens of our phones. For now, we remain separate, but it is possible we will reach the state in which the camera, much like the lenses in of a pair of glasses, is no longer seen by the user, giving us a gateway to a universal tongue through cinema.

Applying Flusser

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Processing: Flusser says photographs are read as 2d compilations of symbols and signifiers. That the introduction of the technical image changed the way we see the world. The introduction of the technical image influenced thinking, moving us from a text-based society to an image-based society and with this a transition from linear thought to conceptual where text supports image instead of reverse as was previously.

After reading Flusser, my perspective of the function of images and especially of my own images changed. His ideas made me realize the power that each image contains. It made me feel an urgency to act and work to use this power in order to illuminate and not to obfuscate. His writings also made me aware of my desire to direct the meaning of the images I produce more specifically.

At the conclusion of his essay titled The Distribution of Photographs he says “To summarize: Photographs are received as objects without value that everyone can produce and that everyone can do what they like with. In fact, however, we are manipulated by photographs and programmed to act in a ritual fashion in the service of a feedback mechanism for the benefit of cameras [which expands elsewhere as being for the benefit of the programmer of the camera and whomever the program serves]. Photographs suppress our critical awareness in order to make us forget the mindless absurdity of the process of functionality, and it is only thanks to this suppression that functionality is possible at all. Thus photographs form a magic circle around us in the shape of the photographic universe. What we need is to break this circle.”(64) 

I’ve been enlightened to see everywhere the concepts of images, what they communicate subtly and not so subtly and the way these concepts support the ruling class and damage the media illiterate (and literate) citizen. (Flusser defines media literacy as the ability to decode and encode images.) I have been thereby thinking of how the projects I have begun could be used to “break the circle.” I am working through these ideas but will show them in class soon.

Vadim Stein

Vadim Stein is a photographer, artist and sculpture promeninetly known for photographing ballerinas in motion. He was very important to the research looking into capturing the qualities of motion of an object in motion – in this case fabric. His images convey the sense of motion by not only capturing these qualities in a still frame but also through the use of color and contortion of the body. This composition of the body creates a tension in the mind of the viewer but also to the edges of the frame. Particularly the images in which the body is nested within a spandex material and contorted is very powerful because of the ability to distract from the obviousness of it being a human body but rather looking at it more as an object.

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Right: Lebbeus Woods: Neomechanical Tower (upper) chamber
Left: Still from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys

“12 Monkeys, also known as Twelve Monkeys, is a 1995 American neo-noir science fiction filmdirected by Terry Gilliam, inspired by Chris Marker‘s 1962 short film La Jetée, and starring Bruce Willis,Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt, with Christopher Plummer and David Morse in supporting roles. AfterUniversal Studios acquired the rights to remake La Jetée as a full-length film, David and Janet Peopleswere hired to write the script.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_Monkeys

Lebbeus Woods was an American Architect known mostly for his imaginative and seductively rendered drawings. This drawing on the right is his and was used as the inspiration of Terry Gilliam’s scene in 12 Monkeys , a feature length film based on Chris Marker’s La Jetee. Woods filled a lawsuit against Gilliam in which it was decided that the footage would be removed from the film. In the end, Woods, happy with the financial settlement, did not ask for the footage to be removed.

I think about this in terms of Marker speaking to the power of the images we recall. Cinema is an obvious device as a means to give visuals to memory – but we all know its much more complicated than that. Photography has provided the most accurate means of revisiting the visuals of a certain time – but what Marker imposes in through the narrative structure of La Jetee is the collapsibility of that construct.

 

Remedios Varo

Stumbling upon this wonderful surrealist Mexican Artist – Remedios Varo, who created a lot of paintings that experimented with fabric form and the environment. What is most significant about her work, and how she regarded her own work, was that she saw surrealism as a world in which the limits of Cubism can be tested. For her, this sytle and her method of painting was used to communicate the incommunicable. She uses fashion and her interpretation of fabric to elevate her mostly female subjects within the genre of Surrealism that typically tended to degrade the female form. For me what is interesting here is the how the fabric manages to turn many corners and morph into the environment within the frame.

 

Photo Resurrections

When I look at a portrait, I feel as if I am glimpsing into a person of the past. The subject was clearly staring at the camera, but it feels almost as if he or she were staring at me, wishing to share their story. It’s as if, as Hein said, the “image may contain the hints of otherwise unknowable mysteries of past lives that do hold meaning in present lives.” In this reading, I was constantly reminded of my own family.

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This is a picture of my grandmother, mom, and grandfather — taken in 1966. My grandmother was a recent graduate of the undergraduate chemistry program and my grandfather, a recent recipient of his PhD in particle physics, both from UC Berkeley. Here, they are happily married, in love with a child. When I look at this photo, it carries secrets and stories apart from the snapshot, like the torture my grandfather’s family endured in China so he could have a better life. In a sense, this idea of portraits holding secrets reminds me of Nostalgia. Without audio, it would’ve just been photos burning. Perhaps we could project or analyze to try and figure out what was happening, but we are only truly able to see what meaning is carried because of the words, the stories, and how they impacted Frampton. For me, stories like this bring even more respect and connection to my ancestors. Knowing what those who share your DNA have done gives insight into your blood and, to some extent, yourself. Perhaps a take away from this is that in your work, it’s important to have some sort of story, be it personal or related to what you see. Then, the image can be a vessel for deeper meaning.

Perception: Shadowed and Illuminated

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“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

The lucid text of La Jetée says so many things at once because these questions of memory and time are embedded in every aspect of life because as far as I know, all things are subject to the passage of time. The question of perception is rooted in memory–our perception of the present influenced by memories of the past and curbed by our imagination of the future. This relates to our image making because we are communicating a perception to an audience. We are learning of earlier artists and learning how to root our work in the context of the past. This allows our work to be understood in a common visual language. Without the past or as the narrator says of how the experiment was carried forth: “First the present and all its supports must be stripped away.” When a photo or image has no context of time or location, you can do this, you can remove it from the supports of the present as with abstract work but if you are trying to communicate a present concept, you will need memory, collective memory, the past in some form.

In his essay about La Jetée (La Jetée: Unchained Melody) for the Criterion Collection, Jonathan Romney says, “Time moves differently in this extraordinary essay on cinematic tense, and from the start, our perceptions of past, present, and future undergo strange mutations. The tense of the narrative shifts between past and present, the latter used predominantly to narrate the hero’s return to a lost past.“ Our sense of time in the modern age has mutated in ways that I don’t think we will understand for a while. The bright screens, proliferation of images and sensory input from the technology embedded in our lives poses new ways to perceive and understand time and to communicate it.

 

 

 

La Jetee

This film is a truly surreal experience. The use of the heart beat and the image of the  device covering the eyes was both alarming and symbolic. chrismarker_top_0

The use of this image with the heartbeat  was effective in collapsing this man’s essence across time into this one moment. Here, the time travel is occurring, from his current state where he thinks about a certain memory, to the time when he experiences  the memory. The heart beat, often the simplest representation of life is played in parallel with moment that allows him to not only mentally, but physically transfer his conscience between the two moments. It an extremely interesting way to view the human experience especially considering the media used to represent it. The first is a still image, but the other it a transient repetitive sound. This movie shows a collection of fleeting moments with a constant stream of sounds informing the moments, ultimately representing a moment that has informed the whole film. The tension between momentary and transient is always in a movie about time travel, but is especially present in this film, specifically because of the use of still images rather than moving scenes. The conflict is not apparent simply from watching but when processing the film after experiencing it much like life itself.

La Jetee

I made the most basic of mistakes, this whole time I watched the film without any sound because my computer was on mute (I assure you this truly does change the experience of the film as you make your own narrative about what the hell is going on). I think this particular format of film is very powerful because it lets your imagination fill in all the unseen and in my case, untold, parts. As opposed to todays cinematic where we can re-create any environment to be as real as we want (Avatar) and any mutations/effects as believable as we want (transformers), there is something almost refreshing in the “primitive” stylings of this film and how it travels across times to portray different pasts and possible futures. It got me really interested in my own project when it comes to capturing motion so I began to play with implementing “fake” simulated computer generated cloths that have been simulated in a completely different reality to superimpose it on the present of the image I took. Also the most fascinating thing I found was the contraption that was strapped to his eyes – it reminded me a lot of the VR goggles that are really hot right now in the tech world, and essentially this did the same thing of projecting into the future and past. It reminded me a lot of the power of the image for the creation of possible worlds.