Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Thinking through the box
Years ago one of the first photoblogs I began reading regularly was Doug Plummer's Dispatches. In the past few months, Plummer has shifted from photography to videography (for the purpose of this post, I'm going to call all recorded moving images videography, including film), occasionally posting clips on his blog and more often detailing the trials and trevails of learning a new craft as a novice. It's been interesting peeking over his shoulder.
On their face, videography and photography seem similar. You look through a box and record what's out there. Some of the same visual skills are applicable to each craft, which is why there are many people like Doug Plummer who do both, and why the history of photography is littered with people who crossed over into film. Cartier-Bresson gave up photography for film for a few years, as did Strand and Frank. My friends Bobby and Chris have experimented with both. The two arts seem malleable and similar enough to promote a lot of crossover. Certainly pop culture associates them as interchangeables.
Speaking personally, I just don't get it. I am in love with photography and yet I feel nothing for videography. I could never cross over. Creating moving images seems completely boring and dead to me. I'm not sure why this is. Every time I read about someone like Plummer switching gears it brings up the same questions. I ask myself if the two crafts are really so different, and if not, why don't I have any interest in videography?
I think part of it is due to my love for the moment. The photographs I love best are about synchronicity and irreplaceability. They exist for a split second and are gone, and perhaps occasionally they are captured. There is something very essential, zenlike, and poetic in their nature which is NOT in the nature of any video because by nature a video captures more than one moment.
The other hangup I have about videography is that it generally attempts to record reality. Watching video footage, it is generally pretty clear what was happening in front of the camera. This is true for documentary or pure footage of the sort Plummer is pursuing, but even when actors are used or clips are manipulated in post-production, it is generally possible to interpret the reality of the original scene. With photography, this is not always possible or desirable. By nature a photograph contains less information than video footage. By withholding that information a photo can be subtle, mysterious, and confusing in delightful ways. It can tell you nothing about the original scene and for me that's great. I think this is why I have a hard time appreciating photojournalism or other photography that attempts to tell a story. To paraphrase Winogrand (who I can almost guarantee had no interest in videography), it's about the photograph, not about what was photographed.
That may not make sense but it's the best way I know how to explain it. So reading Dispatches lately has held some of the watch-between-the-fingers sensibility of a horror film. Why is he...No, Don't go in that room! Doesn't he know what's in there? And alone?! I watch with fascination as he plunges eagerly into what to me seems clearly to be a dead zone.
I'm sure others will disagree. Let's hear some counter arguments.