Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gone Hunting

(Girl Chewing on Bubblegum, by John Smith, 1976)

On a bench looking towards the giant field in Prospect Park you can see a diverse collection of people from all sorts of category interact and traverse across the scene.  One can really "people watch" here while taking note of the commonalities of the scene.  From the ethnicities to the social groups to class the greater the diversity the more complex the community becomes.  One time I was interested in gender role shifts from then to now as I observed how many men were carrying their babies over women.  Then to further divide this group I noted how they were carrying their babies; were they using a stroller or was the baby attached to their chest or even back.  By observing how well are we able to gain insight into an area and its inhabitants?  Does observation tell us what kind of people live in this neighborhood or area and how do we classify this area.
In the representation of the real, one must gain a significant insight into the real.  Between interview and conversational exchange to silently observing I hope to conduct my research into two modes: one of approach and intervention and the other removed from my subject.  To observe without interferes I hope to create a representation of the outsider and to further this sense of being removed and outside the aesthetic will be in the matter of a certain type of documentary style.  The other representation, that of the case study will present the voice of the individual by video documentary to portraits of the subjects looking contemplative, the ideal image of the true self.  By splitting the approach into two modes and documentary styles the question of which one represents the everyday with more truth; the observation without voice or the documentary film and constructed portraiture.

(Abandoned Shelter, New York, 2012)
(Hideaway, from We Soon Be Nigh!, 2012)

Gone Hunting is the first phase in which the construction of an urbanized hide will be used to observe the urban environment.  Camouflaged with the aesthetics of the makeshift urban shelter, one which is a product of found objects, the hide will be placed on the street corner for the course of a day as a video camera documents the street activity in its removed position.  The port where the camera will observe from when seen from the outside will be shadowy and dark with the camera's lens hidden.  The necessity of the hide's hiddenness is paramount as it is in the wild, to become invisible so that observation can be done without notice of the subjects being observed.  The power of the lens on the subject's consciousness is able to shift the natural character of the subject into an exhibitionist –one which is aware of self image, the representation, and of the echo of the image captured which posses an infinitude of circulation.  After this phase comes the second portion which is to approach the subject and to give them a voice which in turns changes the perception of them, from anonymous to having a name and a story.  Their poses are dictated by the moment and by the director of the photographer.  Their facial expression is dictated between direction to a moment caught in-between, the nature of the subject coming into the moment for a moment.  The expression which is capture is not one of which poses anything natural but one that is constructed in collaboration between the subject and the documentarian.  The exchange between the two parties creates the dynamic in the image, and through editing ultimately the author is the master of the representation.  But regardless of how the image is handled or controlled there between the lines is a fragmented representation of the real, just as the hidden camera captures, both approaches question representation of the real.  And when replicated in a staged setting with actors this representation is then questioned further as what we see is uncanny in its resemblance to the real.  In some cases, such as watching a hollywood film or viewing a staged photograph, through relation to the image and the ability to interpellate to the subject and the subject matter we are able to connect with what we see better than real footage of the everyday, the photograph of a stranger from the street.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Wall

(Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, "Retiring Zhora"scene, 1982)

There is a particular scene from Ridley Scott's cyberpunk classic, Blade Runner, where the background actor isn't a passive object of the environment but the thing that creates the tension of the scene as well as the frustration of the character of the narrative.  As the character, Dreckard is chasing after his target, Zhora, they leave the privacy of a club into heavily populated area in a futuristic Los Angeles.  The compression of space is apparent as Dreckard tries to penetrate the crowd in order to "retire" Zhora.  The function of the crowd is less individualistic as they form a volume which creates a wall, or even a maze for Dreckard and Zhora to traverse –which ultimately leds the viewer through the scene.  The mass is able to move, but their shear volume obscures Dreckard from being able to see Zhora, or even use his gun.  All throughout this scene, Dreckard struggles with the crowd and pushes and sometimes knocks over a total of 19 people.  Zhora uses the crowd to camouflage herself from being seen.  And in the context of this film, Zhora being a "replicant", an artificial life-form that replicates human nature and is questionably separated from humans, creates a motif that questions what it is to be human, but in this case study of background actors, her character and its attention to the viewer is obscured into the thickness of the kinetic background.  She disappears in the invisibility plane.
(Citizens of the night scene from Blade Runner, 1982)

The aesthetics of the background actors is representative of both the futuristic vision of the film as well as the multiculturalism of the location depicted.  There are signifiers of slums, with street people, along with monks of mixed race, punks, masked individuals, fur-coat bearing bourgeoisie, and other characters that defy category and the trolley which seems to unite them all as they move throughout this fictional landscape.  Even with this heighten-sense of multiculturalism and the individuals it can make, they all seem to blend in as exactly what they are as a mass and conform to the term, "multiculturalism".  They reach their broadest of terms of identification as being the sum of its parts, the whole or without, the mass of the many as this word comes into repetition.  The scene seems to create a gathering of all stereotypes of cyberpunk culture and its characterization, with mixtures of streampunk, bright colors, street punks, slum dwellers, the freaks and mutates, ridiculous and impractical clothing of futuristic fashion (which often "dates" a film in retrospect).  It is an overwhelming sight, with one group or individual replaced by another, after another in this high production and peak of Hollywood's studio system.  And in the spectacle this vision of the future creates the background character is heighten in the process.  There is a symbiotic relationship that the scene/environment has with its inhabitants as if they were once introduced to the environment and had gone through the process of adaptation and through radical transformation and mutation they become the forms in which the viewer sees.  The notion of being a product of the environment is brought into question and as human being one of the most influential creatures of this planet on its environment, is it fact the humans which occupy the space which dictate the environment or is it the environment that creates the conditions of the creature?  The urban environment is at the forefront of this discussion as it is the furthest removed from the natural environment and represents the epicenter of human influence on the landscape.  This model of the urban landscape creates the herd mentality, the diffusion of individuality when placed within volume.  The job entitlement of the background actor in an urban landscape is to be a member of the crowd, to blend into the background and to operate as a whole.  Where does roleplaying and their job mix and differ when they are arranged in volume as background actors being a crowd and taking on the role of being a crowd?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Questioning Invisibility

(Yohance, "The Student" - "The Rapper", 2012)

How does one represent the invisible.  Though photography and its ability to show or to hide; the there and the not there, is it able to illustrate invisibility without it being a void left to vastly open intepretation.  The ambiguous lack of subject in a photograph seems to subtract more then it adds, leaving behind a vacuum the viewer is used into or avoids.  I question my work with the veil, which functions to cover, mask, or hide but doesn't create invisibility rather it hides identity and creates objectivity, –the human becomes the humanoid.  How does the individual or a group of people when put forth as the subject of a photograph without being seen?  Perhaps it is in the very nature being the subject that they are seen as well as being within the frame of the still image that subjectivity is reinforced.  This leads me to the question, through my interest in the background actor, why should the subject be invisible when I am focused on portraying that which has been placed back into the recesses of attention?
By bringing the background actor to the foreground and making this work a focus on what is being repressed to the boondocks of our attention perhaps the issue of invisibility is resolved.  By asking following questions I enter this investigation in order to understand the background actor through personal interviews.  Who is the background actor, what is he or she portraying, and what does their portrayal represent?  Do their actions and their appearance reenforce a representation?  And what happens when their employment typecasts people into reoccurring characters, stereotypes.  When casting directors select people for background work they do not hold casting calls, or have them deliver lines but instead just use a photograph to project the role on to them.  In this effect, the photograph represents them, gives them employment, and gives them their role.  There is a relationship between the singular image, as subjective and out of context it is, to its subject.  The headshot holds a duolistic ability to serve as well as betray.  And the importance of the headshot is the same as a mugshot is used to identify a suspect, it is the materialization of the mental image, whether that be for a role, or in the case of the mugshot, of the appearance of the suspect to a victim's memory.  The subjective nature of photography both represents and misrepresents, and is an attempt at the real, that ever-changing thing of motion and multiplicity of imagery.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Remoteness and The Invisible Plane

I'm putting myself into a routine of writing about my work and I hope by the use of this blog to be an informal discussion of my thoughts, process, and research in order to coop with the demands of grad school.

Introducing The Masters Series.  I hope to not fail this series of writings.

Remoteness and The Invisible Plane

(Snapshot of "Nine Eleven, 2011" on a display screen, 2012)

Contemplating the photograph, one which is based out of a constructed practice of image-making and another based out of an obsession to document experience traveling through the world and the everyday.  How they relate to each other besides from being born out of the same author is that they are both seen as documents to me.  The snapshot comes out of an obsession to document my everyday in order to expand but also complete my memory (which in turn can never be complete since the camera is flawed in perspective, the decision to photograph, and that the still frame is always, inherently out of context (without a beginning or an ending and within a frame)).  The constructed image which is staged is an afterthought of a moment, or a collection of moments and is a contemplation of the significance of a particular memory, a feeling, and an idea.  Where the snapshot is flawed in its aesthetics of being rough, out-of-focus, motion blur, mixed light sources, on-camera flash, and perhaps not the right focal length, the constructed image which comes from after the moment has passed is perfected in how the moment appears as a memory.  The flaw of the constructed image is that it isn't the moment that it is referencing and therefore is not real.  The argument I propose here is that what is real?  Reality is subjective, especially in a world that is divided by a social construction of reality which is in conflict with personal reality, one which is born from biographical experience.
I start my collection of images with a morning scene in a living room and in the center of the frame is a television set.  It is large unlike the television sets of today and is more furniture than an illuminated wall-mounted painting, and has become a piece of the domestic landscape, having photos, VHS tapes, and ornaments on top of it.  The television has the image of a CNN broadcast of two planes crashing into the World Trade Center buildings.  The room itself has a smoky atmosphere, dim with a bright world outside.  And though the photograph is completely staged it is as real as my memory of that moment is.  And since the moment has passed I cannot return to that morning of September 11, 2001, where I woke up for school, and my parents readily themselves for their day jobs as they watched the television.  Having just woke up there was a disorientating feeling when my parents tried to update me on what they had known from what they were given by the fanatic behavior of the broadcaster not knowing himself what had exactly happened other than the fact that one commercial airliner had
crashed into the financial epicenter of the nation.

(Nine Eleven, 2011)

The photograph of the staged living room with a television playing a pre-recorded image strikes the viewer with not a question of is this image real but recalls their own memory of that moment.  Even though it had been made ten years after reference point that image is still clear in the viewers mind, and what I claim to be as the clearest collective experience and image in recent memory.  And this is evident in the effect of the viewer when they see this image they are able to place themselves within the context of the image, recalling what they were doing that day and even how they felt.  This scene is not real, it is not the living room I had while I lived in Houston during the 9/11 attacks nor is it the viewers.  It is a generic representation of a collective experience.
An event seen through the camera's lens, then broadcast, and then seen through the television set we are perceiving an image out of context, through the frames of the camera, but ultimately through the ideology behind that broadcasting network.  Just as reality television differs from network to network, with TLC's obsession with abnormalities in our culture (ranging from conjoined twins, hoarding, large volume immediate families, and gypsies) to MTV's youth in conflict with reinforcement of stereotypes of college kids, Italian-American middle class youth, washed-out celebrities struggling with drug addiction and the public eye, these ideologies differ but are all part of multi-faceted ideology of a culture at whole.  Even though we are given the choice of view, from CNN's more liberal approach to Fox News' conservative view, both operate under the same system.  They are all representing reality within a specific cultural and regional ideology.  And this broadcast reality is not providing the lived experience but the simulation of it.  Through studying history we experience the Vietnam War as much as we experience youth drinking in a hot tub by the Jersey Shore or what it is to live in a house full of boxes and too many cats (some being lost or dead hidden away in some dark corner).  There is this remoteness that separates us from the moment's true experience to a controlled and simulated experience.  Cinema isn't far from this simulated experience of the real as it often depicts real events through a singular perspective.  Its heightening of the event is theatrical and relies on aesthetics, staging, and performance to create believability.  It places the viewer in a controlled environment of the cinema, a temple or cave-like setting that instructs the viewer to sit and to pay attention to the center piece, the silver screen in this case, and slowly dissolves the reality outside of the room for one which possess a flicker of motion and the omnipresence soundtrack.  And for two hours what is presented in front of our eyes is believed as a temporal reality, we start to interpellate ourselves into the characters and develop emotional connections as we start to "know" the characters, their scenarios, and the environments that surround them.

(Hoodlumz, 2012)

Rather than focusing on what is in focus, I would like to contemplate not the characters of the narrative but what is in the background.  The background actor's role is to be there, to camouflage itself to the background and to be commonly found object in the environment, such as trees in the forest.  In a sense they are a kinetic background like graffiti jumping from the walls and possessing life.  What they are meant to not possess is individuality, they are a mass of many, and are more caricature than character.  In the contemplation of the background actor being a walking, breathing, and living background is to observed and brought into the foreground, –they now hold our conscious attention.  Through observation they often create error to the simulated reality of cinema, as they are not necessarily trained professionals such as the main characters, but they are often real people there for volume and aesthetics.  Occasionally a background actor can be seen doing a cycling movement that repeats in a shot, or they accidental or purposely look into the lens which gives way to the existence of a camera as our viewing point.  And in some cases the background actors are real people that are untrained and are not volunteering to be background actors but are simply there in a real environment that is being used to represent one that is constructed.  It is in these cases that the control of the filmmaker is removed and there are elements of the real the conflict with the simulation through comparison.  The so-called, Fourth Wall, is breached and in these minor and often hidden nuances bring into question where the audience is.  It is a lucid experience but rather gaining control one realizes the lack of control over the narrative.

(James Woods as Max Renn amongst background actors portraying the homeless in Cronenberg's Videodrome, 1983)

In further contemplation of the background actor is questioning what they represent.  If they are appointed to be a mass of many and are not to have individuality such as the characters of the narrative then they are representations.  It is in their attention or rather their lack of attention that they fall back to a role, and this role being that of "type".  They are performing in the subconscious space of the film and are playing out roles based off of their appearance.  There isn't any introduction to the background actor and their character, they simply appear there in front of us on the screen, –the word, "front", does not define their position within the planes of existence in the film.  They are neither background as they are not affixed such as a wall of a building or a tree in a forest nor are they in same the plane as the characters of the narrative.  If they are neither back nor fore then where are they?
They exist in the simulacrum removed from reality and exist as a sort of transparent being in the cinematic reality.  Art directors in their pursuit to maintain the background actor in the background make them as real as possible, –the realer the less the contradiction is apparent to the viewer.  The word seamless is an ideal description of their aesthetics but being as this is film their actions also must be as real to the viewer and as convenient to the filmmaker as their aesthetics.  One could not imagine having to train individually each background actor to perform a specific role but rather an instruction via a megaphone addressing a mass or a second or third A.D. directing singular groups of background actors to perform a specific task.  These task ranging anywhere from walking across the scene, to appearing to be reading, or talking amongst themselves set in a cycle.  For example a background actor instructed to walk across the scene will perform this task identically for each take.  Or a group of background actors dancing in a circle and to no rhythm in particular.  The more real their everyday actions are the less apparent they become.  They existence on an invisible plane which is right before us but we dismiss them from our attention as the individual is lost to volume and the volume is lost to representation of a representation.  For what the background actor represents is a stereotype, a generality of a specific group of people.