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  • Damien Williams

Week 2: Interdisciplinary Practice:Webinar task and practical

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Deep dive into Man with a movie camera (1929) Dziga Vertov

"Work It! (Man with the Movie Camera)" – 8:05 the images and music, improvisation of both camera and instruments appeals to my sense of interdisciplinary practice and cross artistic thinking.

Man with a Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors by Soviet-Russian director Dziga Vertov, (Whose name by birth was David Abelevich Kaufman. Dziga Vertov was a psuedonym. It translates to spinning top, which is said to have fitted with his approach to the cinematography. The 4 year project, meant to depict a day in the life of a city, was edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. The editing (rhythmically and sequentially) is equally as important to this work as the dynamic and improvisatory cinematography. A theory he called kino-glaz (“film-eye”) theory (the camera is an instrument) much like the human eye.

Sight & Sound named it the best documentary of all time. This raises the question for me, what qualifies as a documentary? Don McCullin's photojournalism often appears in art gallery settings which raises the controversy of whether his war photography is Art. McCullin has very strong views on this, believing himself to be a photographer and not an artist. Does this mean that street photography is or isn't art? If you look back at the well versed conflict of the Vernacular and successionist photographers, this argument hasn't moved on significantly in over a century. It terms of my practice, I see the environment of exhibition as non-exclusive to Art. Which would allow that arena to be a place of display, exhibition, conversation and discussion, very much like a website is a multi-purpose arena.

Man with a movie camera is, however, not, in my opinion, just definable as Art. It is at it's heart a social commentary that goes beyond just Verite or Kino-Pravda.

This forum task is about thinking away from photography for a moment.

Find a piece of work that has some kind of link to your own practice or research interests. This could be anything you like - a film, a painting, a piece of text; but not a photograph.

Post the piece on the forum and briefly explain why you chose it, and how it relates to your own work.

For this task I posted:

Requiem For A Dream (2000). Director: Darren Aronofsky, Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique. "Hallucination scene 24:00 - 24:08"

This is (a very grainy) film still from Requiem or A Dream (you will have to watch the sequence to see what I mean). I have a fascination with film-making and primarily the choices that cinematographers make but I am more interested in sequencing and editing. I come from a music background so the manipulation of meaning (and consequently style/identity - hence the choices) through duration and rhythm is something I wish to explore much deeper visually, through the manipulation of temporal and spatial compositions including sequencing. Essentially montage... but not?!

The reason I chose this still is that if you watch the clip in sequence there is so much information packed into the frame (making the 'still' composition hugely important), but the movement that happens within such a relatively still composition directs the eye around almost forensically to establish narrative. The light from the window also illuminates the frame with increasing intensity as the speedboat in the distance provides a guiding line towards the only human in shot. It still leaves me with the question of Who/what is the subject? Does the subject change in the short clip? Is this a temporally abstracted montage (which is a temporal abstraction in itself)? How could you grant the viewer this kind of experience in a gallery environment?

Sorry more questions than answers!


This movie also has some incredible montage sequences that deliver intensity to mimic drug-taking. Immersing the viewer in an almost 'breaking the fourth wall' type of experience is also something I am interested in. It was my initial entry point into the technical aspect of the making of this film. The whole film plays with space and time in order to tell the story.

Here are some responses:

From CP:

"Hi Damien - I remember hating this film the first time I saw it, then i read the book and realised I hadn't got it at all. I also loved his mother film which was just greatly weird (and reminds me of an old french film called themroc where everyone turns into cave people in Paris).
The idea of the fourth wall in photography is very much present, especially in Max Pinckers work - he did a project called the fourth wall."

My response:

"Hi CP,
Thank you for responding. The film is not a very 'enjoyable' experience, it would probably have been more controversial if it was. I haven't read the book yet. I will, i'm sure, get around to it. What a great project 'The Fourth Wall" is. I hadn't heard of it before so thank you for the recommendation. Reading the interview with Simon Bainbridge (from a tip by PC) the comment that stood out for me (based on what we have been discussing on the MA) was:
" Using the language of documentary adds to this confusion of fact and fiction, capturing scenes in which it is unclear whether what we see is staged or a spontaneous moment. “A photograph of two men in uniform climbing over a fence, escaping,” for example, is “a re-enactment of a moment that just passed."
That whole reflection of an action, increased by one more degree of separation by 'documenting a reconstruction/interpretation from the subjects imagination' is incredibly intriguing as a concept.

Here is the interview:

Ones to Watch: Max Pinckers

Text by Simon Bainbridge

First published in the British Journal of Photography magazine, UK, January 2013

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