Friday, September 28, 2007

Errol Morris on Crimean War Photos

This blog's favorite documentarian, Errol Morris, takes a look at what we know and what we think we know on some Fenton photographs from 1855.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dissolve to: September

I've been quiet on this blog this week, but there's actually a lot going on.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Life Through a Lens

As I hope to make a documentary on photographers in the near future (details soon), I've started watching all the photography-related docs I can. Last night's was Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens from the American Masters series. It was very good, and I enjoyed it, but I was left with two questions.

It's directed by Barbara Leibovitz. While the idea of a documentary Director with a connection to the film's subject is not uncommon at all -- think of Nathaniel Kahn in My Architect or Lucia Small in My Father, the Genius -- generally these are cases where the Director is "out" and obvious and often referenced in the film, amounting to a character in the drama.

Barbara is Annie's sister. While the documentary doesn't reference this, the PBS site about the film does:

Given unrestricted access, director Barbara Leibovitz spent a year documenting Annie Leibovitz at home and at work. "As her sister, I feel a serious responsibility not only to tell her story - but to tell it honestly," says Barbara Leibovitz, a writer, director and producer of award-winning documentaries. "It was a challenge, but I learned more about my sister than I ever imagined."
I'm not certain, though, that the audience did.

The implication that Leibovitz is our greatest living photographer goes unchallenged, with only Vicki Goldberg standing in to represent the art world, and tossing out two zingers in the midst of much fawning praise. I would love to have heard Leibovitz on the subject of where she thinks her work stands within the field.

While there are "honest" references to Leibovitz participating in the drug scene while following a Rolling Stones concert tour and eventually entering a rehab program, the tone of that section of the film is mild and vague. Do people enter rehab without major issues and problems? Does one imagine the specifics are known and could be told? Are we left dining at the children's table, unable to overhear the adults talking?

Is unrestricted access important if there are large questions left unaddressed in a film that purports to represent a person's life?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chris Marker Photographs

Over on my New York Portraits blog I've posted a link about seeing the Chris Marker: Staring Back exhibition in Chelsea. I'm hoping to write a bit about these images soon since -- as always -- I'm very interested in where documentary film and documentary photography intersect and overlap.

Photo Chick Update

Episode One of Photo Chick has climbed past 7,000 views and Episode Two is nearing 2,000 views. So the plan is to tape Episode Three on Friday. There's also material for a more documentary-style episode recorded, so you may be seeing that soon as well....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York Portraits

Over on my other blog -- New York Portraits -- I've been posting about my visit to the galleries in Chelsea. Of particular interest, from the standpoint of documentary, is the work of:

Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park

"For these photos, taken in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks during the 1970s, Mr. Yoshiyuki used a 35mm camera, infrared film, and flash to document the people who gathered there at night for clandestine trysts, as well as the many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched—and sometimes participated in—these couplings."
Showing at Yossi Milo Gallery (525 West 25th Street) until October 20th.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Era of Dumb and Loud Continues

My post on Learning from YouTube was written early in the morning, before the story made its way to the "weird news" section of the news sites. Since then, of course, the story has shown up on, and become a subject for the commenters there.

Those of you with an interest in the divergence between facts and opinion in our current social model may want to take a look. Why is it we're reduced to stereotypes, loudly-voiced opinions that wouldn't hold up to facts found in the most basic google-search, and the lowest-common-denominator opinions of those suffering Internet Tough Guy Syndrome?

Any chance for a return to reasoned discourse in the forseeable future?

Friday, September 14, 2007

TOOTS is opening in New York

Kristi Jacobsen's "Toots" is opening today. She emailed:

"There are 16 films opening in New York this weekend and this little film with our modest advertising budget is going to depend almost exclusively on word-of-mouth. So, if you haven't made your plans to see TOOTS this weekend please get on the phone and invite some friends and they’ll be happy you did. Our biggest challenge is not getting people to enjoy the film, it's getting people to come to see it.
It is showing at:

THE QUAD 34 W. 13th St. (bet. 5th/6th)

CLEARVIEW CINEMA 1st Ave & 62nd St

and there is a Filmmaker Q&A Friday night and Saturday all shows at the Quad and Sunday all shows at Clearview. Follow these links for tickets and for more info:

Start with This One

Here's the "Intro to Learning from YouTube" video.

Learning from YouTube

Yes, I have made videos for YouTube presentation. And yes, I did attend the Claremont Colleges.

So I was entertained to see the news article SoCal college offers YouTube class.

CLAREMONT, Calif. - Here's a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube.

Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.
Now, I happen to know that the teacher for the class, Alexandra Juhasz, is a very serious media scholar and a documentary maker as well. So, while the tone of the story is jokey, I'm sure it will actually be a very good media literacy course. You can visit the YouTube Group for the class and see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An Honor to be Nominated and All That

Matt Gross emailed to let me know that Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip has been nominated as a finalist for Outstanding Use of Digital Media by the Online Newspaper Association.

New York, (September 11, 2007) – Finalists for the 8th annual Online Journalism Awards, honoring excellence in digital journalism, have been announced by the Online News Association and the USC Annenberg School for Communication.... The winners will be announced at the OJA Awards Banquet during the 8th annual national conference of the Online News Association, which will be held October 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Centre, Toronto.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

All Official Like

Well, my certificate from The New School arrived in the mail today. So, my brief time as a member of the first class in the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies program is officially at an end.

The envelope it arrived in said in large letters: DO NOT BEND. As with all my mailing needs, the U.S. Postal Service performed inadequately: the bottom of the envelope was bent, and the certificate had a slight crease in it. (After my previous mailing woes -- lost mail, never-received mail, never-sent mail, and completely-smushed mail -- I was just sort of grateful they hadn't set it on fire or put it through a blender and used it as confetti for a postal worker parade. It's the little things that count.)

I think that first class will prove to be a group you'll hear from again and again. Perhaps I'll post a "where are they now?" sometime soon....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Photography on Thursday Nights

It is time once again for my Seriously Fun Photography class. I'm flexible, though. You don't have to enjoy it if you don't want to.

It starts this Thursday, so register now....

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Forever is Opening

Heddy Honigmann's Forever is probably my favorite documentary I've seen in the last year. It will be opening in New York and then the rest of the country in the upcoming weeks. Go and see it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Photo Chick, Episode 2

The second episode of the Photo Chick series is posted.

Fashion Week Documentaries

If it turns out you aren't invited to any of the shows in the Bryant Park tents, are there any good documentaries to watch during New York Fashion Week?

Yes, there are. Here are three.

Notebook on Cities and Clothes



Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Or Could It Be the Poor Quality of the Product?

Is the Internet killing cinema?

"The Hollywood director, Ridley Scott, warned yesterday that new technology is killing off the big-screen experience. The Oscar-winning County Durham-born movie mogul said mobile phones and computers threatened movie-making on an epic scale.

He insisted that the best way to experience great film was still in a cinema with a big screen and state-of-the art acoustics."
To stories like this I say the same thing I have said to every "we're losing the old way!" story in the last 15 years: let it go.

Let it go. The 35-million-dollar-budget model of filmmaking needs a good thorough killing. More precisely, it needs something better to compete for the same resources. That's the only way art forms have ever developed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Running and Gunning

I've been discussing and thinking about the theory behind editing run-and-gun footage lately, so I really enjoyed David Bordwell's post on the use of that style in The Bourne Ultimatum and the other Bourne films.

In general, the run-and-gun look says, I’m realer than what you normally see. In the DVD supplement to Supremacy, “Keeping It Real,” the producers claimed that they hired Greengrass because they wanted a “documentary feel” for Bourne’s second outing. Greengrass in turn affirms that he wanted to shoot it “like a live event.” And he justifies it, as directors have been justifying camera flourishes and fast cutting for fifty years, as yielding “energy. When you get it, you get magic.”

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Frugal Reminiscence

There's a new Frugal Traveler up at The New York Times. (I didn't edit this one, though I'm hoping to do some future episodes.) Worth watching anyhow.

A Parallel of Sorts

One of the things the field of photography wrestled with as it became one of the key practices in art was a sort of reaction against professionalism.

That is, if you were a conceptual artist in the 1970s, it was likely you would describe yourself as "an artist using photography" or perhaps a "photo artist" rather than as a photographer. Photographers were interested in craft, and you, as an artist, would have been interested in ideas and the concerns of art. To a degree, since the piece you might create for a museum or gallery was likely about the ideas or evidence photographs held rather than their aesthetic quality, it became common practice to avoid being "slick" -- the photographs should be rough and unpolished, unconcerned with traditional technique.

A trip to the Guggenheim this weekend brought up a related question: as artists use more video in their work -- at times essentially documentary video -- can they have disdain for the "craft" of documentary making? Strangely, this isn't manifesting in a lack of technical quality -- a lot of artists are able to get high definition equipment and show the work on ultra-slick plasma monitors -- but in a disdain for giving the viewer any welcome to the work.

I walk up to the piece -- odds are in the middle and not the beginning -- and I have little clue as to whether it's 3 minutes or 2 hours in length. I have no clues, often, to how the video is related to the rest of the installation. And my hope that the artist might keep the traditional concern of documentary production for "watchability" in mind is quickly abandoned -- shots go on for long, unedited stretches, bad audio combines with unrevealing camera angles, and I struggle to make sense of what I'm seeing.

It's notable that today few artists using photography feel they can present unpolished images. Will artists using video make that same leap? Should they?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New Gig

I've started teaching a video editing class at Bronx Community College. I'm really happy about it -- there's a very good program in place, and it's part of the C.U.N.Y. system.

I'm keeping the old gigs, of course.