Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My eyes are separate from the camera

While I am very influenced by Jean Rouch's philosophy on how the ethnographer-filmmaker should behave with the camera, I have several independent views, one in particular that sprouts from how I was brought up as a child. My parents were very persistent in demanding that when I speak to someone, particularly an elder, I look them in the eyes as a sign of respect and attentive listening. For the most part, I have always looked someone in the eyes when talking to them about a serious matter or in an attempt to understand what they have to say. When I first starting filming (before my interest in visual anthropology) I would look through the viewfinder or the LCD screen. I believe that this can be attributed to feeling as if this was that right thing to do. Outside influences showed that this is how professionals were always portrayed, so I naturally mimicked those behaviors. I continued filming in this manner until I was assigned to create my first ethnographic film freshman year. This time, when interviewing the subject, and only when engaging in dialogue with the subject, I would remove my eyes from the camera to make eye contact with the subject. In addition to this stemming from childhood habits, I found that eye contact relaxed the pressure and intimidation that the camera lens often places upon the subject. Occasional glances at the camera were necessary to make sure my hand did not get lazy and cut off the top of his head. In other words, I had to constantly make sure the frame was situated in appropriate parameters. However, when I was recording and Sam wasn't talking, my eyes focused on camera. One might ask, what happens when someone or someone interacts with/distracts you outside of the frame while you are filming? I noticed that this happened frequently and proved to be very problematic in some cases.

In filming the video above, there were times when active movement or conversation of others around me, who either paid no attention to the camera or demanded attention from it, briefly solicited my own attention. In the scene (4:37) where Sam is speaking to an experienced DJ, there are people everywhere who are preparing for the show. Emcees, DJs, sound engineers, and stage designers were moving in and out of the frame. Some minded their own business and others took an interest in the camera. The most notable "interference" with the footage is when the young emcee stands in front of the camera (6:12) and says "Ay, Mr. Cameraman. Old Lil Wayne, not new Lil Wayne. New Lil Wayne is garbage." In this situation I paid little attention to him because I felt as though the real conversation was going on between the other performers. This was perhaps an ill-conceived move. I often wonder if I should have devoted more attention to his comment, but at the same time when one is listening to a conversation, one does not always turn to listen to secondary influences and background noises. I quote Rouch in this respect to allow one to understand my reasoning for choosing to half-heartedly acknowledge the "interruption". Steven Feld quotes Rouch,

To return to the terminology of Vertov, when I make a film I "film-see" (ciné-vois) by knowing the limits of the lens and the camera; like wise I "film-hear" (ciné-entends) by knowing the limits of the microphone and the tape recorder; I "film-move" (ciné-bouge) in order to find the right angle or exercise the best movement; I "film-edit" (ciné-monte) throughout the shooting, thinking of how the images are fitting together. In a word, I "film-think" (ciné-pense). [Feld 1989:234, in original emphasis]

I know I mentioned earlier that my a few of my views were independent from Rouchean methodology, however this quote best explains what happened and why I made the decision I did. For the moment I press record, I am capturing and ingesting the recorded material. At the same time, I am also figuring out where I want to point the camera in the context of the conversation.In "thinking of how the images are fitting together" I felt the comment about Lil Wayne was inconsistent with the dialogue about dancing/club music versus non-dancing/club music. In what I had conceptualized, his comment was irrelevant. This is an avenue I have certainly not mastered; "film-think". My detachment from the camera, insofar as not looking through the viewfinder or LCD, influences how I "film-think" and questions how I can properly capture what is ethnographic.

No comments:

Post a Comment