Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Trees" an experimental film, and how I shot it.

I made it maybe four and a half years ago. Anyone can shoot it, which is why I'm giving instructions on how I did it and how you can do it.

I got my hands on a VHS camcorder and was experimenting shooting things in nature when I started filming trees and noticed that the really beautiful parts of them were the outer branches where the leaves and the small branches intersected each other and the light played between them. It's like a web. So, I started zooming in on this particular feature of trees, then as I started moving around, trying to get a fully picture of the whole, I noticed that the web of branches and leaves that I was shooting would change with my perspective but that the new arrangements that presented themselves were often beautiful in the same way that the original arrangement was beautiful. The thing that made that possible was the subtraction of the rest of the tree from the shot. All you saw in these were arrangements of branches changing into different arrangements of branches. So I got the idea of making a film that was just branches turning into other branches, but the problem was that if you went around a specific tree you could tell that one set of branches somewhat derived from the previous one, although they presented new features. There was a broad walkway where I lived that was lined with tall trees and that went on for quite a ways. This presented a solution to the problem.

What I did was to photograph, or film, the branches of the trees from the perspective of someone walking along the path, zooming in on a particular section and just walking with the camera, which meant that I caught the different angles of both one tree and then the intersections of two trees and then the angles of another tree and so on without making it redundant, because things were constantly changing. If I shot it right you couldn't tell where the branches of one tree stopped and the branches of another tree began, so it looked like one very long shot of branch arrangements morphing into other branch arrangements with no particular order to them. I zoomed in on one patch and walked very slow, so that you could gradually see the branch arrangements shifting into other branch arrangements, without it overwhelming the viewer. I kept the focus the same so that when I started moving it would be apparent that I wasn't zooming in on one particular part of the arrangement but getting the whole, and representing the whole and the whole's transformation into other whole scenes of branches.

What this produced was a very beautiful abstract film with eye pleasing arrangements, that you could tell were branches but where you didn't see the whole trees, shifting into one another. Oh, and I didn't zoom in so much that you could see every detail, I kept the zoom far enough out so that it wasn't ultra clear what I was shooting, with leaves kind of indistinct instead of crisp.

You could tell it was branches, but you could also tell that the arrangements, the color, and the lighting, were what made it beautiful, and what made the transformations so interesting.

Reflecting back on it two things come to mind: first, the question of what exactly made these essentially abstract arrangements evoke the feeling of beauty? What was so pleasing that it captured the moment and the feeling and extended it through the film? And secondly: that it didn't really have to be trees that I was photographing or filming in order to create this effect. The source material could be anything that had pleasing, complex, patterns that you could photograph moving and transforming from one to the other, like types of sidewalk with small rocks in it, or wood grain, provided that the picture was zoomed in enough so that the automatic responses that we have when seeing whatever it is are defeated by unfamiliar detail. Everyone knows what wood grain looks like, the challenge in photographing that would be to zoom in and shift the camera in a way so that no one knows what the hell you're photographing, or they at least don't get stuck on it and so appreciate the forms that they're seeing.

The question about what makes a picture or a pattern evoke a feeling of beauty from an observer is one that I'm concerned over, because beauty isn't something that people usually associate with abstract art even if they can appreciate the piece of art in other ways. It isn't symmetry because symmetry is sterile, and it isn't rounded forms because rounded forms on their own are too predictable as well, but a sort of irregular combination of the two, with things that are almost, but not quite symmetrical interacting with somewhat curvy shapes, or even being curved themselves and sort of in line with each other. But all of this simplifies it too much. I doubt that you can build some pattern that evokes the feeling of beauty from the so-called basic shapes or basic lines or types of rounded forms on their own. Lines don't exist in nature in pure forms, neither do circles, and beauty comes from patterns that have a great deal of complexity that doesn't follow any of the primal forms to a 'T'.

*on edit: here's an example of how things that are commonplace can be beautiful:

Beautiful scum

It's a picture of a dirty dish with dried salad dressing in my sink.

The catch with abstract art, which you should know before attempting to display things you make to the public in general, is that if it's simple to make then what you make has to be damned good abstract art in order to be taken seriously.

If a technique looks like a child could make it without knowing much about art this means that to be successful your piece has to apply the technique in a precise and considered way that rises above randomness, so that when you really look at it you realize that, no, a child couldn't do this.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

I enjoyed reading this post.

I was at a reception at a major gallery, honoring abstract art. One artist had a rectanlular block, divided into 4 equal parts. Each part painted a different solid color. That sold for $40,000. I was told the artist had a bankable name, and his art is an investment.

Be sure and see the documentary, "My Child Can Paint That."