Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hugh Steers

Here's a 20 minute document I made of a gallery talk at the Montgomery Glasoe Fine Art Gallery in the Minneapolis Warehouse District at the opening night of the show Hugh Steers: Paintings and Drawings. Steers was a New York City artist who was dying of AIDS. The video was recorded in mid-January and he died less than two months later, in early March 1995.

I recorded it with my SVHS camera and used an audio mixer from MTN public access so I could put a lav mic on him and also a shotgun mic to record audience questions - you can even see it pop into the shot at one moment. I had the camera on a tripod and held up the shotgun mic in my hand.

Steers was fairly soft-spoken, so I probably heard him more clearly through the headphones than anybody else in the gallery in reality. At one point, Carolyn Glasoe adjusts my mic on Steers to help the audience hear him and I might have tried to say something like, that's only for the camera.

I did some slow motion inserts from the gallery and people interacting with the paintings just by playing the tape back slowly on the video deck. This was long before slow motion was easy with computer editing.

I edited it a little fragmentarily and randomly - maybe to match what his mind might have been like late in his illness - I don't exactly remember. He was right around my age and he was near death - I think it was Carolyn Glasoe who I had met somewhere and who asked me to tape this and told me that his health wasn't good. By the time I had gotten around to edit the video, he had passed away, and I ended the piece with his obituary from the New York Times.

I remember being introduced to him just briefly as I set up my equipment, and I also remember feeling so strange putting the lavaliere microphone on his collar and seeing so closely how thin he was from his illness. It's just a quick little video I made for public access TV, and I was making quite a few back then, but it has stayed with me because of his age and how close he was to death when he gave that talk.

I put this video on-line a few months ago, but yesterday got an email from the gallery in New York that represents his estate. First I thought they were going to ask me to take down the video, but they actually liked it and wanted to link to it on their page for him, which is here.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Walking Tour of the 1990 Lake Street Car Show and Parade

This was shot with a Video 8 camera that my mother had when she was in Saudi Arabia. When she returned, she let me use it, and I began shooting video with it around the south Minneapolis neighborhood where I lived until the fall of that year, when I bought a used SVHS camera.

Cars have always made me a little uncomfortable, and the discomfort here is palpable. I was more interested in the funhouse mirror reflections in the meticulously polished auto bodies than in anything else. My favorite scene may be the second shot, where the guy can't seem to find a place to put the number to identify his car, despite trying several places.

Here I did no interviews (unlike my friend J.C., who is seen here doing an interview for a public access TV show). I just stood back and observed with the camera, trying to find oddball moments or bits of visual fun that others might miss (like those great reflections, that end the video).

It looks like I edited it in 1991, probably on the VHS edit system at MTN.

Chicago Avenue Belongs to Us (1989)

I have been archiving some of the various videos I made over the years and thought that I might write something about some of them while I can still remember some of the circumstances of their production.

This was pretty much the first community documentary that I shot and edited. It was of a march down Chicago Avenue by residents of the Central and Powderhorn Park neighborhoods and block clubs that adjoined the avenue. The march was held to point out crime issues along the street and get local elected officials and the police department in support of efforts to make the area safer.

I checked out the basic VHS camera from MTN, the public access station that had its equipment checkout in the Lehman Center, on Lake Street in uptown. The camera was a big shoulder mount one with a separate VHS deck that would hang from your shoulder. The whole thing was pretty heavy in addition to being low resolution. I checked it out on Friday and carried it home on the bus for the Saturday march. By the end of the march, on a cold wet November morning in 1989, I was aching all over. On Monday, when I had to return the camera, I decided to shell out for a cab ride to take it back rather than lugging it on the bus again. After making this one I decided that I needed to somehow get some kind of smaller video camera of my own if I was going to keep on making things like this.

I edited it on the basic VHS edit system at MTN, which was also in the basement of the Lehman Center.

I did no interviews. I taped the event at the same distance as I might have if I was watching it as a reporter and taking notes (at the time I was editing the Powderhorn Park neighborhood newspaper, The Horn), and walked along with the marchers, taping as I watched.

This was long before the internet, so my audience was viewers of public access TV. My main obligation was to try to fill a 30 minute time slot, so I went long, luxuriously keeping the shots going. The documentary begins with a shot of the banner that is also the title of the video. All the people holding the banner are anonymous, their heads behind the fabric. It's almost like the banner is walking. It also ends on that shot.

At some of the different intersections, people would speak. I cut between the speeches and the video of people marching. It was a pretty simple formula.

I was able to let my mind wander and turn the camera from the speaker to something else interesting going on, like a girl on skates, or an interesting-looking person listening. The marching scenes give you a good sense of what Chicago Ave. was like in those days.

I didn't have great command of the titling machine at MTN, so I don't ID the speakers. Some of them that I remember are Mayor Don Fraser, City Council Member Sharon Sayles Belton, George Hoffman, Gayle Lamb, but there are many more whose names have vanished from my mind over all these years.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

There are First Teeth and Funerals: President's 1 Hour Photo

"President's 1 Hour Photo" is a 20 minute film made by Trevor Adams by hand scratching images on tiny 16mm film which he has bleached and gouged and then transferred to video and further staggered and superimposed and speed-warped. It was based on my novel, "President's Pictures: Novel in Nine Frames," narrated by Beth Peloff and features music by Dreamland Faces and Lisa McGrath. Ryan Billig, Maren Ward and Josh Tibbetts. It was finished in 2007, but that was after several years work.
I wrote the novel that he based his film on shortly after September 11, 2001. It was really born on a evening where Trevor and I had seen a performance at the Walker Art Center that involved animation and music created on the spot and then had a beer afterwards. Trevor inspired me to write a story that dealt with some of my feelings about the violence and media images that were all coming together in the whole September 11th thing.
The story I wrote was about a person named President Parkingson who works in a one hour photo processing booth in a camera store and processes a roll of photographs that seem to depict some kind of grisly murder. He gets a note that tells him that he is being watched, so he leaves town on the Greyhound bus and travels around to avoid the unseen person who he thinks is pursuing him.
As President travels, he comes upon one scene of violence after another. He takes out his camera to take a picture in an attempt to freeze that scene before the violence happens. He is not as successful as he wishes himself to be.
It was a strange story based mostly on dreams and the time I spent working at a photo lab and also partly written in a tent on a very rainy morning as my tent filled with water. Trevor is one of the few people on planet earth who read it, and he wanted to distill it down and make a film out of it, and this is what he did.
Trevor's spare but always recognizable images made the story come alive in a far different and amazing way than I ever could have imagined. They make it even more dream-like and scattered, a Greyhound bus journey to the darkest media depths of our tortured world.
But he also brings out the humor and the joy that is there too, and the wetness and the yearning. 
He made it all his own, a movie about movies and photography, about time and violence. His version follows a stronger dream logic than mine did, and mines the power of ellipsis and silence. The film is full of spontaneous reactions and perfect flubs, and is fully grounded in the past and night. It's about how we can see anything through all the chaos and confusion, and and and.
But it's also about the photographic medium, the old chemical kind, which I processed for hundreds of people years ago in an assembly-line of colorful rectangular motionless images, and which Trevor took knife and chisel to and sculpted out of the emulsion of a long strip such jumping images of apprehension and seeing.