New Perspectives in Photography and Documentary Film

gm_326238ex1Here’s a lovely image of a steam locomotive…the picture is deceptively simple. It’s just black, white, and diagonals. The snow on the ground gives extra contrast against the machine. I especially like the figure, top right, for human interest.

The dynamic point-of-view, from above, is associated in photograpic history with the advent of lightweight, 35mm format cameras. Usually, the name Leica is attached to this kind of photography.

The cybernetic extension of the human body by small precision instruments had been a characteristic of the military experience of WW1. Soldiers had begun the war in more-or-less the same form as their Napoleonic predessesors…technical developments quickly trasformed them, as a matter of survival, into semi-mechanical warriors.

You can see where contemporary “transformer” robotics comes from…(first we make our tools, then our tools form us…)

In the 1920s, these cybernetic extensions became more benign. Camera and eye became combined to serve the demands of photo-journalism and documentary film.

If you want to see more of this, have a look at Dziga Vertov’s, Man with a Movie Camera (1929). Or, the still photographs by Alexander Rodchenko.

Man with a Movie Camera was re-issued, by the British Film Institute, and with a new original musical soundtrack by the British composer, Michael Nyman. The dvd was presented in a tin with a Stenberg Brothers poster on it…I had to have that.

In Britain, the documentary film movement, of the 1930s and subsequently, extended Vertov’s ideas and achieved the proper co-ordination of iamge and sound…

First, in Nightmail (1936) and, then, in the work of Geoffrey Jones, especially Snow (1963).

It turns out that there are lots of films and pictures of steam locos in the snow…it’s the visual contrast and excitement of the trains against the landscape, and the emotional oppostition between hot and cold…Perfect.

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