January 28, 2022

I Have An Artistic Statement

An artistic statement is something I need because organizations that grant money to filmmakers ask for them on grant applications.

It’s a good idea to have one anyway. Or, more to my liking, to have a way of regularly communicating about filmmaking such that it makes me think about what I’m doing.

Thus, this newest iteration of this blog 🙂

Let’s take a look at my artistic statement. Let’s also not interpret anything I’m writing here to suggest you should model an artistic statement on the following. Actually, maybe you can help me make this one better.

Artistic Approach: Capturing Decisive Moments to Build a Narrative

My artistic approach is informed by the documentary still photography of the mid 20th century and its related expression in film: direct cinema. The documentary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said “photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” This is Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” — a sublime combination of the subject’s expression or body language combined with a visual organization discovered in the camera frame. Translated to documentary digital cinema, it is to me the simultaneous recognition, sustained over time in discreet visual sequences, of the significance of a story as well as of an unfolding organization of forms which give that story its proper expression.

My goal is to tell a story and discover its forms within the frame moment by moment. I reject imposing form on the frame artificially — distracting and entertaining an audience with technologically-imposed eye-candy. I would rather the camera move with me as I discover the story and its forms. The audience should be able to let itself become a witness to the story of a documentary film through a camera that moves as they would move.

A documentary story is best discovered and told through the classic film sequence where the body (of photographer and audience) moves freely among wide, medium, and detailed views of the action just as a curious person would do trying to discover something new. Capturing the decisive moments within the sequence is both an act of cinematography and editing. These moments, crafted into sequences, tell the visual story.

(Side note: For those of you familiar with Cartier-Bresson, yes, I’m leaving much out and over-simplifying that which I’m using.)

I’m a former journalist — still photography and (magazine) writing. I’m now an academic (rhetoric scholar). And a documentary filmmaker (because if you make one that’s what you are). So, yeah, I can can make things sound highfalutin’.

When I first started shooting video, I approached it from the same visual tradition as my news photography. My main influence was the documentary style photography of the mid 20th century, especially as seen in Life Magazine. This approach has artistic and journalistic merit. But that idea only plays a role for me now — several years and films later — following a period of having not a clue about what I was doing. Really what I was doing was looking for a life buoy in the roiling sea of a new medium. Literally, OMG shit’s moving! What do I do?

Something I do: Compose shots as if taking a still and then letting the movement happen. Applying Cartier-Bresson to this helped me keep the composition moving as I continuously evaluate the content.

Those last two sentences make perfect sense to me — meaning this is how I make sense of what I’m doing now that I have a digital cinema camera in my hand.

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Archive of the Rhetorica: Press-Politics Journal (2002-2021) 

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