Long video

...was to turn the camera upside down while a friend walked backwards down the street. This produced a short film in which everything and everyone moving were out of whack compared to the solitary walker. This tactic was especially effective if shot in the midst of a crowd, perhaps in Times Square.

     I took many boring reels of my little girl doing something or other, which were as tedious to watch as the nauseatingly careening films a friend felt compelled to take whenever he was a passenger on a car trip. I thought serious use of 8mm film (and soon super 8) was reserved for art films, such as the endearing stop-motion work of fruit rotting on a kitchen table made by the English artist, Peter Hutchinson. And I didn’t make art.

    If super 8 had been equipped with sound, it would have better served my obsession to capture a sense of my daughter’s life as she grew up and I would have not taken photographs. (Of course that means I would have known that I was building a record of her life when I took the first roll of film and imagined that I’d become a photographer, which I didn’t.) Using 16mm was never a consideration, since I couldn’t have afforded the camera and the film or undertaken the difficulty of learning to edit it.

     By the early 70s, I was vaguely aware that something called video was being developed, but that wasn’t an option either, too expensive. However, I surprisingly (and miraculously) ended up teaching in the Creative Photography Lab at MIT for three years starting in 1974. And there I gravitated to the Film Lab where I sat in on lectures and screenings. Ricky Leacock and Ed Pincus emphasized the use of 16mm, but also encouraged experimentation with the extremely cumbersome Portapak video equipment that produced black-and-white images. Ricky, who with D. A. Pennebaker had developed cinema verité using handheld cameras and available light, was generous and encouraging and lent me equipment. So I flirted with video, though I never learned to edit it. Nothing came of that work and all but four reels of next-to-useless tape were tossed out a few years ago.

     Then, in the early 2000’s, while watching a charming and unassuming documentary made by a group on Bleecker Street in New York, the voice of my internal devil whispered, “You could do that.” And I believed it. I knew a perfect subject, Joyce Watson, a woman from British Guyana who lived in the tiny superintendent’s apartment of a building in a wealthy section of Greenwich Village and juggled three jobs to support and educate her two children. By then, I had more money and small semi-pro video cameras were of a decent quality, relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Ann Torke, who was then teaching video in the same department where I taught photography at the University of Massachusetts/Boston, and a painter, Damien Dibona, taught me how to edit in Final Cut Pro. And I was hooked.

     I have completed three documentaries, many interviews which are primarily of folks working on the backside of Suffolk Downs Racetrack (www.pennyanteproductions.com,) and constructed a website about George and Arlene Brown, Thoroughbred breeders who own Briar Hill Farm (www.briarhillthoroughbreds.com.) Tommy Atencio, an excellent Final Cut Pro trainer at the Apple Store in Cambridge, taught me this new program.

     I’ve made a number of short videos that I consider larks, short adventures.