Big Agnes Ascent

In the film studio the apparatus has penetrated so deeply into reality that a pure view of that reality, free of the foreign body of the apparatus, is the result of a technological procedure peculiar to it — namely, the shooting by the specially adjusted camera and the assembly of that shot with others of the same kind. The apparatus-free aspect of reality has become artifice, and the vision of unmediated reality the Blue Flower in the land of technology.
— Walter Benjamin, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936
It is not news that we spend more and more time with our devices, which are more and more capable of delivering high-resolution, hyperreal moving images to our eyes in a continuous, unending stream.

Most of these moving images show us an intensely artificial, constructed, manipulated reality, and though we pride ourselves on our sophistication in knowing what goes on ‘behind the scenes’, much of that very knowledge is provided in the same, controlled manner.

I am one of a number of experimental filmmakers around the world working with old photographic processes and primitive tools. This particular film, ‘Big Agnes Ascent’, was made with a hand-made, hand-cranking 16mm pinhole camera in the mountains of Colorado, developed in photo chemistry warmed by a fire, high on the mountain on a moonless night. Electricity didn’t come into the process until I had a digital scan of the footage made, so I could share it more broadly — it’s not that I’m anti-internet or anti-technology by any means.

My interest in these primitive techniques is not about kitsch or nostalgia — it’s a way to explore the nature of the moving image itself, how the eye constructs movement from distinct frames. How our brains fill in the gaps, smudges and scratches to make meaning out of indistinct, faint, flickering shapes and textures. This film is part of an ongoing effort to rediscover the fundamental illusion of motion and the basic alchemy of the captured image, as a way to reflect upon the very seamlessness of the media product we consume as part of our daily interaction with the modern world.

To see more of my work, visit www.videohaiku.com. If you’re interested in developing film on a mountainside by starlight, check out www.handmadefilm.org.

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4 thoughts on “Big Agnes Ascent

  1. The story of the process is fascinating, the result less so. It feels less like a haiku (which is as close to no form as possible; leaving aside the 5-7-5 which makes no sense in English and which even Basho didn’t adhere to strictly) than a more artificial poetic form, say the villanelle. Which as someone said is like juggling while wearing chains: the amazing thing is not that you do it well, but that you can do it at all.
    To get closer to the act of turning image into movement, what about a zoetrope?

  2. Having just watched the video and not read much of the surrounding text (yet) I liked the result. I took the film, here in the context of Dark Mountain and Uncivilisation and spontaneously created a narrative. I imagined a future civilisation trying to get a glimpse of this now, past civilisation. A group had found some film archives. Without the kind apparatus to watch them normally, the group had only these difficult snippets of impressions. The digital archives were totally inaccessible to them and the film based stuff hard to use. The images of fields and mountains and people standing around, very interesting to someone who knows next to nothing of the previous time, like looking at negatives of photos taken during the times of the Ancient Egyptians would be to me, especially if I didn’t know what negatives were.

    I like using my imagination and this piece of art gave me a nice playground upon which to do that.

  3. ” developed in photo chemistry warmed by a fire ”

    – just fantastic, I love the way machines can become such an important part of the process of creating art in this day and age where their workings are becoming more and more invisible. It is for that reason that I recently bought myself a typewriter – it is incredible how our way of creating art has been subtly changed over the years by the machines we use. It takes a complete step back into the past to make those changes apparent. I have been ‘developing’ text on a mountainside in candle light and it is crazy how good it feels ;-)

    thank you

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