Friday, June 11, 2010

Let's join the circus

Sparrow Songs has posted their latest short documentary, "El Circo." It's about the Ramos Bros. Circus, what happens behind the curtain, and never giving up.

The project, which I've posted about here previously, is the brainchild of filmmaker Alex Jablonski and cinematographer Michael Totten, who are making one short doc a month for one year.

The series also has a companion blog, where you can read about what it's like to work on a project like this.

"Episode 8":
If you set out to do 12 pushups, chances are the first one won’t be the hard, neither will the last one, I mean, you’re almost done. But numbers 7 and 8 will be pretty tough. So it goes with Sparrow Songs. I don’t want to raise the specter of burnout, but it’s a real phenomenon and there’s certainly been some of that at play in the last couple of months.
Last weekend, I was in Kentucky, where I was interviewing two veterans for The War Project.

While I consider myself a pretty experienced interviewer and am relatively comfortable interviewing people, guiding the interview, and constructing a narrative from the interview, I am less experienced as a photographer.

Yet, looking back, it was less my "experience," or lack thereof, that was an issue. The issue was not the thing, but my relationship to the thing.

It wasn't until I returned home and came across "Listening to Avedon" that I better understood the dynamics at play.

Demanding that he be seen as an artist is nothing new for Avedon; he has spent decades fighting the label "fashion photographer." This is partly because it is important for him to claim his own identity as a photographic artist as opposed to a constantly compromised and therefore non-existent individual associated with "commercial work." In the MIA tape, Avedon bases his claim to being an artist on his "subjectivity," the notion that when we look at an Avedon photograph, whether of Dovima or Marian Anderson, we are also looking at the photographer. "I don't think that I've captured the essence of anyone that I've photographed," Avedon says. "I think I've photographed what I'm feeling myself and recognize in someone else." Like many photographers of his generation (Minor White and Robert Frank come to mind), he believes that describing one's own feelings is the goal of every serious photographer. Finding such feelings is less about self examination than about discovering them through a photographic interaction with the world and its subjects. "A portrait photographer," Avedon says, "depends on another person to complete his picture - the subject imagined - which in a sense is me." Based on the unpredictable complexity of photographic interaction, his idea of subjectivity is a complex social metaphor in which his self is inextricably intertwined with the self of his subjects and theirs with him. His 1993 publication, Autobiography, illustrates the situation perfectly: although the title suggests the story of his life, the book is filled with pictures of other people, as if he can only describe himself through his descriptions of other people.
Occasionally, I get emails or otherwise in which I am asked how to interview people, and I tell them what Mark Ebner taught me.

Shut up and listen.