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1.3 Critical Reflection

I make observations on the process of image-making in text and film and make an attempt to clarify the relationship between image and meaning. My main inquiries are: How does an image move someone? Perhaps by a different measure, how does an image embody meaning? When does an image evoke empathy?

These inquiries are informed by my own practice as well as readings of feminist film theory. A longitudinal reading of Laura Mulvey’s essays published from 1975 till 2015 has affirmed my position to maintain a subjective, almost radically personal, approach — by observing how my own memory, narrative/narrativity and aesthetics (appearances, as John Berger calls it) interconnect. I will limit my engagement with, and therefore criticism of discourses that hinge on psychoanalytic, Marxist or Perician/Lacanian frameworks.

My practice in filmmaking has made me more aware of how I use words to construct images. As such, I will investigate two kinds of scenes. First, those I have created in my films: for example, the activity of coffee-making in my graduation project and the hands in my short film Seek (2019). Second, those that have resided in me over the years and that I rewrite for the memoir, including: a cabin I have never visited, lemons and the sky from my childhood. These lead to more specific questions: Am I translating the voice of a writer to that of a filmmaker? How do I convey meaning: with language or with image? How does each procedure of filmmaking (composing an image, blocking a shot, editing) express, interpret or change a feeling?

I will refer to close readings of films and theories that have helped me further these lines of thought. (I have included the list of references in my project proposal, section 3.3.) As I write out this part of the thesis, I hope to define my personal grammar within the poetics of film.

Note: I would like to discuss with Natasha how much abstraction I can — or rather, should — reach within the given word limit with integrity. I have noted the following discourses as relevant, but have not read much of them: life writing, autotheory, phenomenology, new materialism (Deleuzian), haptic visuality (Laura Marks).

reading the Cinematics

I read The Cinematic, an anthology of film and photography theories, with the intention to familiarize myself with relevant film theory vocabularies. The benefit of reading the anthology is the quick access to a sizable amount of different perspectives in one single volume. The drawback, on the other hand, is the density of abstract ideas and abstraction. The anthology includes pieces of canonical texts as well as criticisms regarding these pieces. This anachronism was confusing.

Luckily, I was shooting for a video project while reading these and had a chance to contemplate the theories through doing. My script featured a voice in search of a lost past with imageries based in nature.

Discussions about certain photographic quality of cinema [cite text] and the contemplations on real versus cinema time [cite text] had an impact on me during the production.

I came to realize that I am more interested in the cinematic — movement, association, directed experience in a set time — than the photographic — the captive moment that allows pondering for as long as one wishes.

So far, theories play a few roles in my practice:

1. Theories give me a historical perspective of what has been done. I am not studying art history in any comprehensive fashion, but through theories I am gradually learning to place my works and their relevance in accordance to the form(s) I choose.

2. Theories provide soundbites for rumination. I avoid jargons in describing my work (or even writing the imaginary wall text for it). When I read jargon-sounding words, however, the terms become starting points for connecting systems of knowledge. In articulating these connections I can strive to be genuine, specific, and unpretentious.

3. The case studies from theories give me works to see/watch/research, which helps widen my perspective. The fact that some of them resonate with me more than others drive me to inquire about my own preference — visually, narratively, affectively. By reflecting on other people's work I can also be more certain about my own aesthetics and processes.

my positions as I read Mulvey

Part of reading group

- Laura Mulvey introduces me to the early feminist film theories, which is the first kind of film theory I have read. It presents me with discourses that encompass my own fields of interest and situates me more in the vast space that (film) theories occupy. Perhaps now I can see more relevance of other key texts. (She makes references to Bellour and Metz, for instance.) As I read, I am noticing more and more the way(s) people describe image and image-making.

- She shows me the tenacity of feminism (how it adapts to the times, how it reflects upon itself) -- it is an illustration of that so-called frameworks for research are, and should be, malleable, depending where I am in my practice. I am not interested in using feminism in my daily language. As Susanna said, "the new feminism is humanism."

- The vocabularies of gaze and spectator feel very much the product of the last era (1970's). I am not interested in framing things with vocabularies "coined" to describe a certain thought or phenomenon. I am more interested in the everyday language, especially spoken with ingenuity. There is an intelligence that comes with the everyday language, one that connects people through shared words and the feelings they evoke.

- I will keep reading academic writing as long as it helps me build connections among different knowledge systems OR gives me new insight about something, however esoteric, relevant. I will set the tone of my research in an academic language. I am a conscientious about the roles of theories in my practice and do not take any theoretical text for granted without the historical and cultural context in mind.

reading/research processes through creating a reader

Part of reading group

My core research questions up to the point are: how do people feel, specifically, how do people feel empathic?

After reading Eric Schouse's essay, Feeling, Emotions, Affect, I realize that affects closely connect to core emotions. As a person fortunate to have experienced it in therapy, I believe the acknowledgement of and clarity about core emotions will enrich and enlighten one's self.

My then therapist recommended three books to me. All of them seem relevant to my recent projects (not as foreshadowing frameworks, but as an emerging pattern as I make them). The books touch on neuroscience, development psychology, psychotherapy (A General Theory of Love); suffering, revisiting the past, healing (Reconciliation); and ways to access core emotions and arriving at clarity (It's Not Always Depression).

I will start to externalize these connections and position my work in the framework of affect theories.

What have I been reading so far?

When it comes to theory, I read based on keywords. I am fond of the series of readers called Documents of Contemporary Art, published by Whitechapel (London) and MIT Press (Boston). I have leafed through titles like: Work, Practice, Chance, Memories, The Archive, The Sublime, etc.

At the beginning of the program the word "autobiography" appeared frequently in my attempts. I noted the early, loose thoughts in the page named memoir. [1] For a couple of months, the driving force of my readings was personal memories, more specifically, how my own memory (and experience) can move others. I noticed my tendency of archiving without articulating the significance of that act, or only doing so in a half-baked way. A breakthrough came when I finished the essay investigating my relationship with autobiographic work. [2] I have since shifted more definitively from my own images (words, storylines, specific events) to those of an external origin.

I briefly investigated mythology as a potential framework. [3] After reading some contextualizing texts about myths, I found mythology's cultural indications and specific mechanisms (for example, reproduction to perpetuate in public memory) did not quite speak to what I wanted to create. I shifted my attention to tales and stories.

Relying on my experience with narrative forms (playwriting, stage storytelling), I wanted to read about realms I knew little about. The Cinematic (Documents of Contemporary Art) has introduced me to photography and film theories. I like this volume because it makes an effort to distinguish between photography and cinema, not from a technological/historical point of view, but with more in-depth analysis of each medium. I have written synopsis of the essays from which I learned. [4]

What am I reading now?

March 2019

My interest in cinematography emerges, somewhat coincidentally, with The Cinematic readings and a work I created over December 2018 to Feb 2019 (Seek). [5]

I have selected my readings directing towards the specificity of the techniques and studies of cinema, including haptic aesthetics and screen as a situation.

June 2019

Always: What evokes and conveys emotion? How to?

In the past: storytelling through writing, especially drama

Now: aesthetics of the image... BUT HOW?

-- Why I choose cinema over photography...

-- Why I am reconnecting with narratives...

-- What I understand better: medium, space (in particular to the medium), craft, my own voice in image-making (it's hard)

Current keywords: memory image, identification (part of empathy), projection, cinema space, cinematography

I find theoretical essays relating to haptic aesthetics less relevant than the design research or scientific studies. For example, Haptical Cinema, in which the author compares early cinema to Egyptian reliefs, is less interesting to read than An audio-haptic aesthetic framework influenced by visual theory. [6]

One article that affirmed my direction is Emotions and the Structuring of Narrative Responses. In it Miall (a professor in English and Film Studies) refers to studies about people's emotional reactions when reading literary text... The bibliography of this article is extensive and extensively relevant. I have not researched an equivalent article in film studies, but this one has provided a lot specific literature about feelings, perception and memory.

With regards to memory, I leafed through the title Memory (DoCA) and found the text on memory image by Siegfried Kracauer immensely helpful in capturing the relationship between the personal story (from me) and the perceived reality (by another). [7] (Interestingly, the text was written in 1927... during the early days of photography and cinema).

The term memory image appears in Narrative Space by Stephen Heath as he analyzes the process of identification. A subjective image is a mental image and specifically, a memory image. When the viewers identify in the POV shot, they see what themselves/the camera/the director/the protagonist see.[8]

I observe: without narrative, images (produced specifically for a screen, not to say those as part of an installation, or a play where there is a chance to experience embodiment) are left alone and can only make meanings via semiotics.

Readings from Screens give me a better understanding about the history of projection and frame and the materiality of different types of screens. One of the articles (Mental Screen) illuminates the essence of the cinema space: instead of "collective viewing", it's about isolation and privacy. That's why we are able to watch films on our phones.

Another article related to cinema space is "Is a Museum a Factory? by Hito Steyerl. In it she compares the cinema as well as the museum to a factory (from the industrial age). [9]

I read two articles on cinematography.

  • Digital Cinematography: Evolution of Craft or Revolution in Production?
  • Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality

These, along with the 16mm workshop we did at Filmwerkplatz and the earlier classes we had on the history of camera technology with Mathijs/Barend, helped me to further position the use of camera and the use of documentary in my practice. I am using digital camera and I choose conservative settings (aka. best practice) when I shoot documentary footage. (This might change as I further my practice, but I'd like to start with the norms and really understand them.)

I have since bought the Documentary title from Whitechapel (after having a hard time to choose among: The Everyday, Moving Image, etc.)