1.8 Tools of Capture

Tools of Capture: Canon 7D, Day 6 Plotwatcher Time-lapse, iPhone

Beyond accumulating physical objects and written words in my database, I am also passionately accumulating still and moving images. I use a range of high, medium, and low-resolution cameras, and oscillate between still and moving digital devices. Although quality/resolution is always a consideration when I am using a particular camera, I’m more interested in the access a particular device provides. Whether it is the med-res iPhone camera in my pocket at all times, a rugged Day 6 Plotwatcher low-res time-lapse camera I can duct tape to my bike and film while riding (or leave it somewhere all day to capture the environment in-motion) or the high-res Canon 7d DSLR with that allows me to investigate with interchangeable lenses (including a 15mm ultra wide, 100mm macro, or 35mm standard lens).

 

The digital aesthetics of these tools each provide a particular look to the final output. These tools are used primarily for sketching, and I attempt to capture the immediacy of the moment. Many times the poor or compressed digital quality offers a genuine quality to the piece. As filmmaker Hito Steyerl describes, “The poor image is a copy in motion, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.” The beauty of the high or low-res digital camera is that they can all be remixed, rechanneled and shared quite easily. Still and video sketching is another tool that graphic designers can access without creating a subcategory of a separate discipline. My intention is not to undermine the tradition of film or photography but to imbue the disciplines with a shared philosophy.

Objects, writing and images all create a large database of inspiration for me to access like memories in my mind. Capturing ephemera and my surroundings is just the first phase in communicating my methodology.

1.9 Interview (excerpt) with Daniel Paluska

 

Dan Paluska is an artist, engineer and educator who works with kinetic, robotic, and cultural systems. He has a BS, MS and ABD from MIT in Mechanical Engineering.

Dan and I have a mutual obsession with the Day 6 Plotwatcher Time-lapse Video Camera. I was delighted to find someone with the same compulsion and greatly appreciate his insightful perspective.

James Grady: I started shooting time-lapse back in November. I was just shooting… I was fascinated with what was happening. I was asking myself questions like, what happens when I put all these days in chronological order? Where does the narrative go? Is there a narrative? Can it be like William Burroughs’ Cut-ups, creating narrative from randomness? Or is it just interesting to see my life in time-lapse? I don’t know what it’s doing. I’m just exploring and liking the form that I’m finding, but I’m trying to dig a little deeper into it.

I’m really more interested in what you’re doing. What drew you to time-lapse, why did you shoot time-lapse everyday (for eighteen months)? When did this start? Why?

Daniel Paluska: It’s a process of capture. Then sometimes I look at it, I’m like, “Why am I watching this?” At least theoretically speaking, the original thought was OMPD, one minute per day of review. I can afford… If I’m gonna sit eight hours at a computer to watch one minute of a video, which presents to me how I spent my eight hours at the computer. That was kind of the initial input as for that. It’s continued now; maybe I feel it’s almost like a theatrical thing, and it has some amount of thinking about privacy, and all these other issues. In terms of that my phone company, and my internet service provider, and G-mail, and all these other people know all this stuff about me. So I was like, well I’m gonna capture myself, and put it into the public domain as well, so it’s not some corporate thing.

Another thing that came to me from taking a lot of time-lapse movies is that of course we’re taking pictures all the time. We’re taking movies all the time. We accumulate a lot of inventory, right? Just massive amounts of inventory. Most of that zooms in on time, and time-lapse zooms out on time. So that seems to me to be an interesting feature of it that brings these different textures and tempos out that you’re not used to seeing because other devices don’t usually act this way. So it’s a sort of a slightly unique feature of time-lapse.

JG: That’s nice to think about as opposed to seeing a small vignette of time. We’re really able to look at a whole span over the day even though it’s at a phrenetic pace. It gives a wider angle.

DP: I made six-month compilations of time-lapse videos—these in terms of the pace of life, like the trees versus the building. This is something that I really started to notice a lot more of. That the trees and the natural things are always moving, and so much of our life is. A lot of times, indoor spaces are really boring, and outdoor spaces shot in time-lapse are never boring. There are always clouds, there are always trees, there’s always something happening, and that to me I found to be quite an interesting piece of the feedback. All that said it still is whatever it does, the time-lapse camera does its one thing, and I spent a certain amount of time with this one particular thing. That thing will reinforce itself to me. I certainly enjoyed carrying it around.

JG: Did it give you a sense of—I don’t want to say purpose—but some sort of connection to your surroundings that was different than if you didn’t have it?

DP: I did quite often have this feeling that if I was standing in line, it’s like, oh I’m standing in line—this is it. Going back to the capturing, and publishing my information that this is my life, and with this camera it’s not like I stop and I select this moment. It’s like if I really want this moment to be captured, then I have to sit here. I can’t quickly take the picture, and run off. I’ve gotta sit there, and if I want it to be a significant portion by movie, then it’s a significant portion of my time. So in that sense it made me appreciate time and attention as these real functional characters of my experiential existence. I always have two ways of viewing my life at any given point in time, there’s the experiencing self, perfectly in the present flowing through, and there’s the remembering self who has the pictures, the narrative, the stories. I went on a vacation for two weeks—the last day was really good. And that’s how I remember it. What about the rest of the two weeks? How was I flowing through the rest of the two weeks? With time-lapse of course it gives me a record of the entire thing. It is still a narrow record of the experience. It’s only visual you know. It’s choppy, whatever, it is a variable. But it tells a different story of time.

JG: Totally agree. I think when people are on vacation or they’re taken out of their routine, they’re in this space of awareness or openness, but I think that space can be captured all the time if we are more aware, if we’re paying attention. There doesn’t need to be differences between your “regular” time and your “vacation” time.

DP: Twenty-four hour tourist.

JG: That’s a good name.

DP: I think that’s very powerful. A very powerful mindset. To be in the observational. To be in the present.

JG: I think that’s what this whole process is about, discovering more and being in the present. Then you find these moments, and they inspire you and lead to more and more.

DP: Exactly.

JG: How does the point of view of the time-lapse camera play a role in your work? It has no viewfinder, so you can’t see what you’re shooting. You have a general idea but you never know until you download the files. Do you have thoughts on this position?

DP: People have said to me that… it’s really nice that the viewpoint can be in the third person. It’s really nice that I can set it on the far corner of the room, and I can see myself from a distance, and sometimes it is in more of a first person perspective. But it’s cool that it can be a third person perspective.

JG: When you show your work what are some of the other questions you get, beyond “why do you shoot time-lapse?”

DP: I guess a lot of people say what do you learn? I’d say I learned lots of things in the eighteen months. You notice the trees more. The things in this room don’t move, well they do move, but they are in very  slow decay. Everything that we build that’s nice and shiny, and has very round corners is in very slow decay. The plants are always bubbling. The sky is always bubbling. And then me, myself, I am having some pattern of breath, some pattern of heartbeat, some patterns: I’m stressed, I’m not stressed, I’m hungry, I’m not hungry, I’m sleepy, I’m not sleepy. In the time-lapse is this focus on a particular rhythm. Be that the ten-second rhythm, or the thirty-second rhythm, and so on. I think it really made me think a lot more about the pace of life, and how I interact with the machinery around me. The ticking of the clock, the nine to five bells, these are all these external timers that we have. This is this timer that’s like taking a picture every thirty seconds right? How that relates to my internal state and my experience in the world. I think that’s something that really seems was tied to this process of observation.

JG: I think that’s great, and I haven’t thought of it, but I think that’s sort of what I’m searching for, a process of awareness.

2.0 – 2.2 Output: Transform Awareness

Shadow of the Photographer, 2011

2.1 The Gap
There is a gap that drives awareness in my work. It’s the phase in my process where I transform my awareness of places, things, and people within my surroundings, from my observation to an edited piece of communication. I believe it is possible to accumulate inspiration everyday, 24 hours a day. Awareness and being present-minded is critical within my process, but it is more than just being aware. It’s a transformation that begins typically with a camera, both still frame and moving images. I attempt to capture what my eyes see as well as what the camera’s eye sees. I feel there are actually three parts to seeing and capturing: first, what my eye sees; second, what the camera sees, and finally how the environment looks at me once it’s captured.

If I am looking at an inanimate object, it has a certain presence—it looks back, and again I can understand that as the echo of my gaze. — James Elkins

I relate to historian James Elkins, who describes, “…as I look at someone or something, it looks back, and our gazes cross each other. My gaze finds its answer in the person I see, so that I can see its effect in her eyes. If I am looking at an inanimate object, it has a certain presence—it looks back, and again I can understand that as the echo of my gaze. I see and I can see that I am seen, so each time I see also myself being seen.” Observing my footage that the camera captures is the part of the transformation that bewilders me. When I look at the still or sequenced images, I feel places, things, and people are not only looking at me, but they are also speaking to me. These images are telling me a story as if I’m watching a movie or reading a book someone else has created. My relationship to these images, and this gap in my process is a strange one for me.

As I separate from my own captured footage, I see with fresh indeterminate eyes, but I am still unclear how this transformation occurs. Elkins continues to describe, “…we want to be pictures, not just to be in them, and so when I look at a picture I am also looking at myself, at a way that I might be. I want the relationship between my self and my world to be like the relationship between the parts of a picture, and so I look to pictures for advice on the ways that might happen.” The relationship I have with my captured footage in terms of transformation is a process just like navigating and adapting to our daily life. Typically, we are not actively out in search of finding something particular. Most days we passively move through life, letting our environment present itself to us, and we adapt accordingly. I feel the latter is how I relate to my captured images’ transformation in order for me to form a dialogue with it. It is how I choose to transform the information presented to me, and that is the key to this gap in my process.

2.3 Commute

Commute

Spark
Sometimes the most obvious spark of inspiration is in front of our eyes. Commute was the first studio project I worked on in the Fall, 2010. The assignment stated, “Select an object that inspires you. This object along with one of the categories from Aristotle’s The Organon will be your starting point.” My object was a train ticket stub that I collect everyday while commuting on the train from Boston to Providence, and my category was time. The Organon is about Aristotle’s works on logic. Commuting back and forth from Boston to Providence for school may not be the most logical thing to do, but using the obstacle of an hour-long commute as an opportunity to glean inspiration for my thesis is quite logical. The first time I held the ticket stub in my hand I felt nostalgia for the train. The analog process of collecting money and leaving ticket stub receipts to keep track of the passengers is a uniquely personal experience. The process is an endless ritual of repetition just like the back and forth of the commuter line. The similar horizontal proportions of the ticket stub and the digital time stamps reflect the shape of the train cars. In addition, the large time boards that hang in many train stations, including Boston and Providence, also fascinate me. As I repeat and overlap the forms, I achieve a sense of multiplicity and motion. Adding a random variable to the repetition of the forms creates a bit of chaos within a system that can easily be off schedule. A poster as context for this content allows for the framing of north and south. This provides an opportunity to highlight the first departure time in the morning out of Boston (6:42am) and the last departure time out of Providence (9:42pm), which is the schedule by which I am living.

Frames of Reference
Simple relationships of form applied to the Commute poster allow me to play with our typical observational frames of reference. In particular, filmmaker Michel Gondry, who is noted for his inventive visual style, manipulation of mise en scène and frames of reference, inspires these moves. His films are filled with home-crafted materials and visual tricks. You could almost say he makes films for the child in all of us, and that’s exactly what makes his films a delight to watch. Gondry states, “…childhood occupies the biggest part of your brain, so a lot of my memories subconsciously (and consciously) enter the videos I do.” Gondry creates spontaneous, childlike creativity and an out-of-control imagination, yet he still maintains a fairly calculated approach to his work. This is what I most admire about his work: the balance of sophisticated high-tech visual effects created with low-tech materials and inspiration from our everyday environment.

Michel Gondry, Chemical Brothers, Let Forever Be, 2003

2.4 Color-aid Cut-up

 

Indeterminacy
Color-aid Cut-up, is a stop-motion video that uses Color-aid paper, an excerpt of Gertrude Stein’s avant-garde poem, Tender Buttons and the pianist, Alexander Scriabin’s musical composition, Sonata No. 8, Op. 66. The form is developed by printing each word of the poem on a separate sheet of paper, and then thinly slicing the sheets into small strips to represent piano keys. Using an algorithm to recombine the poem—slice-by-slice and colored sheet on top of colored sheet, I shoot each placement of the paper separately to create an animation of the poem in motion. Once I finish constructing the poem and stack all the colored paper, I deconstruct the slices, and shoot each move of that process. The deconstruction allows for a random chance of the colors to shift and the slices to move. There is an indeterminate outcome to this process; it is not until I extract the still images and recombine them into a film sequence that I can see the new rhythm and pattern. There were over 3,000 frames shot for this minute and a half video.

Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change. It shows that there is no mistake. Any pink shows that and very likely it is reasonable. — Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, 1914

Openness
In The Open Work, philosopher Umberto Eco outlines indeterminacy, rhythm, expectation, prediction, open structures and play, mostly in terms of musical composition. Eco describes, “…the listener expects that the process will reach its conclusion according to certain symmetry, and that it will organize itself in the best possible way, in harmony with the psychological models that Gestalt theory has discerned in both our psychological structures and external objects.” In other words, Eco equates rhythm and repetition to determine outcomes. When people hear rhythm, they develop expectations of how a song will proceed and even end. Eco asserts, “…an open structure is less a prediction of the expected than an expectation of the unpredictable.” Eco goes on to discuss information theory and entropy, which is a measure of the uncertainty associated with a random variable. These examples and theoretical models are key components in much of my work. Pattern and repetition along with random variables play an important role in any form I am creating.

Home Studio, Boston, MA