Action of stillness, non-visual film and purist photography

Locals in Guanajuato, Mexico discuss News and Politics⁠ over coffee while employing the action of stillness. From the Common Ground Project.
Here is some personal work and musings. It’s always fun putting these together. I hope you get inspired. Enjoy!

Personal Project

This featured image is from the Common Ground project: Locals in Guanajuato, Mexico discuss News and Politics⁠ over coffee. Thank you @biomimi_healingspaces for the beautiful comment on this image via instagram; “the action of stillness.” I love the irony. More images are available to see on Instagram.

Film I’m Studying

Non-Fiction Directed by Olivier Assayas. I usually don’t like non-visual films. In cinema we write with light, not words. Dialog is merely supplemental. So why am I so interested in a film that Rolling Stone Magazine describes as “Talk, Talk, Talk,” while Assayas himself says “this movie’s explicitly nonvisual. And I never saw it as flattering in terms of mise en scène.”

Both thematically and aesthetically, the evocative duality attracts me. While their action is primarily to be in stillness, there is great turmoil inside each character as they seek refuge in salons, cafes, bedrooms, living rooms and office lounges while indulging in french food, wine, cigarettes, love making and intellectual stimuli. Their conversations run the gamut but most often rest on anxieties over new technological trends in the writing and publishing industry–an allegory on the state of affairs in Assaya’s own industry.

With DP Yorick Le Saux, his use of super 16mm and flexible diffused light is a nostalgic homage to the arthouse spirit of French New Wave in the 50’s and 60’s. However, at times it feels out of place–self aware that it’s time to embrace something new. I think Assayas and Le Saux recognized this–in one way or another–and they shot the closing scenes in 35mm amidst the warm embrace of a late day sun.

Looking at this film amongst Assayas filmography, it appears to be a very personal film for the director. It’s almost as if he is accounting for his own transition into purely constructive cinema starting with Something in the Air, and fulfilled by Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper.

Production companies: CG Cinema
U.S. Distributor: Sundance Selects
Writer-director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Guillaume CanetJuliette BinocheVincent MacaigneChrista TheretNora HamzawiPascal Greggory
Producers: Charles GillibertOlivier Pere
Executive producers: Sylvie Barthet
Director of photography: Yorick Le Saux
Editor: Simon Jacquet
Production designer: Francois-Renaud Labarthe
Casting: Antoinette Boulat

Photographer that inspires me

Edward Weston: After WWII a purist approach to Photography was advocated by photojournalists and dominated by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. They preached what Adam’s called “previsualization”: the full realization of the image at the moment of exposure. In their point of view any post tampering with the negative was anathema. Weston’s widely exhibited prints were unmanipulated or “straight” completely free of embellishing handiwork.

He was focused primarily on form rather than the recording of events–an approach more akin to painting rather than documenting. His goal was to reveal the significance of his subject without providing any context or reference of time. He called it revelation of the subject. Inspired by nature his subjects were almost exclusively organic. Nudes, vegetables and rock formations frequent his work and share intertwining visual themes as they are posed, placed or found in stillness.

Blog series I am enjoying

Wait But Why: The Story of Us. This is a trump era inspired thesis on human behavior. And particularly thought provoking is the concept of how the primitive mind, the higher mind and our belief systems intertwine and compete with each-other.

Quote I am pondering

Photography suits the temper of this age – of active bodies and minds. It is a perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas, imagery, for a prolific worker who would be slowed down by painting or sculpting, for one who sees quickly and acts decisively, accurately. – Edward Weston

Film Festival Premiere at HBO’s NewFest

The film festival premiere of Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies will be on the east coast at HBO’s NewFest in New York City on October 28th followed by a discussion with the director, Vishnu Dass and cast members Simon Doonan, Johnny Rozsa and Scott Ewalt.

The film is narrated by Anjelica Huston and Ellen Burstyn, edited by yours truly, Cinematography by Alexander Sasha Nitze, Executive Produced by Stephanie Farago, Produced by Stephanie Schwindenhammer and Joan Agajanian Quinn with original music by Jack Curtis Dubowsky

Special thanks to Victoria Looseleaf, Tina M Imahara, Amanda Quinn Olivar, Steve Seid, Dave Tipper, David Block, James Bartlett Ingeborg Gerdes, Fletcher Beasley, Stephen Jerrome, Patricia C Cole, Jennifer Raiser, Andrew Paul Binder, Adrian Leeds, Michael Wiese, Stuart Comer, NewFest, and so many others.

Click on the image below for a one minute clip of the film exclusively for newsletter subscribers.

Steven Arnold and Ellen Burstyn in the documentary film Steven Arnold Heavenly Bodies

Cinema Language, Sebastiao Salgado, House of Leaves and More

A boy with pigeons at Plaza De Los Angeles in Guanajuato, Mexico. A selection from the Common Ground Project.
In response to your feedback here is some personal work and musings. This one was fun, particularly because I enjoyed exploring the cinema language used in Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air. I hope you enjoy it.

The Common Ground Instagram Feed –

Common Ground is a personal study of Latino people and culture–an ongoing photography project I’ve been working on for over 20 years. The selection above was captured at Plaza De Los Angeles in Guanajuato, Mexico and was the most liked last week. More images are available to see on instagram.

Film I’m Studying-

Something in the AirI have been watching a lot of Olivier Assayas films lately and this one seems to initiate a stylistic pivot in the Directors career. His earlier works are shot in a constructive cine verité language for the sake of economy, immediacy and authenticity. However, this film moves away from that into a more constructive and fragmented cinema language. Consequently this invokes a more dreamlike atmosphere including sequences that are purely poetic.

It’s nearly plotless structure reminds me of David Gordon Green’s first feature film–George Washington. His budget was something like $35,000 and he wrote the film so that none of the scenes depended on the other. As a result this allowed him to accommodate the budget by cutting scenes–as necessary during production–without compromising the story.

Select Collaborators
Cinematographer Eric Gautier
Editor Luc Barnier
Production Designer François-Renaud Labarthe
Producers Charles GillibertNathanaël Karmitz
Sound Editor Aude Baudasse
Sound Mixer Olivier Goinard
Colorist Isabelle Julien

Photography that impacts me –

Sebastiao Salgado. No other photographer has so fully realized how tragic, diverse and wonderful it is to be a human being on this planet.  And Wim Wenders portrays this in one of my favorite documentaries–Salt of the Earththat explores Salgado’s life and career.

Book I’m Reading-

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsky is a challenging read because there are so many things going on–subplots, references and commentary are explored in lengthy and overwhelming footnotes–and opening this book is like learning to read again. As a result I’ve had to stop reading the footnotes in order to make progress with the main plot.

As characters plunge into darkness, we start to see sparsely printed text on nearly blank pages. Consequently the reader experiences a deeper level of intimacy with the character and his environment. Then, as the formatting continues to evolve with the narrative, the reader is forced to work harder until finally accepting the mystery that is this book.

The Spiritual and Surreal Realms of Steven Arnold

It was great to hear back and catch up with some of you after my last newsletter! Now it’s time for a glimpse inside a new documentary feature I’ve been editing for up and coming director Vishnu Dass titled Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies. We started the journey with over 70 hours of original and archival footage that opened our minds to the spiritual and surreal realms of Arnold’s groundbreaking career as an artist. It is narrated by Anjelica Huston, features Interviews with his dear friend Ellen Burstyn and explores his close relationship with Salvador Dali.

It will be in Palm Springs for the Cinema Diverse Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival on September 21st at 3pm.

In the spirit of Arnold’s passion for avant-garde filmmaking and his tableau’s of detritus, Vishnu re-imagined some of Arnold’s most stunning photographs–in collaboration with motion graphics designer Matt McNeil–and you can experience one of these hypnotic indulgences in the films trailer here.

I also shot some Interviews as an additional cinematographer for the film and here are some screen grabs:

Ellen Burstyn in the documentary film Steven Arnold Heavenly Bodies
Scott Ewalt in the documentary film Steven Arnold Heavenly Bodies
Simon Doonan in the documentary film Steven Arnold Heavenly Bodies