Manufactured Landscapes

21 Aug


Photo: J. Chapman

My writing, or rather, my ideas have always been tied to painting and photography. I went to film school in the late 80s and in a way I was taught to see or visually observe first, before anything. Cinematography classes didn’t work so well for me because they were way too technical, but one thing I retained was the idea of a good photographer working to remove or subtract light from a scene, rather than add it. It’s sort of how I approach my writing; a healthy dose of Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (7/8 of the story is underwater) mixed in with cinematography theory. And so photographs and paintings always start off my ideas. The piece from yesterday has a certain visual look in my head, if I were to shoot it on film. It’s not made clear necessarily in the narrative, but then again it wasn’t written in film script form. It’s the entire picture that’s bizarre and absurd to me, but still; give me a camera and I can deliver something along the lines of what I’m describing.

I’m writing this because the last year or so I’ve been hyper-aware of and interested in what we’ve been doing to our environment; particularly through extraction (mining) and damming rivers. Last night my wife and I watched this, which in my opinion is vital viewing for all people, especially during these Olympic Games, when Beijing and China in general seem to be on everyone’s mind. If you get a chance, please invest an hour and a half of your time and watch this dynamic documentary. It puts everything that you (and I) do in perspective and makes you re-think your wasteful actions and re-tool your ideas about finding solutions. Although very much pro-environment, I am not a fan of Al Gore’s film, which preaches and educates while wagging an accusatory finger. I also found his film devoid of any concrete, believable sources, and so I look at it with a very skeptical eye. The wonderful thing about “Manufactured Landscapes” is that not many people speak. No one delivers sermons or holier-than-thou opinions. The images are left to tell their story.

I am attracted to this kind of filmmaking because it’s what I strive to do with my writing. Put a story out and let the readers form opinions—although most of the time you can guess where I stand. It’s what I was striving to do with my little documentary, which I shot and put together in 1989 (“The District”) and which recently resurfaced in the form of a 16mm reel found in my childhood home, at the bottom of a drawer. I promise I will transfer the emulsion onto digital format and post it here soon. It’s not much, it’s raw and dirty and nasty, but it was a statement on my particular environment and the social events at the time which shaped it, that I was hoping to make, even then—almost 20 years ago. I recently viewed it (I have it dubbed onto VHS tape) and, although rudimentary and devoid of any cinematic tricks, CG or any of that slick nonsense we’re used to seeing from film, it still holds.

The photo above was shot by my wife’s cousin, Jason; an extremely-talented artist who has embarked on a tough mission, documenting our receding natural landscape and raising awareness of the destruction caused by our carbon footprint. It’s this kind of art which inspires me to write, and which gives birth to the stories that you read on this web log. I know it may sound strange, particularly since none of my fiction explores environmental concerns overtly, but you must trust me when I say that particular images yield a certain mood which I then attempt to transfer into a written piece. Anyway, you can learn more about Jason and his thoughts on the matter on his environmental site here and check out his photography here.

Although I often shudder at the times in which I live, I am so grateful for mediums such as these (blogs, journals, flickr sites, etc.) and people like Jason—unknown, talented artists who struggle to push important ideas to the forefront of our daily discussion and our daily lives. I adore documentary filmmaking and photography; it speaks to what I’ve always tried to do with my writing. And I adore artists and altruistic people who undertake seemingly impossible missions for the greater good of humanity. They inspire me.

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2 Responses to “Manufactured Landscapes”

  1. momentofchoice 22/08/2008 at 9:18 AM #

    i love this photo. i love his whole Argentina set. actually i love all photos in his documentary set. oh allllright, i love ALL of Jason Chapman’s photos. :)

  2. (S)wine 22/08/2008 at 9:59 AM #

    I was thinking about documenting/shooting a trip to Romania. Bucharest to start off, then the countryside. Bucharest is dirty, grimy, grubby on one hand…on another, leafy and old and historic. It used to be called the Paris of the East pre-Communists. It would be interesting to have a project where Jason shoots his vision, and I attempt to shoot mine. I wonder if there would be an intersection in our attempts. Maybe in the future…

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