New Tools, New Images

A new camera encourages a photographer to capture a moment that normally wouldn't have been recorded. [This is BEFORE we have digital cameras of any sort.]

Back in the mid 80s we were busy creating the first Criterion supplements which often contained hundreds of still frames. Transferring stills meant making slides which had to be converted one by one to video. Studio time for film-to-video transfers was pricey and doing the stills one-by-one was unreasonably expensive.

Mark Brems who worked on Criterion publications had a brilliant idea . . . If we could run motion picture film through an SLR attached to a copy stand we could go into the studio with 10 seconds of film instead of 300 slides and the 10 seconds of film could be transferred much faster than 300 slides.
Thanks to our colleagues at Voyager Japan we made contact with Nikon which agreed to make two cameras to our specifications — ordinary Nikon bodies retrofitted with sprockets that accommodated 35mm motion picture stock and a bulk back that held 30 feet of film which was equivalent to 450 stills or 15 seconds of film at videos speed of 30 frames per second.

At the time Mark was working on The LA Journal comprised of many thousands of stills (postcards, menus, news photos etc) and dozens of very short clips from LA's complex history.  [Note: The LA Journal was inspired in large part by the films of Charles and Ray Eames and Patrick Burns' Vancouver Disc.

One day Mark heard that Keith Haring was scheduled to paint a mural at Art Center, a local college for art and design. Mark took the Nikon to Pasadena and found dozens of photographers and videographers waiting for Haring to begin. When he arrives Haring sizes up the wall and leaves the room to go buy paint and other supplies. Mark is the only person who follows Haring out the door. The still photographers from big mass media publications didn't go because they knew that the one image they would sell would be Haring painting at the wall. The videographers didn't go because they had already set their heavy/clumsy cameras up on tripods (this is the 80s) and weren't about to give up their spot for the main event.

Mark then documented Haring's paint-buying spree in only 30 frames (1 second) — played back here in slow motion (one tenth speed). When the disc was published users would view this sequence at different speeds -- real time, slow motion and frame by frame. I've always felt that by photographing this, Mark captured a bit of Haring's personality that otherwise would have been unseen. Tragically Haring died only a few months later from AIDs.

The entire Keith Haring segment played at normal speed — 30 frames per second

The entire Keith Haring segment played at 1/4 normal speed

The button-buying sequence played frame by frame