Category Archives: Video


Ghosts in the photographs
Ghosts in the survivor’s testimony
Ghosts in the fading street video
Sudden slides and stops in the story
The jumps jar

Genewein the model bureaucrat
Genewein the fotoamator
Genewein the Nazi piper, leading a dead dance
from the trains to the ghetto to the furnace

Lovely photos
Artful use of colour
A gentle documentary sensibility
Nicely framed,
Very carefully framed,

We all know what this story looks like, zoomed out and unfolded
We’ve seen the panels with the horrors, all unfolded
by other photographers, less gently
We’ve all seen the ghosts
They don’t even shock us now

Polish filmmaker Dariusz Jablonski’s Fotoamator (1998) aims to present a comprehensive ‘re-visioning’ of photographs taken by the Nazi bureaucrat Walter Genewein at the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) Ghetto in WWII. It’s darkly powerful, thoughtful, deeply moving, and masterfully made.

Photography was thriving in 1930s Germany, with the emergence of many amateur photographic clubs. The growth of popular photography exemplified the penetration of modernist thought and aesthetics into popular culture at this time, in Germany as elsewhere. Germany was also at the forefront of developments photographic technology, with the first known example of a colour negative being a depiction of German factory workers (with a swastika clearly visible in the background).

Photography had been exploited for propaganda use by all parties during the “increasingly hysterical political scene” of the Weimar Republic. The Nazi Party was closely associated with the IG Farben (now Agfa) corporation, and was well aware of the propagandising power of the still and moving image. This was perhaps best exemplified in the work of Leni Reifenstahl  (e.g. Triumph of the Will 1934, produced by the Ministry of Propaganda with some 30 cameras and 120 production crew).

The Austrian accountant Walter Genewein was an enthusiastic amateur photographer – but was also a middle-ranking official in the Nazi bureaucracy, assigned to work in the Łódź Ghetto, and rising during the course of the war to a position as chief accountant in the (200-strong) ghetto administration. He appears to have been a highly ambitious, diligent and loyal worker. Several hundred colour slides made by Genewein during his time in Łódź were uncovered in 1987, depicting scenes of Jewish workers, street scenes, Nazi officials at work and at social occasions.        

The scenes are mostly depictions of daily life in the ghetto rather than significant events, and are, in themselves, ‘unremarkable’. In many ways, and in spite of their subject material and their early use of colour transparency film, they were representative of vernacular photography of the time.

His precise motivation in making them is unclear, however it evident that he thought that his photographic activity might be used to advance his career. He was a ‘hobbyist’, interested in photography as an end in itself, and corresponded repeatedly with Agfa in an effort improve the colour accuracy of images processed in their laboratories. Also, as the time was seen as the foundation of the Third Reich, he may have felt that the photographs would contribute to the documentary record (and justification) of its establishment.

Collectively, the slides draw attention to the efficient and productive management of the ghetto, presenting “a showcase of the ghetto for the approving eyes of other Nazi officials both inside and outside the ghetto”.

In Genewein’s photographs, the subjects seem to be ‘objectified’, presented more as ethnographic specimens than as individuals. (However, unlike many Nazi photographs of Jews, there is no obvious attempt to depict them as deviant, diseased, or sub-human.) This approach is taxonomic or inventorial, resembling in this respect the earlier work of August Sander. The ‘coldness’ created by this approach is amplified because, in common with many amateur images, the scenes were typically shot through a fairly wide angle lens, creating further distance between the viewer and subject.

It is clear that Genewein (along with almost all of his contemporaries, both in Germany and elsewhere) did not question the authority of the photograph as a documentary record of reality. The power of such photography rests on the viewer’s belief that “what is seen is the result of objective recording… [of] a piece of authentic actuality”. The ‘actuality’ presented is one of order, productive work activity, and the rightful dominance of the Nazis over their inferiors.

We do not (and cannot) see the photographs as the photographer did. Our viewing of them is informed by our historical knowledge, of the atrocities that were simultaneously occurring in Łódź, just outside of the photographs’ frame, and subsequent to the images being taken. Where Genewein saw a worksite, we see “a site of decelerated mass murder”.

However the photographs’ claim to authenticity is nonetheless powerful and it can be hard to resist acceptance of the Nazi perspective that they project. In Fotoamator, Jablonski sets out to disrupt this ‘Nazi gaze’, and to release Genewein’s photographic subjects from their objectification.


Private Thoughts in Public Places

Private Thoughts in Public Places is a short (12 minute) video slideshow (with voices, music and subtitle text) which I prepared as a studio practice project for my studies at the ANU School or Art.

It aims to bring into stark relief the contrast between the ‘polite smalltalk’ of everyday conversation and the authentic inner dialogues that may be going on simultaneously. The ‘actors’ in the film portray people who are together in physical space – but isolated by the noise of their own inner worlds.

As the narrative progresses, the inner thoughts begin to leak out into the environment, with text appearing on signs, advertising billboards, graffiti – and eventually in the sky.

My intention was to explore storytelling through still photography, the presentation of photographs as a chronological sequence, the impact of incorporating text in visual imagery, showing motion with still images.

The project was planned as an investigation of several issues, each concerned with the viewer experience when presented with images in different ways:

• the impact of combining written text, spoken language and visual imagery;
• multiple related images presented in combination – adjacent versus consecutive presentation;
• the use of a sequential set of still images to present a narrative;
• the depiction of motion (both in time and space) through ‘still’ images;
• simultaneous presentation of different perspectives of a single event; and
• the (increasingly) ill-defined boundary between still and video imagery.

I really enjoyed this project, and anticipate doing more work in the future to further explore and develop the themes of this project. I think there’s more potential in the ‘private thoughts in public places’ concept, and in the projection of text into landscape images more generally. I’m also very interested in the use of variant media forms to package, present and deliver photographic images in different ways (to print, screen and web).

You can see a selection of still images from the project on the main Jokar web site by clicking on this link.

Still and moving pictures

Here’s a ramble about the convergence of ‘still’ photography and video:

We often seem to define our selves (and if artists, define our artistic practice) by the limits of what we do. Perhaps this helps us to maintain a coherent sense of our own personal identities. At one (and quite recent!) time , statements like: “I’m a painter (or writer/musician/filmmaker/photographer/etc” had a fairly precise meaning, and gave the listener a clear idea of what the speaker does (and doesn’t) do.

In the contemporary world where information records and transfers (and many apparently ‘material’ artefacts) have largely become digital objects, such clear and narrowly defined categorisations of artistic practice are becoming meaningless.

At one level this is now pretty obvious to pretty much everyone. At the extreme, if all information has just been transformed into binary data, if it’s all been reduced to (and expressed through) ones and zeros, well then it’s all fundamentally interchangeable, isn’t it? This is the simple underlying principle of digital convergence, but it becomes more interesting when it is applied to actual categories of media.

So, in the example I have been pondering recently: once upon a time a photo was a still image and a film was a moving image, each with their own production technologies, conventions, limits, possibilities, and visual aesthetic. Photos were printed on paper and films were projected onto a wall or TV screen. Not any more!

Isn’t a film really just a series of still images displayed in succession (at 24, 25, 30 fps or whatever), too fast for human perception to isolate the individual images? What happens when a series of related ‘still images’ are displayed consecutively in sequence, like in a slideshow? With an audio soundtrack? At what rate of transition (e.g. in time-lapse photography) does it become a video? Does application of the ‘Ken Burns’ pan-and-zoom effect during a slideshow turn it into a motion picture? Digital technology has made this stuff easy, even routine.

Chris Marker’s wonderful short film La Jetée (1962) was amongst the first creative works to ask these sorts of questions. The film (and it was made as a film in those pre-digital days) consists almost entirely of several hundred photographs displayed in sequence, with an audio narration of the story over the top (I say ‘almost’ because he has sneakily inserted a couple of seconds of moving picture at one key point in the story). Despite being made up of photos, it imparts a quite detailed plot, shows the passage of time, has character development, and shows physical movement at key moments – such as in the final scene where the central character runs across the viewing platform at Orly Airport.  Each of these elements used to be the exclusive domain of the ‘movies’.

So, is Chris Marker (who BTW is still being creative and innovative at age 90) a ‘photographer’ or a ‘film-maker’? What about the countless people now doing similar work, aided by sophisticated digital toolsets?  Alternatively (for a different example), is an artist working in 3-dimensional digital spaces a ‘sculptor’? The convergent force of digitisation has blurred the ‘traditional’ categories of artistic practice for all time, and made such questions irrelevant.


This is a short (3 minute) video that I prepared for my Studio Practice work at the ANU School of Art. In part it was done to develop my skills with Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro and Audition, but it was also a vehicle for exploring some themes that I am researching.

It explores how and why it is that the juxtaposition of still images creates a different experience for the viewer to that of viewing a single still image. Related images can inform the viewer in ways that the individual images don’t, and the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated image content may reveal relationships and dimensions not disclosed by the single images.

Sounds dull? Well actually it’s quite a nice little piece – with voice and music…

Karen and John have breakfast

80 minutes of our Saturday relaxed morning breakfast ritual compressed down into 2 minutes of frenzied action, with some gentle (Creative Commons-licensed) guitar from Kevin MacLeod.

After the “11 days, 33 meals” project, you’re probably thinking I’ve got a fixation about mealtimes. You’re probably right!

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, the time lapse video was made with:

  • Canon 5D Mk II set to fine small JPG (2784 x 1856 pixels), aperture priority (f/11), 400 ISO 
  • Canon TC80-N3 intervalometer, set to take one exposure every 5 seconds (942 images in total)
  • After Effects 5.5 to compile the slideshow
  • Premiere Pro 5.5 to edit video, add opening and closing title

I know almost nothing about the two Adobe products, and I am finding  the technology VERY confusing (why can’t they be simple like Photoshop?!) But I’m determined to persevere (I’ve found some really useful tutorial videos at the Adobe TV and Creative Cow web sites)

11 days, 33 meals

I really like the ‘photographic discipline’ of doing project work  – whether it’s commissioned work or self-assigned. A project obliges you to focus (pun intended) on achieving some pre-defined outcome – rather just firing off images in a sometimes random, opportunistic way (which tends to be my normal mode of operation!)

And, to achieve an outcome, you’ve got to think about it first, to come up with a plan about –

  • about how to proceed in a technical sense,
  • about how to stay on topic during the project, and
  • about how the series of images created for the project will relate to each other and contribute to making up the whole.

A few years ago (well, 2005) I set about recording a week of my life around the cycle of daily meals. The idea was not to just do food photography (though that was part of the concept), but to record the social circumstances around each meal, and so produce a documentary slice of my life through the period that the project was running.

The working title was “7 days, 21 meals” but I found I was enjoying it enough, and still finding enough new angles to the project, to continue for another few days. So it became “11 days, 33 meals“. It was a busy and interesting time, with travel, work, visitors and meals out, and the project managed to capture a block of my life in a documentary way – albeit constructed around the culinary events of the 11 days!

You can see the results here, or view the selected 33 images in the short video above. I also printed the full set of images onto one large sheet of continuous photo paper, with a column for each day and a row for each of each day’s three main meals.

11 days 33 meals montage (printed 1.76 metres wide!)

After 11 days I decided I’d had enough of this project, and it was time to stop. I didn’t want to become obsessive about it – or to keep delaying my meals until the photo had been taken!

But there’s a growing body of ‘obsessive photo projects’ available on the web, from people who don’t want (or don’t know how!) to stop. Jonathan Kelller Keller has put together a list of many of them on his website. And he is no stranger to the genre himself, having conducted a remarkable daily self-portrait project for just about every day since 1998. He’s aligned the images in Adobe After Effects and put them together into a video in which you can watch him age 13 years over the course of 1 minute and 44 seconds. He has no plans to end the project which he says now has a life independent of his own.