I was recently reading an interview of the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard where he says, “I’d rather feed 100 percent of 10 people. Hollywood would rather feed 1 percent of 1 million people. Commercially speaking, my way is not better.” We share a similar point of view, and I’ve never been in better company. Another nice quote: “he who leaps into the void owes no explanation to those who watch.” I’m having difficulty tracking down another statement of his (probably from the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma,) so I’ll drastically butcher it into my own speech: don’t let your audience forget that they are watching a film and not acting in it. You are the one in charge, so your work should look like what it is, a film. Don’t get caught up in the illusion. Try and sit through his film “Les Carabiniers” to best understand what that means.
Godard on Godard
Everything Is Cinema
I bring this up since I was also recently looking through some reproductions of early 20th century platinum photographs by Frederick H. Evans. At first glance, they look very much like graphite drawings; so much so I had to check the media description to be certain. They would be very tightly rendered graphite drawings, mind you, but examine the print above, “Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics.” An exhibit of his photographs will be on display at the Getty Museum beginning in February 2010.
I hesitate to show any examples of the sort of tight rendering in pencil that these prints suggest, since I don’t want to be accused of pointing a finger at them for being somewhat inferior. That’s not my point. This is not about an evaluation of skill (or the celebration of it) as it is the pleasure in sharing an artist’s visual translation and the interpretation of their work. It’s about emotional, not visual, accuracy.
While I would still deeply enjoy seeing pencil renderings of images such as this, it’s when I see the marks made by the artist that I feel as though I’m standing in their shoes as I examine the work. I hear what they are saying and can understand them better than when they render the scene with a high degree of tight detail. In these photographic prints the values are very close and fall within the middle range with very soft gradients reminiscent of graphite powder or controlled watercolor. In fact, I see similarities between these prints and some watercolor studies by Maurice Noble which were made for the Disney film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” done only a decade or so later than the Evans print. Look also at this watercolor by Cass Gilbert circa 1910. Not only do I see here what the artist sees, but also as they see it, even looking into their own mind. It isn’t an approach I use to lose myself in their vision, but a search for clarity.