Contributor's Note by Nick Twemlow
Wolfvision is more than a joint collaboration between my wife and me. I did find the images and edit the piece and Robyn did write the voiceover script as a response to my edit. But there were many other participants. The woman who records webisodes of herself discussing her eating disorder. The image of a UFO sparking over a Chinese skyline, shot from an apartment window. The wolves charging across a highway in Russia, recorded by a surveillance camera.
The use of found footage in film- and videomaking isn’t new. But there has been a revival, of sorts, of works assembled at least in part by other people’s home movies, industrial videos, workout tapes, etc. Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky, a leading figure in the contemporary avant-garde film world and a heavy user of found footage, considers this uptick a “response, from a technological standpoint, to the overwhelming presence of electronic imagery: a conscious return to the artistic specificity of the medium’s historical expression.”1
For me, using other people’s images makes me feel creepy, in a good way. I don’t generally ask permission to do so. But I don’t feel like the image-makers want me to. After all, they uploaded their video, made it publicly available. Perhaps they do so with the hope that their expression will go viral, infecting the social body like an STD in a closed community: At some point, the hope might go, everybody will be infected.
I don’t mean to sound glib. But part of the charge of using other people’s images is that you get to change the context in which the viewer looks at them. Maybe I’m suggesting that images are a lot like words—a writer doesn’t hesitate to use whatever word occurs to her when working on a poem or short story. Words, after all, are available to everyone (at least for now). Why not the image?
A few days ago, I was present at a talk by a participant in a graduate photography workshop. This student was asked to present images that informed and influenced his photography work. The idea was, he would talk about books. He presented exactly zero books, explaining that he doesn’t read, and instead, he discussed how Beavis & Butthead and The Cosby Show and other TV staples of the early ‘90s informed his work. Fair enough. The image, for him, superseded the written word. Became some kind of fossil of his past. Given how much access we have to the pixel-built image, I wonder why we can’t ask that images become building blocks of our cinematic grammar, much like words work for writers.
1. Tscherkassky, Peter, “A Poet of Images – the work of Matthias Müller”, XXXVI Mostra Internationale del Nuovo Cinema, Pesaro Film Festival 2000 Catalogue