Saturday, 4 September 2010

On the Cinema of Sharon Lockhart: videos and essays

Image from Teatro Amazonas (Sharon Lockhart, 1999)
Film Studies For Free was rather inspired by a characteristically excellent blog essay by Srikanth Srinivasan on the films of Sharon Lockhart (thanks to David Hudson for the tip off). So here's a quick cluster of links to some wonderful Lockhart resources -- videos and essays -- available online in openly accessible forms. If anyone knows of any other high quality online material about this artist, please let FSFF know. 

Blending rigorous aesthetic concerns with an anthropologist's sensibility to community engagement and observation, Sharon Lockhart uses film and photography to create poignant, beautiful, and intimate portraits. She carefully manipulates formal elements as she explores certain concepts with regularity: portraiture, the relationship between photography and film, and the combination of fictive or choreographed performances with unscripted, intimate moments. The film Pine Flat and the accompanying color photographs Pine Flat Portrait Studio (both from 2005) present a spare, meditative series of filmic and photographic portraits of a group of children the artist came to know during her nearly four-year stay in Pine Flat, California. Pine Flat is a two-part film focusing on children and adolescents interacting in the sublime landscape surrounding this small rural community. Its determinedly languid pace engages the viewer in a self-conscious reflection on the process of looking and offers a meditation on the subjective experience of time, particularly as an aspect of children's lives.
Although a generation apart, filmmakers Sharon Lockhart and James Benning have cited each others work as an important influence on their own practice. Join them for a conversation about the process of creating a picture of America and California in particular—that focuses on Lockhart's Pine Flat (2005) and films from Bennings California Trilogy (20002001). Pine Flat is Lockhart's first project to examine American culture. Benning's 30-year filmmaking career includes more than 36 films. He teaches film/video at the California Institute of the Arts. / Moderated by Walker director Kathy Halbreich. / Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Sharon Lockhart: Pine Flat.
I sat through all 99 minutes of Sharon Lockhart’s Double Tide, shown in a special “Focus” on “40 years of Berlin’s Forum. I knew in advance that there were only two shots in Lockhart’s HD work, so, naturally, I was apprehensive. Remarkably, most of the 100 or so spectators who attended the 10:00 am public screening were also there at the end. Only one human character appears in Double Tide, Jen Casad, a clam digger, and a very few birds. The first shot occurs early morning, and the second late afternoon, and at each low tide, we see Ms Casad enter the static frame with her floating clam basket, ready to search beneath the shallow water. The sound would appear to be direct, it is certainly natural, and, although the camera never moves, the frame is never static. We begin to appreciate all of the effort the clam digger puts into her work, while the fog in the background lifts then reappears, finally to lift again revealing a number of seabirds doing their own search for food. The second shot reveals that we are not looking out to sea at all, but at a forested inlet, and, with the sun setting off-frame left, we can appreciate the changing of the light, and again marvel at the sounds as well as sights of nature. [Peter Rist, '...BAFICI...', Offscreen, Vol. 14, Issue 3, 2010]
I would like here to invoke Sharon Lockhart's film Kahlil Haper-Bowers (1993), because it seems to me a brilliant analysis of this visual panic, this disruption of the visual field that lies at the foundation of heteronormative visuality.* In Lockhart's film, the body of a young boy, who faces the camera directly, gradually begins to display what at first seem slight discolorations or abrasions of the skin. The film, which gives the impression of being a medical, diagnostic record of a series of clinical visits over time, hovers intently at the point of indistinctness: what are these dark shadows on the skin? Bruises? Lesions? Are they real, genuine dermatological symptoms–or just stage make-up? And, of what condition are these the symptoms: AIDS–or not? As the marks begin to multiply, Lockhart skillfully intensifies the pressure of the visual field around the deviant body, to the point where the spectator is able to experience the stigmatizing gaze in itself. The film brings all of that gaze's contradictory elements into play: the quasi-medical, quasi-legalistic imperative to explore the body intimately and diagnostically; where the diagnostic gaze is at the same time a sadistic, invasive procedure that seeks to brand the body it explores; where at the point or punctum of branding the whole visual field suddenly buckles and bends around;** where instead of the stigma acting as a seal, a cauterizing process, a protection against disease, something seeps through the stigma from its other side, something sickening, like a secretion, the secretion of the secret, something that dissolves the membrane separating us from them, a point of merger where the two sides commingle, a point of infection or contagion; a point that is experienced throughout this process entirely at the level of Galtonesque hallucination, of not being sure what it is, of not being able to apply the normalizing categories for the precise reason that at the very point of the stigma the categories hang suspended, leaving the subject floundering, unable to impose the distinction that was the goal of its activity, losing the distinction, losing it all round, becoming for a moment a subject unable to apply the dividing line that is the founding axiom of the heteronormative order, for the duration of the panic unable to successfully abject what is to be abjected in order for the subject to be, and is instead invaded and attacked, in the ricochet of the brand-become-infection that typifies homophobic panic as a visual field. [Norman Bryson, 'Todd Haynes's Poison and Queer Cinema', Invisible Culture - An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture Issue 1, Winter 1999]


Just Another Film Buff said...

Thanks so much, Catherine, for the plug. This is an essential round up on the filmmaker...

Matthew Flanagan said...
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