The night the first of the three UK television channels transformed from black and white to colour it struck me that I had superimposed the colour in my imagination. Disappointed that the colours were neither as vibrant nor absurd as I had imagined, I also realised I had created an unseen dimension of life behind the "real" activity on the screen. Television was beyond my grasp. Unable to understand it I believed everything had been filmed secretly, that the people were real, not actors, and I wondered how they could sneak up on the man reading The News he must be reading the paper to his family. The News was filmed so that the viewer was unaware of the camera or studio. In a way, therefore, I did have a grasp of television, I believed the make-believe.
A few years later the first "home computers" began to emerge and informed by a consciousness of (if not interaction with) these technologies, we began to think of them weaving into our lives. The computer - from its conception as monolythic, impenetrable, number cruncher - has come into its own among todays proclamations on the digital future and the marriage of computer and video technology has brought video making facilities into many homes.
Technological developments do not always follow a "natural" progression and are influenced by corporate interests; the computer you use today is not necessarily a summation of all that preceeded it. Artists have been active in exploring the areas where these technological developments chime or collide with political and artistic concerns. Despite moments when it appeared that technology was leading by default artists have pushed the boundaries. Their idiosyncratic use of new media has expanded assumptions about film and visual art. Experimental, and independent film and video has long been an area where some of the most radical ideas meet the broader social arena.
From experiments with portable video cameras in the 1960's - which can be seen as a reaction against the frozen moment in art, the consumerist art market and commercialism of broadcast television - film and video practice has altered in response to the concerns of the artists using it and emergence of technologies. New approaches continue to develop as some artists find ways to think beyond traditional conceptions of what is possible. Our popular understanding of digital technology is built on our historical relationship with computers; that of order, control and measurement. We are entrenched in material visualisations of the internet as a linear architectural space. Our popular understanding of film is built on a notion of linear time, and the flat screen image. Even interactive film operates in this way. Challenged with the astonishing and unimaginable potential of new technology people find it as difficult as ever to cast aside historical conceptions and think outside of the obvious. The whole notion of online film as something other than streaming a cinema film via the internet is only just beginning to be explored.
Video is unique in the immediate access it allows to the image and the casual ease with which footage can be gathered and manipulated. It is now possible to look at footage and edit it on camera or delete and reshoot, miles away from the edit suite something impossible with film. Digital technologies take one step further into image manipulation and production; from the mixing of effects and formats to the multylayering of images and stories to the mixing of personal narratives and history, stirring up time and place has never been so easy. Widespread availability of portable digital video cameras, and home edit systems, web casting and streaming technologies are bringing moving image technologies to a wider constituency resulting in a proliferation of web publishing and video production. Although films like The Blair Witch Project, adopted into the mainstream, illuminate a message to the general population that "you too, can do this" it is experimental filmmakers who tussle with technological, social and political issues long before the mainstream dares to approach.
Digital developments draw video further into, the edit suite. You can splice parents¹ 8mm home movies with videos, with TV footage, with family photographs, adding in text and animation. The techniques are sympathetic to descriptions of journeys in time, space and memory sometimes juxtaposing conflicting and diverse beliefs. These are processes that lend themselves to both camera-less works of found footage and graphics and to the journal or documentary - the handheld camera revealing the filmaker through the shake of their hand or sound of their voice, links to the world behind the camera. These are also technologies that, by their ability to mix and simulate other formats like 8mm film, have a homogenising effect on the film and video spectrum. This process of making work - using collage, text and graphics, the immediate access to the image and the the filmmakers relationship to the handheld camera - has more akin to drawing than to traditional filmaking; making marks viewing, erasing, and rearranging them. It is the relationship with the evidence of the human - movement, voice, drawing - that is necessary to explore and question our relationship with new digital technology exploring the boundaries between "artificial" and "real".
In this age of image manipulation it is perhaps ironic that we still hold faith in the authenticity of video footage. We may be inured to television images of tragedy and suffering but the frequency with which video footage is used as evidence is testament that the loss of authority in the photographic image has not yet overcome the video image.
Early in photography's life, cowering at the foot of Antartica's Barne Glacier, the Photographer Herbert Ponting was overcome by "an intense and wholly indescribable loneliness" 1, perhaps with the same realisation that John James Audubon came to when he went to sketch Niagara Falls; that it was not possible to mimic or represent this sublime moment of "nature in her grandest enterprise" 2.
The attempt to to fix an image of our world before it flickers out of view does not change, but the means do. As the desire to rationalise the present against an unwieldy history and uncertain future continues, growing, perhaps, more urgent, it is no surprise that many artists use video to attempt to reflect our time and transient moments, the speed of change and the speed with which we pass through it.
The same fascination with a shifting history, language and the landscape, that has long been present in the rich storytelling, literature and art of Scotland combines in the work of artists who see digital video, a medium whose nature is to be in flux, and its "uncanny ability to represent the present at the same time as unleashing what is not present" 3 as a space to attempt exploring those secrets beyond the screen.
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