Wednesday, September 6, 2006

camera mystique and other rot

So, I've noticed that a ridiculous number of people are consistently checking my blogspace every day, even though I don't post more than every once in a while. C'mon, people! Just subscribe to the damn thing, and then you can rest your clicky finger by waiting for the blog updates to come to you! Unless, of course, you'd be embarrassed if I knew your identity, and you're happier with hiding behind the iron MySpace curtain. E-cowards!

So, anyway, I saw this Ayumi Hamasaki video, and my first thought was: how much did the Arri corporation fork out for this PR stunt? I mean, it's just THE most ridiculous collection of camera-fetish images I think I've ever seen, outside of an industrial ("Color Film Stock and You, Together At Last"). One of the first images we see is a pair of hands loading/fondling the camera's innards. YURGH. I love working with cameras, but I don't, um, love my cameras.

This is clearly a case of testosterone gone horribly awry, and I can't say it surprises me too much. Camera (and cinematography) is still the domain of men, and mostly white men at that. Many understand that a camera is simply a tool (heh, 'tool') for collecting images, and it's really the images that matter; many more, however, seem to regard cameras as ends unto themselves. Ooh, check out the precision! The rotors! The manly black veneers! The shiny chrome accents! It's like the devotion a lot of guys show towards, say, a Lamborghini. Who cares about the destination? My car is HOTTT. And so is my camera. Mrreeeowrf. Heck, I even know a guy who has the Steadicam logo tattooed on his back, which should give you some idea of the degree of Fetishization of the Camera I've seen amongst guys in the industry.

Since so many seem to view cameras as extensions of their, um, manhood, it can make life for a female camerawoman (okay, me) rather uncomfortable—the typically male view of camerawork seems confrontational, expecially when compared to my view. Instead of 'aiming my equipment' (heh) and 'shooting' (camerawork as hunting, Ayumi as prey, not to mention other porn-o-riffic connotations), I tend to see cameras as 'receiving.' In my world, it is Ayumi who is aiming at the passive medium of film or video, which is preserving her image 24 times a second. This seems, to me at least, the fundamental difference between how men and women approach filmmaking.

It really doesn't help that EVERY GODDAMN PERSON ON THE AYUMI SET IS MALE, other than Ayumi. There they are, leering middle-aged men, 'capturing' the image of the passive, prancing singer. They poke and prod her, rearrange her hair the way one might fiddle with a Barbie doll, point high-tech thingies at her, and so forth. Stand still, little girl, while big daddy shoves his 'lens' in your face and makes you a star. And she takes it! There's no sign of thought on her face, no signal of control over her surroundings; she just bounces around in golden light, singing into a microphone-as-thinly-veiled-phallic-symbol, goateed men in dark glasses coldly regarding her. Good job, pretty little cash cow. Keep mooing, and we'll give you more bling.

Sorry if this sounds irate by my typical Astrid standards, but I'm really tired of never seeing a woman behind a camera, unless I'm on set and there's a reflective surface nearby. It also kills me when I'm teaching a camera class, and the women present say things like "Thank you for removing the mystique of camera for us." Cameras have NO BUSINESS having mystique! That's like saying a POTTERY WHEEL has mystique! Or that a CHAIN SAW has mystique! Guys buy into this whole mystique crap and eat it up with a spoon; women see it as a threat, and decide that cinematography isn't for least, until I talk to them for a while, and they understand how approachable it is.

It sure feels lonely over here sometimes. Pretty, vacuous nothings like Ayumi make me realize just how far we have to go.

ADDENDUM: I just remembered, when I went to the NAB convention in Vegas a couple of years ago, I tried asking an Arri representative about a new model they were showing off. He refused to make eye contact with me, and answered all my questions to my then-boyfriend, who was standing next to me and hadn't said a word. The rep might as well have said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak estrogen." It was so pointed, and so ridiculous, I started trying to force the rep to make eye contact with me as he was blathering at my boyfriend, leaning into the space between them and so on, and the rep kept backing away and refusing to look at me, even when I was almost on top of him and continuing my questions as politely as possible. It would have been hilarious, if only it hadn't been so horrifying. I'd like to point out here that I'm only 4'11", so any claim that the rep found me threatening is beyond insane.

The worst part of all was that this was the THIRD camera rep to treat me like garbage that day. It really didn't help that the only other women I saw were corporate reps in verrrrrrrry low-cut suits, leaning over a lot as they said "Let me show you our products." My boyfriend witnessed all of this and backed me up, so I know I'm not delusional. He was pretty shocked, and thankfully very empathetic. Alas, he's hardly typical in the cinematography community.

In fairness, there was one shining beacon of hope and justice at that convention: Ira Tiffen. I was ambling over towards the Tiffen display, and (shock!) there were women reps who were NOT wearing low-cut suits! In fact, they were very professional- and friendly-looking. And one of them caught my eye and exuberantly waved at me, hollering "A female filmmaker! Oh my god! Come on over!" And they made oodles of eye contact, and answered my questions as best as possible, and for the questions they couldn't answer, they flagged Ira himself to come help me. Which he did, also making eye contact and being very helpful in the extreme, speaking with me for ten whole minutes and never once making me feel like I was wasting his time.

Bless you, Ira Tiffen, and all the fab folks you employ. You are one of the few who gives me hope, besides Mike Berlin, the cinematographer from "Everybody Loves Raymond" who took me under his wing for a while. We still talk shop every so often, and he's always been extremely encouraging. Now, if only every other guy in the biz besides Ira, Mike, and my ex-boyfriend could be the same way, the world would be a far, far better place, free of my rantings. Wouldn't it be lovely?

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