At Witness, as we sought manuscripts for “Captured: Writing About Film and Photography,” these questions resonated deeply with the material we collected: How does the lens shape our vision? How does the act of filming affect our behavior? Our writing? How do we represent our ideas about how representations are made, and what, if anything, does this tell us about ourselves as readers? About the (post)modern creative process? And in what ways does the modern writer utilize tropes and familiar trajectories from the worlds of film, movies, photography, and video to express his or her own breadth of view?
The literary subjects of this portfolio, varied and surprising in their depictions, range from James Bond to Werner Herzog, from mega-stars to flunky film students, from the wildlife of Los Angeles to refugees and the starlets who fantasize about saving them. The views vary, too, from toilet endoscopies to intimate family photographs to God’s-eye pans. Our contributors play fast and loose with genre, and what was submitted as nonfiction could easily be interpreted as prose poetry or flash fiction. Likewise, screenplay seeps into most everything.
What we unexpectedly discovered in considering submissions for the portfolio is that writers across all spectra—male, female, established writers and those still emerging—have at one time or another been prompted to write about the experience of watching. And we were a little surprised, as we neared the end of our reading period, to find that so much of that writing is about men watching women, or women looking at themselves. In response, we selected a photo essay that confronts the discomfiting power dynamic between the watcher and the watched head-on: Jessica Dimmock’s Paparazzi! follows Hollywood-based photographers in their efforts to hunt celebrities and capture their images for the popular media.
But it’s the writing in this portfolio—in its immediacy and intimacy, clarity and complexity—that best explores the power of the lens. We chose pieces that are simultaneously mimetic images and meta-fictions: compelling works of art that are aware of themselves as commentaries on the production of art. Such writing coexists with a mirror of itself in a kind of ecstasy of accessibility, of the pleasure we take in looking at something or someone as closely as we like, for as long as we like, while yet remaining part of an unobserved public. As Banks remarked in his closing words, “This is terribly important. We need that communal sharing experience, that giving over of the self that the film provides.” And so by sharing these particular views, we reflect them back outward.