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Video essay: Cameraperson to person

Conor Bateman: Kirsten Johnson's Cameraperson

Conor Bateman is the managing editor of 4:3 and an editor at ABC iView. His writing and video work have appeared in Fandor Keyframe, The Lifted Brow, Senses of Cinema and more.



Kirsten Johnson has spent a career behind the camera as a documentary cinematographer. Her 2016 film, Cameraperson, is built from decades of footage from films she shot like Citizen Four for Laura Poitras and Fahrenheit 9/11 for Michael Moore. “Here, I ask you to see it as a memoir,” Johnson tells us in an intertitle at her film's beginning.

How exactly does a filmmaker build a memoir from the material of other peoples' films and lives—from scenes as diverse as a Nigerian birth unit to a strolling street-side conversation with Jacques Derrida? How does Johnson use the dialogue of her subjects to give herself a voice?

Critics and editors such as Matt Zoller Seitz, Koganada and Kevin B Lee have produced video essays, an experimental form of audiovisual criticism currently blooming in the digital sphere and all manner of academic and popular circles. In this video essay produced especially for RealTime, Sydney-based critic and video editor Conor Bateman shows how Kirsten Johnson has hijacked conventional forms of editing, montage and dialogue to contribute something entirely new to documentary cinema. LCH


Credits: All music used in this video essay was licensed under Creative Commons:

“Ocean Day,” written and performed by rin ishi, is licensed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported license. You can listen to “Ocean Day” here.

“Sayonara,” written and performed by rin ishi, is licensed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported license. You can listen to “Sayonara” here.

“White,” written and performed by rin ishi, is licensed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported license. You can listen to “White” here.

“don’t worry about it,” written and performed by [ocean jams], is licensed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported license. You can listen to “don’t worry about it” here.

RealTime issue #138 April-May 2017 pg.

© Conor Bateman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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