Three weeks ago, I watched Kirsten Johnson’s memoir in film, Cameraperson. It is an interesting – and sometimes jarring – journey through Johnson’s work behind camera, that reveals the power of story and memory, while also exposing us to the way in which we see people and situations. Johnson has won awards over thirty years of film-making, and this film culls footage from some of that work while being something totally different. Johnson’s memoir ranges through world events and personal experiences, violence and beauty, all the while giving us a view into something we rarely think about or see: how does the person behind the camera both choose what is seen and how does what we see affect our lives.
For me, Johnson’s film left me pondering various things:
- What does it mean to be truly present versus being an observer?
- How do we engage with people where we are, and also how do we choose not to engage with others?
- How does memory shape the way we see ourselves today? Does it help or hinder or heal?
- What happens when we experience or witness violence, and how does story-telling help in the healing?
Nick Olson offers some helpful further reflections on the film in his article “The Eye Behind the Camera: Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson” on Image Journal‘s website. Here’s an excerpt, but you may enjoy reading his entire reflection.
In creating a non-linear montage of moments drawn from her work as a cinematographer during the last twenty-five years, Kirsten Johnson searches for some contiguous logic that can make sense of the seemingly disparate moments that have, in her words, most marked her.
The viewer will see many different countries via footage from twenty-four documentaries. One moment will be in the Bosnian Mountains, the next on New York City streets. We first become attuned to the montage as pattern because eventually we return to a particular subject we’d seen earlier; the first emerging motif is that Johnson has documented sites of great violence and death, especially in the aftermath when grief afflicts memory.
If pain and death are part of life’s tapestry, can the pattern be beautiful?
It occurs to me: In our movement with Johnson from memory to memory, from ashes to ashes, in our striving to make sense of what can possibly neighbor us in the midst of so much suffering, we might, through it all, find ourselves being shepherded.
Memory is crucial to the pattern: We must remember what we’ve seen in the film; Johnson remembers her mother as she descends into forgetfulness; the victims remember the atrocities and thus bring them to light. We have a short prayer for the hope that we will be remembered after we return to ashes: Memory eternal.
[Read the entire article here.]
You may also enjoy this interview with Johnson from the Sundance Film Festival.