With a Camera in Hand, I was Alive
Independent scholar Katie Bird has made several great video essays that explore film technology and embodiment. Her work about steadicam comes to mind, especially for the creative thought experiments she conducted. This piece is just as thought-provoking and formally adventurous. Bird tries her hand at the desktop documentary format and candidly includes her thoughts about (and frustrations with) that format in her video essay and in the accompanying video introduction to it.
As in much of her work Bird here stresses the manual labor that goes into filmmaking and she ponders if that aspect has an influence on the (limited) number of women working as camera operators. It’s a fascinating and important way of addressing the underrepresentation of women in the audiovisual industry, but what strikes me even more about this video essay is the way Bird wields and wrestles with the desktop documentary form. One of the unique strong points of that form is that it visualizes a thought process: the viewer can literally see the thinking of the video essay maker in the succession of search prompts, browser tabs, text notes and image folders on the screen. Conventionally, desktop documentaries make that whole process appear clean and comprehensible, tidy and thorough. Often, the desktop and all the relevant files and folders will have been ordered in advance, before the screen recording starts. But we all know that is not what our digital desktops look like…
Bird leans into the messiness of our digital workspaces and the disorderly thoughts they can lead to. She embraces the capricious turns our thinking can take when researching a topic online and the fact that multiple strands of thought can hover around our mind simultaneously. Take her reference to the “Critical Cooking Show” video that served as an inspiration for her own piece. The audio to that video keeps playing in the background for almost the complete length of her video essay, essentially mimicking the way it was in the back of her mind when making the piece.
The deliberate rough-around-the-edges look and feel of this video essay is truer to the nature of (desktop) research than more polished desktop documentaries are. It’s a more honest representation of the thought process than articulate academic articles: those can make it seem insights come into the world fully-formed.
Katie Bird’s very candid video introduction is an even better illustration of the advantages of her unvarnished approach. It charts her hyperlink thinking one jump cut at a time. It visualizes her unconventional approach in off-kilter camera angles. It reinforces her focus on embodiment by slicing up her own appearance in a splitscreen composition.
Also, this filmed introduction to her own video essay is perfectly in line with Katie Bird’s views on the author’s statement that is often required when you publish a video essay in a peer-reviewed journal. Bird has stated that she feels strongly that she “shouldn’t have to write an author’s statement justifying a video essay (that already stands and should stand on its own)”. This stream-of-consciousness video introduction is the perfect companion piece to the main video essay because it mirrors it in method, mode and manner.