Lawrence Brose: A Master of Image Manipulation
Eduardo Gion Espejo-Saavedra,
Experimental film artist, Lawrence Brose gave birth to more than 30 films. His pieces are part of film festivals around the world as well as art galleries and museums from USA and Europe, to Asia and Australia.
His film “De Profundis”, based on the letters of Oscar Wilde, has been projected across the globe. He has worked with musicians like John Cage with whom he works on several projects. He is art, his work is art, and conversing with him is a dream.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 13th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Q:When do you start in the world of film experimentation?
A: I began filmmaking in 1979 but it took a few years to start to capture my own voice and style. I would say that my shooting style and image manipulation really solidified with my film An Individual Desires Solution about my boyfriend who was dying from AIDS (the title is a reinterpretation of the acronym AIDS) shot in 1985. It is considered the first personal experimental film to come out of the AIDS crisis. I recently restored and digitized that film for the 30th anniversary of its release and caught the attention of curator Jonathan D. Katz, who included it in his important exhibition Art AIDS America.
Q: You work alongside John Cage. What is your collaboration with the musician like?
A: I was introduced to John by dear friend Yvar Mikashoff (a virtuoso pianist and composer). After working with John Cage on the film Ryoanji (score by Cage from my series Film for Music for Film) I was intrigued by the idea of creating a film “portrait” of him. Having shot film of Cage over a three year period and working with him on new piano preparations for the live presentation of my film to his score Ryoanji it became apparent that the score for Circus On would be a perfect choice as it consists of a series of instructions which could be interpreted filmicly. Not being interested in subjecting the recording mechanism (the camera) and all of its variables to chance procedures it occurred to me that I could create a film portrait within the parameters of Cage’s ideas by subjecting the images to chance procedures, thereby creating a certain comfort level with the resultant possibilities and opening the image field to a “imageworld” of ideas.
Imusicircus is a threefold realization of John Cage’s Circus On by composer Douglas Cohen and me. The score to Circus On is a set of directions for creating an audio performance piece based on a text. First, one is instructed to “write through” a book (using mesostic form) to distill a text for recitation (i.e. Cage’s Writing for the Second Time through Finnegans Wake). This mesostic text is then used as a guide to make a “circus of relevant sounds.” The recited text and “circus of sounds” are combined to create a stereo recording (i.e. Cage’s Roaratorio). For the video component I adapted the instructions to create a 5 chanel video tape interpretation of the score based on Metaphors On Vision by Stan Brakhage. In this way a “circus of images” is extrapolated from what originally was a score for a “circus of sounds.”
This project is about translation. It is about the translation of a score for music into a “score” for video and film. It is about translating Cage’s ideas and aesthetics in the world of sound into the visual realm.
The original performance work was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum and LA MOCA as a city circus event for the John Cage museum exhibition Rolyholyover A Circus. I was then commissioned by the Triskel Arts Center, Cork, Ireland to create a gallery installation version for their Rhizome Festival
an eye unpreJudiced
lOgic an eye
everything but whiCh
eAch encounter in life
advEnture of perception
first mesostic from writing through Stan Brakhage’s text
METAPHORS ON VISION
Q: Do you always work with 16mm film support? Or use other formats like the super 8 or the negative photographic?
A: I started out in in Super-8 and then moved on to 16mm film.
Q: Can you explain what the process of working with 16mm film is like?
A: I use an Optical Printer that has 8mm, Super-8 and 16mm gates to reproduce original footage (found and original footage that I shoot). I stretch print the film footage (slowing it down), reverse its motion and speed it up – depending on the compositional requirements. For my film De Profundis set to a score for vocalizing pianist by Frederic Rzewski.
Q: You manipulate your film negatives through paints, corrosive liquids … Tell us what you use to work on the film.
A: I took the film footage and transferred it onto a high contrast B&W film stock. Then I hand processed it in the darkroom (sometime solarizing it) and then treated the various shots to a unique series of alternative photochemical processes using bleach, toners and dyes. There about 20 different processes I subject the B&W film to in order to get the desired colors and effects.
Q: The colors used in most of his filmography are strong colors, yellow, green and red.
A: I also transformed some of the footage that I shot by purposely using the “wrong” color balanced film stock and instructing the lab to not correct the colors and strike a print, which I then had them treat that print as an original negative and strike a print from that – the colors just go crazy and expanded my palate even further to get those strange but beautiful colors.
Q: The movies are previously shot by you, or are movie found footage?
A: Most of my films consist of original footage that I shot and manipulated through camera techniques and shooting through various glass objects. For De Profundis I shot original footage of Radical Faerie gatherings and film I shot in the studio but also used found footage of early gay erotica from the 1950’s &60’s and home movies from the 1930’s.
Q: You pay homage to Oscar Wilde’s book “De profundis” in his last film. Tell us about this wonderful work. Why this book so painful and personal?
A: My film De Profundis, set to a score for vocalizing pianist by Frederic Rzewski, was written for my Film for Music for Film series where the score always come first. The score consists of excerpted texts from Oscar Wilde’s prison letter and set to music. I did struggle with this score and text because it is so painful and falls into a realm that I refer to as romantic existentialism. So in order to deal with that I needed to create a kind of prologue for the film using several of Wilde’s aphorisms to remind the viewer of his language before he was imprisoned, what I refer to as his transgressive aesthetics. The letter took on very personal meaning to me during the recent past when I was battling the US Federal Government that accused me of possessing illicit materials, including over 100 of my film still prints from the film. Once that ordeal was over I created a new series of large format prints from that very section of the film to reflect my personal identification with Wilde in prison. Ironically, after I made this new series of prints I discovered that Wilde’s original title for his prison letter was In Carcere et Vinculis —Latin: “in prison and in chains.” The exhibition, which was a combination of the earlier gallery prints and the new work was titled Indicted and reflected the absolute terror that the government put me through and the psychic violence I experienced.
Q: His work reminds me a lot of Stan Brackhage. Who are your favorite directors?
A:There are so many influences on my work. Yes, Stan Brakhage was a strong influence but so was my friend Derek Jarman and then the many filmmakers who work in the arena of hand-processed film as an art form. Jim Hubbard (co-founder of the MIX Festival in NYC) who combined alternative processing within Queer experimental cinema had a huge effect on me as did Su Friedrich (particularly her film “Gently Down the Stream”, an optically printed, hand processed film that is silent with text hand-scratched into each frame).
Q: What will be Lawrence Brose’s next?
A: I’ve begun a new series of Photogravure prints. The images are sourced from 16mm film frames for my yet to be completed film titled Crossing the Line, which explores the erotic politics of sailor hazing rituals. The film incudes original “scenes” in my studio, on location at various sites in Ireland as well as “found footage” from hazing rituals on a US battle ship and vintage gay erotica. These prints are the beginning of a new series still in progress. I am also exploring making large format photo-collage cyanotype works from Crossing the Line film frames.
Filmmaker, Journalist and documentary.
For several years working as an assistant director of short films and feature films in 35mm. His documentaries have been shown at festivals Festival de Cinema de Sitges, New York Film Festival, Portland Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, and others.
Worked at events “080” in Barcelona, collaborating with photographers Miguel Villalobos for the production of the tribute to Thierry Mugler.
Writes and produces reports for magazines “Candy Magazine” to Luis Venegas, Also works for the magazine “Paraiso Magazine”, and Features Editor at ODDA Magazine.
Eduardo Gion Espejo-Saavedra
Filmmaker, Journalist and documentary. For several years working as an assistant director of short films and feature films in 35mm. His documentaries have been shown at festivals Festival de Cinema de Sitges, New York Film Festival, Portland Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, and others. Worked at events “080” in Barcelona, collaborating with photographers Miguel Villalobos for the production of the tribute to Thierry Mugler. Writes and produces reports for magazines “Candy Magazine” to Luis Venegas, Also works for the magazine “Paraiso Magazine”, and Features Editor at ODDA Magazine.
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