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Island Life

There is something conflicted in thinking about infinity on the shortest day of the year. I suppose one could say there is something hopeful in it. But with the next delivery of hope balanced on the edge of some event horizon and threatening to disappear down a black hole, I guess hope is a requisite commodity once again.. In the short term, thoughts of the shortest day turn to the hope of a return of the light and not to the point six months from now that although might be warmer and brighter, will also signify the point where the light again begins  to wane.

Earlier this year I put together a meditation on darkness and light- Vashon by Night was the name of the photo show, and it was about finding light in the darkness, both literally and figuratively, by using long exposures, a tripod or monopod and the light that exists either from artificial sources here or a reflected light from the urban areas that surround our rural, somewhat darkness. It was also a snipe hunt of sorts since the final recorded frame was not visible or readily obvious until the magic of digital recording and instant replay revealed whether I had gotten it right in assuming there was something to be found over time in that darkness, or if I should let that location go and move on to others that had seemed promising in a daylight passing.

Another consideration at the forefront of show preparations was how long the resulting printed image might be expected to stay around. I suppose that the infinite and the ambition and illusion of immortality come into play here as well, as one would hope that the trueness of color, let alone the image itself, would hopefully outlast the person who captured the image to begin with through acid free papers and colorfast inks. When one starts obsessing on the archival properties of materials one is indeed reaching out to the infinite and engaging in the hopeful wishes that the thought or form or juxtaposition of objects within the frame would still have the power to capture someone’s imagination
long after the artist’s hand had ceased to move, let alone produce anything more of interest. If one were to be truly looking to have the infinite or something like it to view and judge one of their creations, one should probably not stray too far from rock carving or depicting two dimensional painted or scratched scenes upon a wall inside a cave and out of the reach of graffiti artists or passing strangers wishing to inform the future that they were there as well, without concern or respect for the aesthetic that they didn’t care to leave well enough alone.

The recording of moving images is perhaps the most transitive and fleeting of the media types available. Starting from the early days of nitrate film that had a tendency to ignite and explode, through the “safety” films and on to tape and now digital imagery, it would seem that moving pictures are best left to human memory, story telling and the active imaginations required to fill in the blanks. We do, however, have all these fun and relatively inexpensive toys these days that allow us to record, manipulate and create a certain amount of moving image magic in a way we have not been able to before.

Along these lines I have recently been engaged by one Harmon Arroya or Ike Harmon, depending on whether he is off or on stage, to create a series of twelve video recordings as visuals for twelve of his songs. We have completed half the set so far, and mostly these have been fairly simple constructs because, as they say, simple is better. This past weekend, however we moved to a larger scenario which involved closing the main highway uptown for a short period on Sunday morning, hoping that the weather would grant us relatively clear skies and relying on as yet non-committed Islanders to form a “spontaneous” parade down main street. To say the least, the layering of variables was a bit more stressful than with any of the other pieces we had done so far, and then there was the drone shot.

With the song title being “Into the Infinite”, the working concept was that we would start with a small group of people at the beginning with more and more people joining in as we moved down the street, ending with a shot from a drone taking off over the crowd and going straight up into what some might perceive as the infinite or the semblance thereof. I had practiced the night before and had sent the drone higher than I had flown, all without an incident. I had affixed two cameras with both wide angle and normal lenses to the front of one of my old nursery carts to capture the parade, and had the drone on the cart deck ready to take off as the song reached its conclusion. When we reached the end of the parade route however, I hit the touchpad that was supposed to initiate drone flight and got no response other than a notice to download a firmware upgrade and something about a magnetic field interfering that disallowed the flight. This of course caused a bit of consternation and confusion on my end as it had worked fine the night before.

A part of the guiding set of premises on this project was that we try to do each one in one take. Three of the videos adhered to that guideline, one required us to start over after a stumble and two had two takes, this one being one of them, with this street scene being done over in large part because people just wanted to do it again. Once again the body of the song flowed down the street and once again, after doing the firmware thing and whatever else came to mind, the drone failed to launch. I continued to attempt to diagnose the situation as the crowd peeled away. I stared at the magnetic interference notice on my screen and thought that perhaps launching from the street surface might be better than the metal cart, although it had taken off from the cart the night before. With the drone sitting in the middle of the street, I went through the launch sequence, hit the takeoff button and of course, now that everyone had left, it lifted off without a problem.

What I have found in my short time in video is that a big part of getting things done involves improvisation and damage control, which generally means shooting incidental stuff (B-roll) and overall butt-covering. With the street now back open I had Harmon lipsynch the end of the song with the drone overhead in the movie theatre parking lot and proceeded upward into the proverbial infinite, and that, as they say, was that. One can see the result on the Youtubes under “into the infinite- street version”, or on our very own Voice of Vashon website. For now, we will take a holiday break and continue on in the new year. As for the infinite, that seems an awful long ways away.