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  • Writer's pictureSumedha Bhattacharyya

A vulnerable camera

Camera as a partner, performer and partaker

Photo by Sembatya Edward , Uganda at Roheampton Park , London

In continuation of my previous blog posts, I write this today from a different perspective where I share my subjective experience of holding the camera and performing with the moving body.

Screen-dance, the hybrid art form of filmmaking gives an opportunity to create a multi-sensorial experience with an emphasis on kinaesthetic empathy that triggers somatic reactions in the viewer. It enables them to feel the qualities of movements in their own bodies, on a muscular and visceral level: an ultimately an invitation to Dance. The course “Mediated Choreography’ conducted by Dr. Heike Salzer was introduced to us in the University of Roehampton. As an assignment to this course, I and my long term collaborator from Iran Hediyeh Azma took this collaboration on another level through creating Saraab, our first screen-dance film.

Saraab in which means Mirage was about a relationship of a father and a daughter through Hediye’s in-situ experience of death.

It was akin to the feeling of constant fluctuation between the imaginary spaces where one feels the departed, but also the real space which misses their presence.

Listening to this subjective experience of Hediyeh, I was not a collaborator anymore, but an empathetic listener. I bring Vittorio Gallese and Giacomo Rizzolatti’s discovery of mirror neurons in the brain with reference to his articulation about embodied stimulation. Saraab indeed became something where, I, as a cinematographer, without having a subjective experience of death, can feel an ‘empathetic response’ to images, in this case, an image of death. Gallese posits that people have a ‘we –centric’ dimension, which ‘enables us to share the body state of the observed person through witnessing their behavior, emotions, and displayed feelings’ (Wood, 2016).

For me, as the observed person, holding the camera, it becomes important to engage with the ‘essence’ of this imagery that emotes the quality of the feeling that is otherwise overlooked. While our discussions and conversations around how we would like to incorporate this, both of us agreed that we have to bring the ‘movement’ of ‘flux’ i.e. an act of flowing in and flowing out through choreography and film techniques. First, it led us to emphasize ‘singular location’ that can modify the bodies ‘movements, qualities, or connotations’. (Walon, 2016). Before we went to the location, we planned to try different shots in the studio according to our ‘screen-notes’.

First location for Saraab, Richmond Park, London Photography by Sumedha Bhattacharyya

Hediyeh constructed an over-arching choreography on the music which could be perceived through different angles by me. Our first location was finding a "natural" space, a space that can help us show the reality, the living, and its existence. A sanctuary Richmond Park, London just behind our University proved to be the right spot to find it where that location became the stimulus for performance.

Location for Saraab Richmond Park. Photography by Sumedha Bhattacharyya


Somewhere in Southall, UK

The second location was an abandoned space, a space that is real and unreal at the same time, much like French Post-structuralist Michel Foucault’s Heterotopia.

Within the scope of this research, I would like to share an example of the two shots in Saarab, which could demonstrate the ‘we-centric’ approach towards capturing the movement of flux. A person is apparently most vulnerable while sleeping, so we decided our establishing shot for the film in post-production.

How can I translate that feel of dreaminess, the act of waking up, in a rectangular frame, through the moving body and camera?

To achieve something so ephemeral is beyond just a choreography that lies in dance, or a film technique, but needs an aesthetic that transforms kinaesthetic confluence of both disciplines of dance and film.

It is about the negotiation between framing, fixing the right settings for the desired framing treating the camera as a dancing body, I literally negotiate between the rotation of the camera, Hediyeh, and myself. I had to sleep and move the camera in tandem with the rhythm of the body getting up. As a dancer behind the camera, one has to dance with the dancer in front of it. Once we put the footage with the music by our collaborator Negin Zomorrodi an Iranian Musician and decreased the speed of the footage by bare minimum, the start of the music and the first shot combined, finally connected the dots. The dreaminess, and haziness of getting up finally made sense.

In the screen-dance film making process, we needed to be aware of the rhythm, the timing, and which movement can suffice this, even before we actually get the final clip. A lot of the stability in holding, moving with it, and yet not being shaky came from core work and fitness as a dancer.

The post-processing of this shot was done by Hediyeh, where she juxtaposed the feeling of in-betweenness through the rhythmic movement and dissolving of frames from both the locations.

The next shot I would like to describe is what I like to call it a ‘Liminal shot’.

The liminal shot: Screenshot from Saraab , see full film below

My previous body memory of ‘chakkars’ or the spins in Kathak, were instrumental in our film-making process too.

Being informed by a conscious effort to incorporate the feeling of spinning, rotation, and dimensionality, I applied this with the camera, moving around a body, vertically from down to the top, and changing the spectatorship of the spin (1min:40sec -2min17 sec). It is definitely bumpy, hazy, and all over the place. You see two places at once and sometimes you just see a clear divide between the two. Together we juxtaposed that feeling in the existing process creating a rhythmic choreography along with the music.

Together we thought that this shot could be a perfect example of the transition, space in-between, two locations, with the feeling of being neither here nor there, a space real and unreal at the same time, a heterotopic space.

The choreographic transition from reality to dream or imagined reality, and back, is not a straight line.

by Sumedha Bhattacharyya (India) and Hediyeh Azma ( Iran)

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