Jan 3, 2012

The Video Portrait | Annette Wilson

"If there are 25 frames in a second, imagine how many frames there are in 20.

Introducing the Video Portrait, which describes things about people that photos never could- as film sees the things, that photos can not."

by Annette Wilson

My Dad was and still is an avid recorder. He recorded everything about the life he and my mother share, including all 6 of his children’s daily happenings. Rolls and rolls of film went in and out of his camera, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. His photos are beautiful and real, but it’s the things he recorded on video that have always interested me most.

Bubba from Annette Wilson on Vimeo.

I remember pulling out an old tape, it was one of us all putting up the Christmas tree, some 14 or so years ago. I was about 5 years old at the time. While us talking directly to the camera, telling the viewers of later-days where we were and what we were doing, was interesting, it was the moments that were recorded after the fact that interested me most. Observations from an outsider’s perspective- the camera, which sat in the corner of our dimly-lit lounge room, as we decorated our tree. It allowed the viewer to see how we interacted with each other at the time, our stance, the way we held ourselves. The camera saw the things that photos taken at the same event could not. And this was something that intrigued me beyond belief, planting the seeds of a little project in my mind.

Solange + 1 from Annette Wilson on Vimeo.

As a photographer, I am a strong believer in candid portraiture. In fact, the vast majority of my photos (www.armchairapplause.blogspot.com) definitely fit under this description. In saying so, the relatively lax nature of a video portrait fits perfectly in line with my own personal way of thinking and recording. There are no static poses and the continual frames, second after second, fill in all of the gaps often missed by photos.

Jordan Ruchalski from Annette Wilson on Vimeo.

The editing process is my favourite of all. Looking at the footage frame by frame, watching a face change in 1/25th of a second increments, is truly fascinating. It’s especially exciting to watch two people interacting via this frame-by-frame method. A slight head turn, is then mirrored by the other- a blink, a furrowed brow. All those teeny, tiny aspects of affection and unspoken language between people evidence the wonder and the amazement that is humanity.

Blake and Flavia from Annette Wilson on Vimeo.
Each video portrait has a greater meaning to me personally, and while others may not know why directly, I hope that through these short films they can understand more about the people within.

It all started with The McCowan Girls, a small recording of my cousins and my aunty, moments before they hopped into their hire car to return to the international airport after visiting their Australian home for the first time in 10 years. The sun had gone below the horizon, leaving just a small glow of light in the world, and I was trying, trying so hard to catch a few photographs of the family before another decade of not seeing them sat between us again. But the light just wasn’t enough, even with my 50mm lens wide open at 1.4. And then I remembered those video portraits, that had been playing in my mind for months, and how valuable it would be to have this recording, increasingly so as the years go by.

At once and without a moment of second thought, I flicked my 5DII to video mode, set the white balance manually and played with the ISO, until my cousins looked as clear as if it were still day. And then, I recorded them. Each individually, and then standing together, like pictures in a magazine in the land of Harry Potter. Moving, blinking, breathing, being. Making the idea in my mind a reality.

After that, we said our goodbyes, and they drove away, off into the distance. Leaving behind a little bit about themselves, in the form of a video portrait, the first of many.

McCowan girls from Annette Wilson on Vimeo.

Technical aspects:
Each video is different and to be honest are never really planned. At most, I’ll say ‘hey can you just stand over there for about 20 seconds?’. For example, the film of Blake and Flavia at their engagement shoot was entirely shot unbeknown to the two of them, literally moments of them just being.

The locations vary accordingly, but a lot of the films- all of the ones where the people are surrounded by lots of grass and an open sky- were filmed in my own backyard, in our rural little suburb where cows and horses wander in their paddocks, about an hour out of Sydney city.

Elders being and Elders to be. from Annette Wilson on Vimeo.

On the technical side, the most important thing besides the obvious correct exposure, is the white balance. Auto white balance is no good, as it will adjust according throughout, creating at times a very inconsistent film and small flickers of strange lighting. Manually set the white balance. If in doubt, and as a general rule, I like to shoot video slightly cool, as it is a lot easier to warm up footage using colour curves later than it is to cool it down without alien-like skin tones occurring.

After watching all of the footage I have recorded, I then use Adobe Premiere Pro to do rough cuts of the footage, taking out sections I like and letting go of any that are too shakey, completely unimportant or are almost the same as other seconds of footage.

I then watch all the selected parts again, this time with different songs playing that have been previously shortlisted by me when thinking about the person. I think long and hard about the most appropriate sounds for the footage, as just like a blockbuster movie, the background music is ultimately what creates the tone and mood of the visuals. Choosing the music, the song to match the person, is the peak of living for me. After I have chosen *the* song, I decide if blank spaces and fades are needed and where to place these if this is the case. I make cleaner cuts and firm decisions about whether bits and pieces of footage are an absolute necessity to complete the piece. I then export to Adobe After Effects, and apply an appropriate colour curve on a low opacity adjustment layer, from my little stash of curves which I have created over time. And then I place the coloured footage back into Premiere and export and upload.

While the footage is always a little shaky, and I am in no way a cinematographer, the things I have learnt about the technical side of filming and editing through the creation of this little ongoing project are far more than I could ever have imagined. But I would have to say that what I am learning about the people within the videos is far greater. After all, that is why they were created- of the people, for the people. Film sees the things that photos can not.


I am Annette Wilson, a 19 year old photographer from Sydney, Australia. I come from a big, musical, hilarious family of individuals who all share one thing- a love of creating.

My camera is one of my closest friends and rarely leaves my side. I love to immortalise bits of reality, especially people and the way they are. It’s a subject matter that is constantly interesting and challenging, the process of understanding humanity better has and will always excite me.

Blog: www.armchairapplause.blogspot.com
Website: www.annettewilson.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/annettewilsonofficial
Vimeo: www.vimeo.com/annettewilson
Contact: info@annettewilson.com


Elder Larkin said...

Annette, this is really, really awesome! Thank you for sharing this with the world. After watching your video's it makes me itch to do a few of my own. :)

Anonymous said...

I want a Mark II so bad now. I'm so glad you talked about the music too - it's so thoughtfully chosen - it's as much a part of what I love about these videos as the videography.