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How technology changes art


The future of film
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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You can fight anything but you can't fight technology because it's going to change, and when it changes it's going to change the form in which... I hate to use the word art again, but art – what the art is... is done. A very good example is what happened to newspapers in the middle of the 19th Century. Before the technology existed to reproduce photographs on newspapers, on newsprint, images in newspapers were done by people called wood engravers. Artists, or whatever you want to call them, would go off to an event, like the American Civil War, and make drawings of things happening – of people surrendering, of people shooting people... whatever, of battles. And they would be sent... Winslow Homer did a lot of it. And they would be sent back to the newspapers in Boston or New York, or wherever, and they would be given to wood engravers who would, quite literally, engrave on blocks of wood... not copies so much as more or less copy what they had seen. And those blocks of wood would be printed on each sheet of newspaper. And in the world of wood engravers there must have been good and bad wood engravers, and probably even star wood engravers who made the most money and worked for the biggest and best newspaper. And this was, if not an art form, at least a craft which was going fine until the invention of... I forget what it's called... photo offset printing, or whatever it is that allows photographs to be printed. And then they were gone. Whether they were good or bad, whether they had years of experience and they were creative artists, they were gone.

And I suggest that my generation of cinematographers are, in a way, the last generation of wood engravers. And that the technology of imagery... of visual imagery and storytelling is already in the process of changing so rapidly. Partly because of the technology of cameras and... and imaging, and partly because of the technology of distribution. That, within another 20 years, it's going to be radically, radically different. And that is not necessarily good or bad; it's just a fact of life. And I think that what is useful or important is to seize on it and make it good, and make video cameras, or whatever kind of camera is going to come in the future, assume its own properties. They always talk now in... in... in shooting a video, it doesn't look enough like film, we can make it look like film. Well, it's nonsense. It shouldn't look like a film. It should look like a video. But, you have to find out what the really basic properties of video are. And... I'll admit it that the video keeps changing as the technology goes rapidly more and more and more and more... whatever. So who can keep up with it? I don't know anything about it. I've never shot anything... I mean, I've shot, you know, home videos, but I've never shot a feature or anything else on video, and only because no one has asked me. I'd love to do it, because I'd love to try and find out what it's really like. And some guys that I know have, and what they say is very... is fascinating when you hear them talk about it. And I've been on the set... an old guy who used to be my operator now shoots a TV series... several TV series that he shot on video. And he became a kind of... the big guru of it, and I used to visit his set and it was fascinating to see. And it’s... it is not the same as film, and it shouldn't be thought of as the same as film. It has different properties. Just as, you know, impressionism is different from the Italian renaissance – not better or worse, but simply different and having its own properties. And those things are the things that people should be trying to figure out.

Michael Chapman (1935-2020), an American cinematographer, had a huge influence on contemporary film-making, working on an impressive array of classic films including 'Taxi Driver', 'Raging Bull', 'The Lost Boys' and 'The Fugitive'.

Listeners: Glen Ade Brown

British Director of Photography and Camera Operator Glen Ade Brown settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago.

He has been working on features, commercials and reality TV. He played an instrumental role in the award-winning ABC Family series "Switched" and is also a recipient of the Telly and the Cine Golden Eagle awards for Best Cinematography. He was recently signed by the Judy Marks Agency and is now listed in her commercial roster.

Tags: Winslow Homer

Duration: 3 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010