Automatic Video

VIDEO ART by Cheng Zong


Video cameras are commonly taken as artificial visual and acoustic systems to convey the ideas of videographers to audiences. The greatest distinction between the current video camera and film motion picture camera is the automatic mode used when shooting. By simply framing the shot and pressing the record button, the video camera can undertake the rest of the technical tasks required to capture the images. It is not necessary for customers to know the specific processes like measuring light; setting frame rate, shutter angle, shutter speed, and aperture; alternating ISO value; and follow focusing the subject. Some of these processes are integrated into consumer cameras and are not possible to adjust. This is both a merit and a defect of consumer cameras, and serves as the impetus to explore automatic video vision.



Spinning Stairs (2008) was the beginning of this exploration. The school I graduated from had a triangular winding staircase. Every time I would climb upstairs to attend a class, the puzzling form of the staircase and the vertical void around which it turned never failed to entice me to look down for a while. The dizzy and fearful experience made me wonder if the video camera would have a similar reaction: What would the staircase look like from the perspective of the video camera in automatic mode? What would happen if I dropped the camera from upstairs, as if my own fear of falling materialized? In order to prolong the duration of the video camera’s potential “fear,” it was attached to a fishing line and dropped descended from the top floor. The spinning effect was a component that I didn’t fully grasp until reviewing the tape. It was a product of the inflexible visual procedures of the camera, lacking a visual stabilization system, as well as the elastic fishing line. Gravity and mechanical equilibrium became the invisible hands capturing the images.



In the same year, I made a video entitled Gone with the Water—a bottle set adrift with a camera inside. The idea of enclosing a video camera in a watertight bottle was prompted by the “message in a bottle” launched in to relay a communication. In this case, the message was not written on paper but was recorded by a video camera in automatic mode. Not I but wind, water current, buoyancy, living creatures, the weight and the shape of this combined item (camera and the container) guided the camera’s movement and message. The variable twilight, rolling hills, waving water surface, fishing wire, Chinese pavilion, stone pagoda, a mosquito, and even the reflection of the video camera on the glass window of the container were automatically captured by the video camera. Water stabilized the camera movement, and set video camera and human in the same boat. This video was shot at the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou, adjacent to my school. The lake was described by UNESCO as “improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealized fusion between humans and nature.” Yet I was curious about the possible interaction between video camera and nature, video camera and humans. A second camera was operated by me to document this event.



The Irrational Experiment of Light, Color and Action (2013), on the other hand, is an inward exploration in two parts and multiple cameras. I delved into the programmed automatic mode of a video camera, the relationship between the deprogrammed video camera and reprogrammed video camera. First, I set up the opening scene in my studio in high contrast lighting. Such an extreme condition would bring out the camera’s deficiencies such as losing focus, overexposure, lens flare, color shifting, etc. The manufacturer preprogrammed video camera was teased by me with a flashlight, which became the protagonist of this scene. Second, I experimented with a patch of MaxMsp/Jitter (a graphic programming software) to apprehend the production of vision and the automaticity in the programmed video camera. This variable patch overrode the manufacturer’s programming of the video cameras and added a series of real-time special effects to the moving images. Light, color, and movement were concurrently the subjects of the video cameras as well as their interlocutors.



Cheng Zong (MAPH ‘15) is studying time-based media and art history. He received an MFA in Electronic Integrated Art from Alfred University.


Comments are closed.