On working with archive footage

With great power, comes great responsibility. 

Music certainly can survive without visual. Music predates the medium of film.

But working with film can better help convey the message of the music, can articulate quickly to your listeners, your audience, what it is you are trying to express. Through the film, the listener can step into your world, can physically inhabit your songs.

I have been working with archive footage now for almost four years.

First, as a film student.

During my studies, I was tasked with the project of creating a documentary. Documenting my crumbling personal life on film turned out to be a more successful project in self-preservation and acceptance, rather than any great artists’ statement. The film disappeared as quickly as it was made. But what I did in that documentary was begin to explore captured moments in time far beyond, and far older, than the present moment.

First, I started exploring my own archive footage.

When I was born, my dad, himself a keen photographer and videographer, documented almost every second of my life and my sister’s, from birth until the age of about five. Watching these videos back in the context of the work I was producing was difficult, but it left me with a profound perspective on home movies:

home movies document fleeting moments in history that the person behind the camera, felt were important, special, worth documenting. Children, dogs, proms, holidays, flowers, oceans, hotels, cars… this was their life, and their celluloid moments have outlived the people and memories themselves. Film was a way to live forever.

I started digging into online archives with fresh eyes. If my parents thought my childhood was so damn special, worth documenting on video, so did all the other parents documenting their children on celluloid back in the ’50s and ’60s. I started to use archive to support the narrative of  my film; that moments, families, childhoods were fleeting. But that didn’t mean they weren’t worth documenting. I used the archive footage to support my narration, my musings on family dynamics and mother-daughter relationships.

Then, when I started releasing music, it felt entirely natural to return to the hours upon hours of archive footage I had stored on my computer to craft entirely new narratives, this time supporting the music and lyrics.

I work with archive footage with great respect. With every frame I think about the families, not only in front of the camera but behind it; where are they now? How would they feel if I used their images in this way? Would they approve? I certainly try to make work that would make them proud. I try to immortalise them.

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