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THOUGHTS

John Carberry

Working process

Working on the Pinioned series

The central theme of the Pinioned series is feeling trapped in repetitive cycles. With all the disruptions of the past few years I feel my days have all become virtually the same. The process of making videos and animation can become monotonous after the initial excitement wears off. Multiple takes of shots during filming and watching footage over and over during the editing process is repetitive. It requires a conscious effort to look at the subject with fresh eyes. In my work with dancers I feel they have similar problems with rehearsing the phrases and then multiple performances of the same piece.

 

I am inspired by David Hockney's work with polaroids. He would go from room to room in the houses he was staying at, taking a photo of each room. He talked about how he realised he was also capturing time as he went along as the sun would move in the 30 minutes or so that he was taking the photographs. Video does the same thing already much faster so I have been thinking about how to show that process in other ways. So I have been layering strips of different takes over each other. 

 

Using multiple takes at once you see the variation and the passage of time during the process of recording the footage. It breaks up the human form in compelling ways that accentuate both the movement, and the body. Pulling and pushing the human form apart/together. It plays with the human brain's ability to seek out other human shapes, like seeing faces in clouds.

 

The Sound design is composed of recordings of the familiar sounds of car engines and the fan of my computer. I altered the recordings digitally to be warmer and less abrasive. I wanted to use the repetition of the mechanical devices to set the beat of the audio, and highlight the fluidity of the dancers movements. 

 

The variation Pinioned II is ultimately about finding new ways to stay interested in your daily grind.It can be dull, but there is some comfort in repetition and you can always do things a little differently.

About Sea Witches (working title) and other inspirations

I have been listening to music quite a bit to find something that I want the score to be like and that my friend may be able to replicate. I have been listening to the Fever ray and the Knife a lot recently. I remember The Knife from the olden days but recently discovered Fever Ray and how they have been making music this whole time. 

Anyway I like this one song that apparently is the theme tune of that vikings show I never watched so I am hoping my friend Like can make me a lofi electric westerny score. I think it would be cool to have some vocals so maybe I will try and write some words but I might wuss out and that is a bit of a tangent to what I am supposed to be writing about. 

I will also be endeavouring to get more location sound this time. I hate sound because it’s a real thing and flies in the face of the artifice and lies of the persistence of vision and all that it stands for. 

Most Australian media comes out of Sydney in the east. Which is quite different from how it is everywhere else in the country and they always go to the same places due to general human laziness I suppose. So I have a bee in my bonnet about showing the landscape here as it is so that's one of my inspirations for the locations that I use. It's quite wild and inhospitable at times but it is also unnaturally beautiful. Seeing Korea through Gustav and Bohram's work is interesting because it's so structured and intensive. Here were I live there are these tiny pockets of human order and you just walk five minutes away and it's all wild.

Fragments of the creative process

My work

I work with moving images in my art. Either video or animation in various formats. When I say animation I mean making images move. Not cartoons.

 

I like to work with dancers as well. They are good at moving and dance is the only thing I really enjoy filming. 

 

Essentially I work with colour and movement to convey some kind of emotional arc about a theme I develop with my collaborators. 

General working process

The first step is to find something that inspires me. It’s not always a good thing. Sometimes it will be some music or I will see a good film or read something interesting that gets ideas flowing. Other times I get inspired by being messed around in my professional career of making more mundane videos and I get really angry and go and make something. Those projects tend to work out a lot better for me personally than the kind of videos that I make for other people for money.

 

Once I have the kernel of an idea I start to look for people to collaborate with me on the project. Which can be tricky now that I am getting older as everyone I know is older now as well and has responsibilities like children and real jobs. But they are an important part of my process. People like to think artists are lone geniuses but they really aren't there are always many people who help them do their art. 

 

I like to collaborate with people from different disciplines outside of film making. Like visual artists or musicians and dancers. Their process is different to mine and I feel like I get to learn things from them that help me with my own art. For example after spending many years sharing a studio with a variety of visual artists I feel like my composition and use of colour has improved quite a bit just by being around them and seeing what they are doing with their work. Probably a lot more than it would have if I had spent my time surrounded by other film makers.

 

Then we work on the idea. This mostly involves coming up with a lot of bad ideas or more accurately ideas that don’t really fit in what we are trying to do. It took me a while to learn that when you are working with people creatively a lot of your ideas are knocked back which isn’t pleasant. But while they are rejecting all your perfectly good ideas you are helping them solidify their vision of what they want. My vision for a pierce is usually quite ephemeral for a significant portion of the project. Maybe the first two thirds of the project I just have a few key images in my head. 

 

So when I am talking with my collaborators about the project we are doing a few things. We are establishing a common language of what kind of shared aesthetics we want. For example we might spend time talking about music that we like even though we aren't going to use that genre of music in the video. But doing that we are creating an understanding of what each other likes and that makes the collaborative process work. 

 

Also we start to make connections between my key images to flesh out the structure of the work. So we find locations and costumes and these choices start to fill in the missing parts between the key images. Then hopefully it takes on a life of its own and it just starts to low. I like to make choices that remove a lot of the we can do this or we can do that early on. For example choosing the location very early locks you into how you are going to go about the project. If I decide we are going to film at this location an hour way a lot of choices are made for us then. We are going to spend 2 hours of our day travelling so we can only do X amount of filming which means we can only do these 5 scenes for example. Maybe a better example is if I say ‘this is going to be historically accurate’ a lot of the aestheic choices have been made for us and we don’t have to worry about them anymore because we are going to be making our choices from the position of historical accuracy. 

 

Once we have done all that and filmed it or animated it. The editing process begins. Which I enjoy but it does have its unpleasant side as well. I have to look at my mistakes and there’s often no one I can blame but myself. Usually I watch the rushes with the cast and other collaborators and it looks good and everyone is happy. But then once editing begins it’s maybe not so great and the real work begins. I usually don’t like what we have done for quite some time and I have to find a part that I like. Once I find that part that works like I wanted it to I can get to work and make the other parts fit. It’s a bit like the key images that I mentioned earlier.

 

Then I don't know when it is finished. Sometimes I just stop once I think it’s doing what I wanted it to do. Other times I discover that it’s really about something else during the editing process and have to change things quite a bit to get it finished. Sometimes I have a deadline. I like to have a few days to not look at it before I decide if a work is finished. It can be pretty hard to maintain objectivity when you watch something over and over for weeks. Sometimes you are overly hard on yourself and it’s not actually as bad as you think it is when you don’t look at it for a few days. It’s a good way to catch any ‘I am just sick of this I will just do it this way and be done with it’ choices which you always regret later.

Issues with my process.

Sometimes it can be hard to get all the things together. It can take a long time. Also one thing I don’t like is that for the longest time I am just thinking about the project and I have nothing to show for it but some cryptic notes and crude drawings. It is cool when suddenly I have shooting dates and a cast and locations and costumes so it would be nice if the ephemeral part wasn’t so long sometimes. Also sometimes I don’t like how no one sees me working ever. Because I spend so long figuring out things beforehand I kind of just stand there next to a camera. Then in the editing where I do the hard work no one has the patience to sit there with me while I do that. Also you’re not really supposed to notice all the things I am doing with my film your supposed to just experience it. So even though I spent ages doing some film making trick people don’t notice it because they are watching the video. So yes sometimes I would like people to see me working.

I would do research about how other artists work quite a bit and have spent time with other artists and talked to them about how they work. It’s not really advice like you should do it this way but its helpful. The best one which I use to this day was an author. I forget who at the moment but they would start their day reading everything they had done so far on their novel. Then they’d work on it. Then at the end of the day they would figure out what they were going to do next then stop. Then do that tomorrow. So I do that now with my work I review the edits I did yesterday then I fix any mistakes or whatever then I do whatever my plan from yesterday was and figure out what to do next then stop. It has been really good for my work and my mental health which is often not so great.

 

I like to show my work to people while I am doing it. I don’t show it to people who wouldn’t like it or say mean things to me. Sometimes they have good notes but mostly it is unhelpful like they fixate on things that are clearly not finished/even been worked on. It’s just a thing that I do. Sometimes collaborators don’t want to have to see all the different versions but I have to see many more than they do so they should have to watch a couple as well. Sometimes it can be hard when it’s not working and I have to magically fix it. I’m not sure how to express that to people sometimes. I am not magically able to make it look like it has some merit later in editing. They have to have done their part as well. 

Collaboration

The first step is to find something that inspires me. It’s not always a good thing. Sometimes it will be some music or I will see a good film or read something interesting that gets ideas flowing. Other times I get inspired by being messed around in my professional career of making more mundane videos and I get really angry and go and make something. Those projects tend to work out a lot better for me personally than the kind of videos that I make for other people for money.

 

Once I have the kernel of an idea I start to look for people to collaborate with me on the project. Which can be tricky now that I am getting older as everyone I know is older now as well and has responsibilities like children and real jobs. But they are an important part of my process. People like to think artists are lone geniuses but they really aren't there are always many people who help them do their art. 

 

I like to collaborate with people from different disciplines outside of film making. Like visual artists or musicians and dancers. Their process is different to mine and I feel like I get to learn things from them that help me with my own art. For example after spending many years sharing a studio with a variety of visual artists I feel like my composition and use of colour has improved quite a bit just by being around them and seeing what they are doing with their work. Probably a lot more than it would have if I had spent my time surrounded by other film makers.

 

Then we work on the idea. This mostly involves coming up with a lot of bad ideas or more accurately ideas that don’t really fit in what we are trying to do. It took me a while to learn that when you are working with people creatively a lot of your ideas are knocked back which isn’t pleasant. But while they are rejecting all your perfectly good ideas you are helping them solidify their vision of what they want. My vision for a pierce is usually quite ephemeral for a significant portion of the project. Maybe the first two thirds of the project I just have a few key images in my head. 

 

So when I am talking with my collaborators about the project we are doing a few things. We are establishing a common language of what kind of shared aesthetics we want. For example we might spend time talking about music that we like even though we aren't going to use that genre of music in the video. But doing that we are creating an understanding of what each other likes and that makes the collaborative process work. 

 

Also we start to make connections between my key images to flesh out the structure of the work. So we find locations and costumes and these choices start to fill in the missing parts between the key images. Then hopefully it takes on a life of its own and it just starts to low. I like to make choices that remove a lot of the we can do this or we can do that early on. For example choosing the location very early locks you into how you are going to go about the project. If I decide we are going to film at this location an hour way a lot of choices are made for us then. We are going to spend 2 hours of our day travelling so we can only do X amount of filming which means we can only do these 5 scenes for example. Maybe a better example is if I say ‘this is going to be historically accurate’ a lot of the aestheic choices have been made for us and we don’t have to worry about them anymore because we are going to be making our choices from the position of historical accuracy. 

 

Once we have done all that and filmed it or animated it. The editing process begins. Which I enjoy but it does have its unpleasant side as well. I have to look at my mistakes and there’s often no one I can blame but myself. Usually I watch the rushes with the cast and other collaborators and it looks good and everyone is happy. But then once editing begins it’s maybe not so great and the real work begins. I usually don’t like what we have done for quite some time and I have to find a part that I like. Once I find that part that works like I wanted it to I can get to work and make the other parts fit. It’s a bit like the key images that I mentioned earlier.

 

Then I don't know when it is finished. Sometimes I just stop once I think it’s doing what I wanted it to do. Other times I discover that it’s really about something else during the editing process and have to change things quite a bit to get it finished. Sometimes I have a deadline. I like to have a few days to not look at it before I decide if a work is finished. It can be pretty hard to maintain objectivity when you watch something over and over for weeks. Sometimes you are overly hard on yourself and it’s not actually as bad as you think it is when you don’t look at it for a few days. It’s a good way to catch any ‘I am just sick of this I will just do it this way and be done with it’ choices which you always regret later.

Johanna Karlin talks to John Carberry about his working process

Johanna Karlin talks to John Carberry about his working process
00:00 / 05:17

Talking about the process

The conversation was held as a Zoom meeting on February 12th 2024. Following transcription has been slightly edited for readability.

Johanna Karlin (JK):

So, what about your own work?

 

John Carberry (JC):

Yes, I have to talk about that. Have you seen it?

 

 (JK):

I think I saw a part of it. Could you have sent a link a few weeks ago? Are you working more on-site, or is it the editing process?

 

(JC)

This one was... I think we actually made it with the site in mind. Sometimes, like you see a ballet company, they’ll go through the Nutcracker or whatever, and it's exactly the same as it would be on a stage. So, this one, because the ground is so uneven with rocks, and it's wet and slippery, they really have to pay attention to the landscape. Otherwise, they might fall and hurt themselves. So, that was really cool.

 

JK:

Do you have the same people that you work with for the dancing?

 

JC:

Yeah, sometimes they are different ones.

 

JK:

I'm curious. Is it a complicated process to know what to say to them?

JC:

I know. I used to care a lot about that, thinking, "Oh no, what am I going to say to them?" But now, I'm just like, "Do this thing." I don't really tell them what to do. I'm like, "You know, this is your area here. Please dance in this area, and it would be great if you could finish here because I want that bit behind you at the end." So, I mostly just talk to them about the ideas and feelings I want to evoke, rather than specific dance moves. There's no music when we do it; we add the music afterwards. It's a lot of fun.

 

JK:

How long have you been working with dancers?

 

JC:

I think it was around 2015 when I started. I really liked it.

 

Normally, I don't like filming things because it's boring. Like, if I were filming you sitting in a chair, you're not going to move much. I just have to remember to turn the camera on. But with dancers, they move so much. It's fun, and you have to really watch what they're doing with their bodies. When filming someone talking, their movements are limited, but with dancers, you really have to look at what they're doing. It's really engaging.

 

JK:

How come the first time you used dancers or worked with them? Was there a specific reason for that?

 

JC:

I was doing a public art project and wanted to do projections. I wanted a dancer because I kept finding all these old videos on ABC news and the internet. I was tired of making regular movies and was exploring different things. So, I worked with one dancer and really liked it, so I kept doing it.

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