As an ambient/drone musician, I asked myself– “What do I do to change the effect of my art from being more active to more passive? How do I change something that can be direct into something that is atmospheric?”
Years later, having obtained a high-definition video recording device, I wanted to work more with moving images. I asked a similar question about creating footage– I wanted to present a sense of stillness, of calm.
My solution was very simple. It was what I call a “Near-Still-Life”.
A near-still-life involves placing the camera in a stationary position, and allowing it to shoot for a period of time. Rather than the moving focus of, say, a hand-held phone camera, the fixed camera effect, achieved using a small tripod, allowed me to present a fairly steady scene for as long as 25 minutes at a time.
The 25 minute limit was simply one imposed by the memory capacity of my recording device.
When watching near-still-life’s, I immediately realized that I was free to turn away. I could pay as much attention to the videos as I wanted. If my wife was talking with me, I could go ahead and have that conversation. If the phone rang, I could answer it.
Or, if I wanted to pay careful attention, I could see, in the fixed scene, for example, that the wind was blowing the leaves in circular patterns, or that a small drip was slowly dripping from a jutting pipe.
During one long shot, I had not realized, but one of our cats became interested in the camera. The footage shows him moving his whiskers across the camera surface, sitting nearby quizzically for a few minutes, then moving on.
Certainly we have heard the complaints about the infamously short attention spans people have nowadays– in film, it’s the quick cuts and camera movements that make this so. Still, long shots work against the jerky cam zeitgeist, asking the viewer to show patience. After awhile, the reward is that life seems to move by at a more gradual and believable pace– and the viewer also notices some of the minute changes that go by all day, whether or not we pay attention to them.
I have assembled a set of my near-still-life videos at the free archive site, archive.org, where they are available for streaming or downloading in various formats: https://archive.org/details/ThomasParkNearStillLifeVideosSetOne
I would challenge readers to buy a cheap tripod and to undertake the simple task of assembling a few of their own near-still-life’s.
Try watching them while at work, if that’s allowed. They make for a kind of “astronaut contraband”– like the pictures of home and family or other memorabilia astronauts would sneak aboard with them on space missions. The provide a connection to the peace and quiet of home.
Near-still-life’s are one of the easiest kinds of videos to film, and they can also be among the most relaxing to experience.