Earlier in 2016, months before the election, I was buying typewriters. Lots of typewriters. I had an idea, only partially formed, of using typewriters in a project and estimated then that I needed five or six different models to make the idea work. This estimate morphed and changed as the idea morphed and changed and my workshop was filled with typewriters in the end. I had a chocolate brown Olympia SM3, a red IBM Selectric II, a pale blue Olivetti 32, a shiny black Royal, a brilliant yellow Adler. I purchased thirty-six typewriters, clustering them all around my workshop and I borrowed six more, these built in the 1800s.
At one point I was experimenting with typing on negatives, which I then intended to print or scan as positive images. Sometimes the idea was to write a word or two on the negative, sometimes it was to cover a large negative edge-to-edge-top to bottom with typewritten text. My friend, the antique dealer who loaned me the old typewriters, showed me a set of photographs that he had purchased at auction–all from one family, images from the late 1800s, I thought, to the 1970s. Perhaps I might use these as the source images of my project?
During this same period I was reading filmmaking texts written by the Russian pioneers. I was making my own films. Start from the beginning and all of that.
A Russian director, Lev Kuleshov, made an interesting demonstration.
His short film first shows a full bowl of soup on a table. Then cuts to a man’s face. He’s looking at the soup, hungry, reacting to it, although his facial reaction is subtle. Or perhaps he has set out the food for another and is considering, making sure everything is laid out just so. There may be poison in the soup.
Next, the film cuts to a small coffin, looking down from above, a child’s body is inside, she is dressed in her funeral finery, her hair perfectly curled. The same man is shown again, a similar shot to the first. There is regret in his eyes, a hint of resignation shielding himself from this new cataclysm, or perhaps something more sinister?
Now there is a woman laying back on a couch. She is beautiful and daydreaming, her loose silken clothes hinting at her pale body just underneath. Again the man’s face is shown, dressed as before and framed as before, inscrutable perhaps but aren’t the calculations of his desire evident in his eyes? Doesn’t the curl of his mouth hint of a smirk, revealing the formation of a plan, confident of his superiority of his power over the woman?
Of course context colors meaning but to see the effect displayed so starkly–the clips of the man are identical copies–raises the watching of the film to one of almost revelation.
It was coming together now. I bought the family photographs and I scanned them all into digital files. My initial thought was to print them all out and type a caption beneath each but that proved too unwieldy, too many steps. I would use the scans and “type” the captions directly into the file.
Again, I waited until nine o’clock California time and read the headline story about Trump. There was always a headline story about Trump. Again I limited the amount of time I had to create each work. And I determined on that first day, Inauguration day, that the project would last one hundred days and all of the images would come from those family photos, the photographs and the caption text, taken directly from the headlines or the text within the headline story, would reflect back and forth upon each other.
Each day I would post the result to Instagram, within my fifteen-minute allotted time.
It was uncanny. There would be the day’s headline and then I would look through the images and usually the choice of picture would be obvious*, like the picture was made to illustrate the headline or the headline written to match up with the picture.