A View From Behind The Meter
I was talking to one of my co-workers this morning and we got into a discussion of classic painters. We both thought that artists whether they were aware of their influence on our society or not didn’t change the fact that their work has profoundly changed the way we look at the human condition. I’m sure that Michelangelo had no idea that in the future people would line up for hours just to walk through the Sistine Chapel and gaze up for maybe fifteen minutes. For me that gaze has never left my consciousness. I am not a religious man but those images will forever be seared into my mind and I certainly give reverence to the artistry involved. We continued talking about painters and painting but the thought struck us both that Michelangelo if he were living today he would probably be a cinematographer. His experimentation with light and imagery would make him a natural media artist today. After reading some of his letters back to Florence I found it amusing that even this great artist had difficulty being paid for his labors. The Pope and his ministers even called him a cheat for asking too much money for his labors. Sounds a little too familiar doesn’t it?
In any case the recognition of our great classical painters as painters of light today makes a lot of sense. They used what was available to create images that would stimulate the viewer and allow the imagination to take flight into the realm of majesty. They believed they were doing God’s work and were inspired by divine spirits. Today some of the great cinematographers do that for us in the media we call television, still photography, and feature films and speak of their passion as inspiration. I think there is probably little difference between the two. In the late thirties and early forties Greg Toland produced the imagery for Wuthering Heights and Citizen Kane. These images will connect with audiences perhaps as long as The Pieta and David and in truth have probably already been seen by more people world wide. I stood in front of both the Pieta and David along with many adventurous souls but in comparison over two hundred million people viewed Citizen Kane in one night on television from the comfort of their living room. We forget how influential our media is worldwide and how that influence changes the perspective of the viewer forever.
When I traveled to the Shan States of Burma (Now called Myanmar) I remember an incident that I cannot forget and I speak about it often. While on a tour of a mountain village in North Eastern Burma I noticed a large gathering of villagers at a house up on a high hill. When I inquired of our tour guide what was going on he said that a satellite antenna was set up and they were receiving a broadcast from American television. I walked up to the hilltop and did see about fifty people seated around a television set mesmerized by the brilliant color images from the U.S. What was on the screen was an episode of Dallas. Larry Hagman playing J.R.Ewing, in his cowboy hat, was talking to Barbara Bel Geddes in the sumptuous Texas oil man’s living room and most of the people whom I spoke to from that group who watched the show believed this was how Americans lived. The influence our simple television productions have on the rest of the world is explosive both in the political arena as well in the personal aspirations of the individual. These images may not be as creatively great as Raphael or Van Gogh but the society of the world today will respond to J.R. with much more understanding and identification than anything viewed in the Sistine Chapel. Who knows, two hundred years from now, might we be looking at these painters of light called cinematographers as classical artists of their time and revered in the same manner as Michelangelo.
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach, Birns & Sawyer