Out of Sight: About a Film in Progress


LECTURE


Out of Sight intends to be a cinematic song of remembrance and an elegy to fading histories. Its main chorus will consist of footage I started shooting in 2010 at the Währinger Cemetery in Vienna, opened to the Jewish community in 1784 and officially closed in 1879. The very last person was buried here in 1911.

I initially chose to work with a widescreen analog format to render an expansive vision of this remarkable burial ground, and to convey its atmosphere of timelessness despite the ravages of history it has weathered. While it's tombstones tell of individual lives and times, its state of profound neglect communicates the missing care of subsequent generations, people who were killed or fled to distant lands. To gain access, visitors are required to make an appointment and sign a waiver agreeing to enter at their own risk. A high wall of stone surrounds the cemetery, embedded with glass shards and topped by barbed wire, to prevent acts of vandalism from permanently damaging sandstone tombs. Seen from the outside, the site is hauntingly reminiscent of a prison camp, yet the mighty trees towering behind its walls speak to the long ages the graveyard has fulfilled its peaceful purpose.

The lives of people interred at the site and their offspring overlap with the rise of photochemical imaging, analog photography and early film history. Today we look at photographic remains from other eras to contemplate bygone times, much as we visit a grave or cemetery to contemplate a person or people no longer with us. The resonating chamber of my cinematic song will be collaged out of photochemical materials. Specifically, I will contact and optically print glass negatives from the 19th and early 20th century, x-rays, archival footage, and still images I shoot using my collection of cameras—including a pinhole camera modeled on the first photographic camera in history. This camera will be used to photograph individual tombstones at the cemetery, exploiting its longer shutter times to capture shifts in light and convey a unique atmosphere of mildly altered time. Out of Sight intends to reveal the Währinger Cemetery in its current state and to reflect on Vienna’s past.

The impulse to thoughtfully imagine a past that informs who we are in the present and that influences how our future unfolds, speaks to the time-based character of human consciousness. Film is the perfect medium to host this endeavor. It is in part due to an ancient imperative that the Währinger Cemetery continues to exist. According to the Halakha or collective body of Jewish religious law, a grave belongs solely to the deceased. It is sacrosanct. The body of the dead must lay undisturbed from the time of burial in order to rise again on the Day of Judgment.

This religious edict intended in part to serve the spiritual progression of individual human beings has prevented the record of worldly lives, their communities and times from being forever lost. The Währinger Cemetery, like so many others, is a multi-faceted jewel of human history. It contains approximately 9,000 graves with tombs overgrown by untamed nature. It is estimated that 30,000 people have been buried within its walls since it was first established. I intend to create a cinematic song in honor of these individual histories, as well as others I discover in the process of making this film.

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