Moving mosaic cornered by Prof. Brian Emery

Professor Brian Emery’s  “Williamsburg Grid Test,” currently in the faculty exhibit “New Views,” is as captivating and vibrant as a New York City street corner. It is composed of 108, one-minute videos organized in a grid, each of a slightly different view taken at slightly different times.  The setting, movement and chatter, are from a busy street corner in Williamsburg.

Prof. Emery discussed with us his fascination with urban space, explorations in creating “simulations of reality,” the stress of having his equipment kicked, and encouraging students to develop their curiosities.

Williamsburg Grid Test (video still)
Brian Emery’s “Williamsburg Grid Test” (video still)

Q: Can you explain the techniques you use in this work?

Prof. Emery: The videos are arranged to create a panoramic mosaic of the area.  To achieve this I used a single camera that I moved slightly between each shot so that the frames line up and appear as a single photographic space.  In the video the static architectural space is rendered like a photograph while objects in motion appear as fractured moments flashing across the screen.

Ultimately I am redistributing the “arrow of time” across a traditional perspective rendering of space. The general photographic technique of image arrays is fairly common today, especially in scientific photography such as the panoramas from the Mars Rover (http://tinyurl.com/p5b7j6d) or the Hubble Telescope (http://tinyurl.com/mul6zdo).

Q. What sparked your interest in this technique?

Prof. Emery: My work has always centered around making pictures out of multiple images.  I have been working with various image array methods for over 10 years, but I began exploring the technique with moving images in the past 2 years.  My curiosity has always been in photography’s reliance on time and its ability to describe it.

Culture tends to think of photography as a frozen moment. It ignores the inevitability of time in our experience of life. I try to find ways to highlight the aspect of time in pictures by fracturing photographic space. Applying the image array concept to video was the natural next step in the exploration.

Brian Emery's "Eyetour Downtown Loop" (digital picture)
Brian Emery’s “Eyetour Downtown Loop” (digital)

Q.  How does your work enhance your teaching?

Prof. Emery: I teach a unit on “panoramic storytelling,” which aims to convey concepts of time and space.  I show many remarkable examples of how time and space is portrayed throughout the history of art, but I rarely ever show my work in class and don’t demonstrate these specific techniques.  I prefer to teach more general methods and allow the students to develop their own curiosities and applications.

Generally speaking, however, I couldn’t teach picture-making without making pictures myself, so my studio practice allows me to guide students through the creative process.

Brian Emery's "Harold Square" (digital picture, detail)
Brian Emery’s “Harold Square” (detail)

Q. You’ve had some very striking, compelling images in other shows at FIT. They seem to show urban life with a tremendous flow of energy, emotion and continuity. Do you feel this “aliveness” while involved in the work? Are you absorbed by that energy you’re capturing?

Prof. Emery: I wouldn’t be drawn to making this work if I wasn’t fascinated by the urban street and the process of representing that experience in various ways.  But, it’s an incredibly stressful experience making these images and video works.  It takes 2-3 hours to capture the imagery and it’s a very precise process which requires a lot of focus.  If I make a mistake or have even a minimal equipment failure, the entire shoot can be wasted.

The device I use to make these pictures is rather big and strange looking.  I often work in densely populated areas and I have to contend with people accidentally kicking my tripod, or questioning my presence as I work.  Last summer I was shooting in Bushwick and a tractor trailer truck couldn’t make a tight turn so he drove up on the sidewalk where I was set up and I had to grab my gear and run out of the way after several hours of shooting.  So, I’m really not absorbed by the energy as much as constantly fighting against it to make the picture.

Brian Emery's "Harold Square" (digital picture"
Brian Emery’s “Harold Square” (digital picture)

Q. Your photos involve the viewer in a unique way. We’re brought into the action, of sometimes chaotic harmony, in a way that feels personal, as if invited. It’s an immediate feeling. Are you aware that your work can be experiential in this way for the viewer?

Prof. Emery: Well, I’m happy to hear you say that.  My goal is to create simulations of reality that allow a viewer to have some sort of experience of being in a place.  I’m fascinated by a souvenir’s ability to transport someone to a memory of a place, whether real or fabricated.  I try to make work that creates a similar aesthetic effect.

Q. Is it fair to say that post production is a forte of yours?

Prof. Emery: Yes, I have a background in photographic retouching, compositing, visual effects and printing.  But my personal work uses computational methods, so the photography is one part of the process that allows me to record light and time to use as media to make pictures.  I then work with that media in many different software packages to craft the final piece.  For this work I see it all as part of the picture-making process, and not really separated into photography and post-production.

Q. Is there anything that you hope viewers will experience, or better understand after viewing your work?

Prof. Emery:  I strive to create pieces that will reverberate for a viewer over time.  The work that inspires me has a haunting effect, resurfacing in my consciousness long after the experience between myself and the piece.  If a memory of my work flashes in a viewer’s head and creates for them an augmented experience in reality, then that would be good.  If that hybrid moment causes the person to question their real-life experience in some way then the work is successful.

New Views: FIT Art and Design Faculty Exhibit,” runs until March 22 and is open to the public. Hours are from 9 am–9 pm.  The exhibit is located in the John E. Reeves Great Hall of the Fred Pomerantz Art & Design Center. The entrance is on the northwest corner of 28 Street and Seventh Avenue.

To see more of Brian Emery’s work go to: www.placescapetheatre.com

Images used with permission

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