Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remaking Master Hands, Part II: First thoughts, ideas, and impressions

From the start, I approached the Master Hands project not in terms of what I could make or do with Master Hands, but in terms of what Master Hands could help me make or do--I'll have more to say about this in a later post, particularly as it relates to the use or proportion of source material to "other materials", as well as implicit understandings and/or definitions of what a mash-up is, should be, or do, etc.  In an earlier post, however, I touched on some of the things I believed participating in this experiment could help me do:  Learn a new computer and new software while providing me with something new and interesting to do during my first post-tenure summer, etc.   

In terms of content or focus, I was particularly interested in the lifespan, journey or process of the automobile once it had left the factory.  An initial thought was to pick up on the final segment of Master Hands (where the car drives off the factory floor and down the road) and to ask:  What happens next?  Where does it go?  Who or what does it come into contact with?  What processes, activities, or assemblages did the automobile help facilitate, alter, transform, thwart? 

Another early thought was to fast-forward to the end of the auto’s lifespan and focus on junkyards, on various forms of destruction.  This, in turn, brought to mind the potential of using Master Hands to compose a piece on photographers’ rights—an issue I felt was important, something I wanted to learn more about, something, in fact, I felt strongly that I very much needed to learn more about at the time.  Some months prior to receiving the Master Hands invite, I had visited a junkyard on a photo shoot, and—long story short—I ended up having all my cameras confiscated before I left.  Hence the connection between new cars, junk yards, and photographer’s rights.

I scrapped (no pun intended) the junkyard idea pretty early in the process, but remained interested in questions having to do with what happened once the auto left the factory.  I still wanted, in other words, to pick up on that part of the story or process—to think about what the now-assembled automobile allowed users to go on to do, to see, to make, piece together, assemble, etc.

Meanwhile. . . .

When I wasn’t visiting junkyards and having my equipment confiscated, I was spending a good deal of time at yard sales, and in flea markets and antique stores in hopes of finding (and purchasing for cheap) other people’s memories—old negatives, photos (loose as well as those already-arranged in albums), slides, scrapbooks, travel diaries, and home movies.  For me, the experience of interacting with these texts—these complex traces of other people’s lives—was always bound up with the idea of travel, with getting away, with projection and escape.  I remember vividly the months I spent scanning the first collection of negatives I purchased at a local yard sale--there were some 700 negatives in all, so I had plenty of scanning to do that summer.  I’d sit down with a day’s worth of negatives, and ask:  “All right—where are we headed today?  Where will you take me?  What will you show me?” [Though it would be a year or more before I happened upon the wonderful 1963 Polaroid ad, the soundtrack for which I would feature in the mashup, it's hard for me to think about this time without hearing the lyrics, "I can't help but wonder where I'm bound, where I'm bound. . ."]  

In this way, the experience of collecting other people’s memories was always for me chiefly about transportation, travel and the various material processes involved with re-assembling these lives, and with this, of projecting myself into other spaces, times, and lives lived.  Another perk associated with using these materials was that I didn’t have to worry about copyright infringement and wouldn’t have to limit myself to using materials from the Prelinger Archives.  What’s more, I finally had the incentive, occasion or excuse to do something I’d been meaning to do for a while:  To find ways of projecting, in hopes of better preserving and making available to others, some of the 8mm and 16mm home movies in the collection.  I knew that I wanted to focus primarily on the still and moving images in the collection that featured cars and various modes of transportation/travel, but there was one home movie in particular, portions of which where shot from inside the car with the steering wheel in view, that I felt strongly would make for a wonderful transition between the end of Master Hands (i.e., when the driver places his hands on the wheel and drives the car off the factory floor) and some of the travel footage I had to offer. Having decided on the general point and direction of the piece, I began (with Chris’ assistance) the time consuming and often times frustrating process of projecting, viewing and attempting to successfully capture/translate/digitize the portions of those home movies I thought I’d like to feature in the piece.   

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