Cameraperson or Camera-Person or Camera Person

Kirsten Johnson (filmmaker) and her mother at 1:35:30 in “Cameraperson.”

Unrelated to the title but relevant to me was some footage from New York where Kirsten Johnson and crew are crossing a busy street. Johnson almost steps into traffic trying to film her subject, Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher. In response, he says, “she sees everything around her and she’s totally blind. That’s the image of the philosopher who falls in the well, you say? While looking at the star. (10:53)” By itself, this statement is shocking, especially in its honesty. He states, point-blank, that Johnson sees and films nothing but takes nothing in and thus, misses the point; she remains an objective gatherer of footage for most of the work, in that respect.

Throughout the film, we see things, people, and events through Johnson’s eyes, but we never see her until the very end. For 99% of what we watched, Kirsten kept herself hidden from the action, remaining like an all-seeing narrator throughout. My favorite shot is one of the final ones where Kirsten turns the camera on herself and films herself with her mother. This moment, of all moments to show, showcases the intimacy and candor that existed between her and her mother. As her mother’s memory faded, the sadness and grief is felt through footage of her mother explaining memories at the cabin. However, it is something completely different to see it written so nakedly across Johnson’s face. Her mother says for her not to “take a picture while her hair is a mess” and then we see a moment that must’ve happened over and over throughout their shared livelihood.

In this still, we’re in either a bathroom or dressing room with a long counter and a mirrored wall above it. Johnson’s mother comes close to her with a brush and the camera turns, so we can see her mother brushing her hair while her mother’s concentrated expression in seen over her shoulder in the mirror. I think this shot grounds Johnson within her footage because previously, she seemed to float from location to location without ever being attached to one environment, despite previously featured footage of her mother. This shot plays with space well because the framing of her mother’s face over her shoulder is simply a delicious positioning and amazing choice. They are physically close since she is brushing her hair, but they feel even closer in the shared moment of intimacy. This moment is a moment worth remembering and holding onto, despite its casualness; I think that can be felt while looking at it.

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