Shirley Clarke Embraces Video

Shirley Clarke Embraces Video

Andy Warhol dabbled in video, but it was Shirley Clarke who fully realized the potential of this new technology. She and many other downtown artists who embraced video weren’t trying to make low-budget movies or television shows but instead wanted to explore the unique potentials that portable video cameras offered. “With video, you can use it like film, but there are so many other possibilities with it that you can’t do with film,” said Wendy Clarke. “Just viewing it live, you can see yourself in the monitor while you’re doing something, which you can’t do with film. Nobody else was doing this, and you felt like everything that you did you were inventing.” There has been quite a bit of celebratory talk about how the Internet made possible “user-generated media”—materials made and shared by everyday people, as opposed to the products of corporations—but as early as the 1960s the denizens of downtown were laying the groundwork for a new media age. Through their experiments in video, Clarke and her peers were in some ways beginning to imagine the Internet before its technological infrastructure existed. She advocated for what she called “participatory communication,” imagining what we now call videoconferencing by setting up cameras and video monitors in different parts of her Chelsea apartment and rooftop space. “My mother would be pretending that one of the monitors was in China, one was in Russia, one was in France,” Wendy Clarke said, “and we would sort of act like we were talking to each other across space and time. It was really crazy fun playing with this new medium.”

From Chapter 22 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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