Women In Early Video

Women In Early Video

For the first time, women played a large role in developing an emerging technology. Of the nine Videofreex, four were women, and they participated equally in most of the technical aspects of the productions. Unlike the film industry—which had a significant barrier to entry for women, as Shirley Clarke discovered firsthand—video emerged at a time when gender roles and relations were transforming in the United States. “It just all collided at a lucky moment in history,” Wendy Clarke said, “in terms of being able to be among the first people to explore a medium. That was so unique, and I feel so lucky to have been around then.” The Videofreex’s Nancy Cain said, “With the video camera, I was seeing it for the first time and so was everybody else, males and female, everybody. It was a level playing field. You all began with a same amount of knowledge: none. I must say that the men in the Videofreex, they were great. Everybody taught each other, and then you went out. We truly were equal, and I could do whatever I wanted. It was the best thing.” Steina Vasulka, another early video pioneer who cofounded the Kitchen in the Mercer Arts Center, maintained that so many women were involved with video because it was an underdog medium. “There were no men there saying, ‘Let me direct this scene,’ or anything like that,” she said. “So this allowed women to take control of the video-making process, like Shirley. She had a huge success at the Cannes Festival, and came back home and thought that Hollywood would be waiting for her, but they didn’t want to have anything to do with her.”

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


Mercer Arts Center
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