What is it about a video with not much happening but some grass moving in the breeze and a few bird songs that captures me, that centers me, that nourishes me? I’m not certain, but creating what I’ve been calling #QuietVideo is becoming an important contemplative practice.
Living in the pastoral setting of the woods and fields of southwest Michigan, as well as the particular beauty of the Hermitage retreat center where I work, I have plenty opportunities to partake of interesting and beautiful scenes.
I’ve taken plenty of pictures here, as well as done a few audio recordings of forest sounds, recently video has become the format that has captured my attention.
While taking still pictures can be a very valuable contemplative activity, what I’ve discovered in doing video is it forces me to stand and wait in real-time as the video is captured. I can’t just click and move on to the next shot, but I must stand there, quietly for as long as I want the shot to be. Experiencing time in place seems to be one of the critical experiences of creating video. And then, when I’m back home viewing my work, I must put in the same amount of time viewing the shots.
I started this project shooting 30 second clips. That felt like a long time to just stand there as nothing happened. I’ve moved up to 60 second clips. As I’m mostly shooting very still scenes with very little movement in the video, I feel like a minute is good length. If I had a little bit of action, or really good audio I’d consider going longer.
My tool for this contemplative practice is an older iPhone, with very little memory. I was out shooting this weekend and after 7 minutes my memory was full. This is far from ideal and naturally I covet a better camera and more memory but working within your limits can be a good practice as well. At times I will also use a hand-held audio recorder which records in stereo, and where I can also block out wind noise. So far, I’ve been very happy with doing single, still shots, so a sturdy tripod was a great investment.
A critical thing that video includes that isn’t present in photography is audio. (Fully silent video is an option, but not one that interests me at this point.) I’m very happy when a good image can be matched with good audio. I’m certain it is my affinity for and sensitivity to sound that has drawn me to working with video.
I’ve had a couple videos with bad or inconsequential audio, mostly due to wind rumble, and I’ve tried out created a soundtrack with me playing guitar. I’m not sure I’m as pleased with these as with the videos with the “natural” audio but it’s been a helpful learning experience.
I am very aware that I have very little critical knowledge with which to assess the things I am creating. I am not a cinephile, or trained in any artistic medium (excepting a year of guitar lessons). I have some awareness of design and some knowledge of my iPhone camera’s capabilities, but by and large I strive to work on awareness and instinct. Keeping my eyes and ears open and recording scenes that intrigue me even if I don’t exactly know why.
On one level I know I’m a hack just pointing my cheap phone at stuff but there is something about the experience of recording, and reviewing that makes me feel more present, more centered. It would be wonderful if I made videos that were by some critical measure “good”, but their real purpose is personal.
I’m aware of books on photography as a contemplative practice, but I’ve not found others who specifically talk about creating video as a contemplative practice. The work of filmmaker Patrick Shen certainly inspires me, and I’ve recently discovered and been fascinated by some of the works of James Benning.
I know that this practice nurtures my soul, and I know that through this practice I am learning of/experiencing God – but I’ve yet to figure out how to put this into words. A big part of what I like about my video creating experience is the complete absence of words. It is my hope that in the creating and viewing I, and others, experience small sparks of revelation, of awareness, of knowing beyond words.
You can find the videos I’m creating on my YouTube channel.