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Ross McElwee and son look back

By BRETT MICHEL  |  November 16, 2012

Clearly, you miss the old ways of communicating. Presumably, this also extends to taking pictures, as well. What has been lost in the shift to shooting digitally, given that the “photographic memories” touched off in this film were spawned from analog images created through photochemical synthesis? Have we lost the magic of photographs, and their luminous mysteries? ell, in the film, perhaps I come off a little as a romantic Luddite, pining for the analog days. And there certainly were things I loved about shooting 16mm film. I refer to its luminosity in Photographic Memory, and offer a few shots from my archive as proof. And it’s sort interesting to think about those analog shots existing in a digital envelope — the HD itself — and yet still having a discernibly different visual presence from the digital material that frames it. A different look. But I’m a convert. I now shoot HD, and actually really like, for the most part, the quality of the images it captures.

I like your phrase — the “luminous mysteries” of photographs. There is a way in which it’s hard to convey to kids my son’s age what it was like to process and print 35mm still photos — or even to look at your 16mm dailies when they come back from the lab.

In the film, you state that the one undeniable truth is photographic proof. Can such a thing even exist in an age of easily manipulated digital image capture? hat comment definitely pertains only to that one specific photo — the photo of Maud [Corbel, with whom McElwee had a love affair during his summer in St. Quay-Portrieux] — and it applies only to that particular point in time in my journey. I don’t believe that there is any broader all-encompassing concept of “undeniable photographic proof” — especially now that Photoshop can tamper with the evidence so effectively.

At what point during the filmmaking process on this project did you realize that you must revisit your past in France? And did you ever consider bringing Adrian along on your journey, or did you prefer that he discover who you were at his age solely by granting him access to your journals? I always have ideas in the back of my mind for films I might want to make someday, and when I was telling my friend and producer Marie-Emmanuelle Hartness — she’s French — stories from my youth in France, she encouraged me to consider making a film of this particular story. I had been filming my domestic life off and on for years, and had some scenes filmed of Adrian when he was a disgruntled teen. But I began filming him with more purpose in 2009, when it seemed in some vague way that our relationship could become a theme in the film. I never proposed that he should come with me to France when I set out to film in September 2010. I think I needed to be alone to get the French chapter of the film underway, but I am glad he has seen my journals, because I think they reflect a high degree of disorganization and distraction on the part of the young journalist. And they have served as a reminder that I hardly knew exactly where I was or what I was doing when I was 24.

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Related: Review: Photographic Memory, Interview: James Carroll, William Friedkin at the Harvard Film Archive, More more >
  Topics: Features , Ross McElwee, Harvard, INTERVIEW,  More more >
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