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Ken Paul Rosenthal img
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Why I Film

by Ken Paul Rosenthal © 2005

Composing time in the medium of light, exploring frames as windows into the world, and making illusions tactile are rituals of habit and play developed in my childhood before I understood them as relative to a cultivated artform. Light was made available to me, and I responded to the phenomena of the world made manifest via the presence—and absence—of light as a sort of visual osmosis. Like liquid to a dry sponge, I was drawn to staring at the sun until my eyes watered, then observed the rainbow scars that danced inside my eyelids.


My earliest memory is standing in a door frame. Beyond simply seperating one room from another, the edges of that door frame encompassed a portal through which different perspectives were composed and intensified. My eyeglasses were my first camera; they captured and focused light, brought it close and abstracted it in jeweled specks along the rim of the lens. I am still particularly obsessed with the division between the field of focus seen through my eyeglasses, and the hazy area outside of each lens. My eyeglasses unified multiple fields of depth. I became intimately aware from an unusually young age that vision was not just about seeing, but being sensitive to a certain way of seeing. That what I saw from within was predicated on how and what I chose to see from without, especially in regard to which cinematic tool facilitated eyesight.

My films are essentially an unscripted string of beautiful possibilities. They are less about taking pictures and more about collaborating with a particular natural or urban space. The notion of a finished film is a glass carrot to me, that is, the goal of completion is not visible. The indeterminate nature of alternative photochemical and organic-based manipulations short-circuits my own intentions, encourages the unpredictable, and inspires me to treat the film emulsion as a living organism. It’s not so much content that drives form, but process that breeds content.


How can a more universal consciousness be experienced on the film plane? Burying film in the earth, soaking it in cooked wild berries, or composting it in seaweed are a means of conversing with an environment on a more macroscopic level, of exploring a more empathetic and cyclical relationship between soil, emulsion, and flesh. These strategies are beyond developing pretty colors. Repeated visits to a particular geographic region also sensitize me to life below the landscape as a corollary to what happens beneath the surface of the film. For instance, after months of observing how wave patterns reflect the ocean floor, my experience is transformed from picture taking to a meditation on light, and an inquiry into cosmic forces. It’s about deep listening with my eyes.

The world wields me as an instrument of its own animate life force. Picture the ripples that move away in concentric circles from a stone cast into a pond. To press the camera trigger at just the right moment, or make the perfect edit is to inhabit the space between the ripples; to echo and be in sync with the creative intelligence that sustains the universe. My filmmaking practice is as much about finding my place in that universal design as it is about getting dirt—and emulsion—under my fingernails.