Being seen by cinema itself

For my book on machine vision I’m writing a little about Vertov’s wonderful 1924 manifesto written half in the voice of the camera – “I am kino-eye … I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it.”

I started wondering how involved the other Kinoks were in writing. It’s hard to tell, but Elisaveta Svilova, shown here, was definitely very involved in Vertov’s movies, as the editor who actually made all those fast transitions possible and as co-director later on. Here is an amazing meta-moment near the end of a documentary Kino-Pravda reel where she is shown selecting negatives for the very newsreel she is editing.

The camera shows her, then the negatives, back and forwards, showing the negatives in negative and finishing with an negative image of her face. Lilya Kaganovsky describes this as “a fusion of object and subject” and writes that Svilova looks directly at us. And yet it seems to me that in that last image it is the film itself somehow that is looking at Svilova?

Photo of a woman's face against a dark background

It’s not the camera’s eyes looking but certainly “the cinema” or the technology somehow. Svilova is of course both the subject (presumably Vertov or his brother Kaufman held the camera) of the images but also she must have edited these images, including selecting the negatives (obviously) but also merging the double exposure and deliberately using negatives.

There is a scene very similar to this in Vertov’s famous Man with a Movie Camera, showing Elizaveta Svilova editing again. She edited that film too. Actually, the Russian original title of that film doesn’t specify gender? It’s person with a movie camera, not man with a movie camera.

Also, that’s Elizaveta Svilova’s eye in the iconic double exposure of the eye and the camera lens.

Double exposure of a camera lens and a human eye, black and white.

29. May 2020 by Jill
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