Breakfast with Dr. Bish - Page 2

Visionary filmmaker Bruce Baillie speaks

Anyway, avante, as my old friend would say — on to the question. There's all kinds of references in our literature, especially, I suppose, in the holy works like the Gita and the writings of the Buddha, which run across the idea of direct perception. Just seeing. Or in the Bible, the Old Testament. Or the Tibetan teachings for the acolytes who were becoming monks and priests — they used to sit up above the road, maybe one at a time, and observe the faces coming up from the world below. For some reason, when most people take a camera in hand and click on a face, all they get is a two-dimensional representation. I don't see why I'd wanna be satisfied by that. When you photograph, you photograph what is, not what is merely apparent or not. That's the assignment, really, and it's not completed and shouldn't be exceptional. SFBG The spiritualism in your films, like Mass of the Dakota Sioux, Tung, and On Sundays, seems to be combined with a little bit of disdain for modern civilization. There's that mixture. BB Well, there's what Jesus called hatred of the world — which is something one might be able to teach his or herself along the way, to give up all the appearances and become one with the continuity of life flow itself. That's a whole process. Some people, like myself, are born with a disdain, yes, for the world in that other sense. For example, my totem animal is a wolf, and I've never liked my neighbors. That's a horrible thing, but I was born with that in my portfolio and I work with that every day. Some people really are very fond of going to the supermarket and the malls and are able to behave themselves when they're buying a pair of shoes. Actually, whether they believe in it all or not doesn't seem to come into any question, and overall it's quite wonderful that they're able to be not only very kind but loving with all of these comings and goings. To me, going to the aerodrome to pick up the Alaska Air number 387 is the most frightening kind of experience that anyone could have devised in purgatory. In my own case, since you're asking me, this person, not someone else, about the images they project, the images are contaminated with not only a great universal love but at the same moment a great hatred for the goings on of worldly affairs and events and shapes and forms. So as I get into nature I find it less contaminated by man's touch, but it's also frightening in its own way, of course, with all the monsters at the edge of the world that are ready to devour you when you're out on your sailboat in the Atlantic. And the tigers in the night and the ragings of the great beasties. SFBG In your work there will sometimes be a shot where the subject is the mist or the fog. Those two aspects cut together create a tension that has an emotional effect. How would you say your palette developed and matured over time? BB I lived my life with the camera and I deliberately took on nothing else. No family, which is the main thing one gives up to live that kind of life, and I lived en route, always on the move. Living in my car, just seeing and trying my best to get it through that little eyepiece, that little Bolex viewfinder — the first version, which was half the size of the later version. I can't see through it anymore, it's so small. There's no reason at all to settle for anything less than a grand attempt at bringing back from the unknown what is there. The what is of this. Part of it can kind of humorously involve a practice that I used to throw out when I was teaching, that is, to learn to become invisible. I would line all my students up and say, "OK, everybody close their eyes," and then I would run around the corner [laughs] and disappear. We'd go into it a little further, where I'd say, "What I really meant was we have to learn not to use the camera, just the way a policeman has to learn not to use his or her pistola." It's a weapon, a medium, that exists between self and other.

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