The Creative Potential of Cameras and Formats

Abstract by Susanne Schüle

What are the benefits of aesthetic images if we lack the authenticity and the closeness to our subject?

At the beginning of our work as image creators, we always ask ourselves which camera technique we can use to best realize our vision. In addition to aesthetic aspects, the handling and size of the camera are also important in documentary work. Depending on whether we work purely observationally or interventionistically, whether we shoot in a studio with a large team or climb a mountain alone: these parameters must always influence the choice of camera and the format. These design tools affect the way of working and the closeness to the protagonists.

I wanted to explore all these questions and aspects with my students in a documentary workshop under real conditions. Using a wide variety of film techniques in one and the same place and thus being able to compare working methods, aesthetics and effects seemed to be an interesting and instructive experiment. What narrative methods and camera types will the students choose, what effects and aesthetics will be visible?

Together with the director Andrei Schwartz, we went to a Romanian prison with 20 of our students. All of them had the same basic conditions: They were strangers there, had 3 weeks and could not leave the place. I gave them a wide variety of camera techniques to choose from: A 360 degree camera, digital consumer and professional cameras and a 16 mm camera. One student also shot with his cell phone.

In addition to technical aesthetic questions, the workshop was also always about dealing with social and ethical issues. Finding the closeness to the protagonists, positioning oneself as a film team and taking responsibility for the cinematic interventions was a challenge for everyone. By presenting the research results of this workshop, I would like to show the complex interplay between the choice of cinematic means, their effect and the relationship between film team and protagonists.