“For the past 25 years I’ve worked as a documentary cinematographer. I originally shot the following footage for other films, but here I ask you to see it as my memoir. These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still.” – Kirsten Johnson
Capturing a thunderstorm, the camera shakes as the cameraperson sneezes.
A baby is born in Nigeria and seems to stare, and smile, directly into the camera.
A lawyer in Texas prepares nightmarish evidence for trial.
In Uganda, dancers and musicians ham it up for the camera.
That opening quote says it all. This is a series of very short clips, strung together they make up a scapbook or photo album, a collection of the places she’s been and things she’s seen and work she’s done. Some are very personal (her own twins appear) and some are political and some are funny and some are just beautiful, a magical moment caught on film. She catches more than most.
The way they’re woven together, it’s almost like we’re seeing a highlight reel from her own memory. There are patterns and there are insights. Micro-stories are told in just a few frames. And sometimes we get to know a little about what it’s like to live behind the camera, to observe something without intervening, the struggle between objectivity and responsibility and compassion.
If you’re narrative-needy, Cameraperson is not for you. It’s fresh and inventive and it tells a story in a different kind of way, but it’s worth it. Which is not to say in requires a lot of effort because for the most part, it’s a laid back, easy ride that may feel more familiar to a generation who will stream a series of unrelated clips for hours on Youtube. Except this one will feed your soul.