Little is known about the work of Austrian director of photography and camera operator Martin Putz in the UK. Here’s an introduction to his work and collaborations.
Martin Putz’s collaboration with Austrian film director Virgil Widrich and Luxembourgian artist Bady Minck, as well as other significant figures from the Austrian experimental world, like Martin Arnold and Edgar Honetschläger, produced a range of films that caught my attention at an experimental film programme during the 51st Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 2010.
His modular use of a wide variety of tools (analogue vs. digital) includes him in a workflow that leads to the areas of visual arts and experimental film. Since 2001 he has always been working with new and digital media, which he finds precious towards the making of an involving visual experience.
Born in 1967 in Vienna, Putz has been working as a freelance cameraman since 1993 and his career has involved primarily documentary, experimental and animation films. Back then when digital technology was not an option, he experimented with photo cameras and this has proved an impact in his later work. He currently runs the production company 2K film in Vienna and formulated the term ‘pocket films’, a filmic form based on a colour spectrum among a wide variety of existing footage in his telephone’s library that becomes a system of order for colours created through editing.
In March 2011 we saw the incredible montage of clips in London featuring time and watches, Christian Marclay’s The Clock. This one-off 24-hour screening inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s Purcell Room accompanied the British Art Show 7 and captured highly acclaimed reviews. Working as an actual timepiece, it is a moving image collage of several thousand films, quite striking for its ability to sweep the countless possibilities of archive production.
Collage, as a technique in film editing that situates a sequence of two images to create an additional meaning, flourished during the 1960s with the new international avant-garde works of artists including Kenneth Anger and Gregory Markopoulos. Though the idea of context altered through editing had been explored much earlier, by the pioneers of silent cinema who mastered montage techniques (Eisenstein, Man Ray and Dziga Vertov), collage had a radical return and recognition in the late 1960s with the screening of Bruce Conner’s A Movie (1959) at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London and Don Levy’s Five Short Film Poems (1967) among others.
Nearly a decade before Marclay screened The Clock in 2011, Putz worked on the visuals of the short Fast Film (Virgil Widrich, 2003): an intelligent work for its use of footage from famous films. It’s been since recognized again that the production playground for moving image-makers using archive footage, a terrain also used by the YBA group like Douglas Gordon in the 1990s, has countless potentials. Archive film never again was seen as a plain addition to documentary filmmaking to narrate a historical moment or a fictional fact. It’s an indication that more films will come to join the inventions of the already recognized works by Harun Farocki, Christian Marclay, Patrick Keiller, John Akomfrah and Andrei Ujica for the use of archive film.
Putz’s input to Virgil Widrich’s Fast Film, which also meant a combination of skills and collaboration with origami artists and animators, captures the classic abduction/chase scenario created from photocopied film frames and placed on to paper that was then filmed on camera. This superb film contains what Hollywood would acclaim for a perfect movie in its golden years with the stars played by the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, a failed human experiment such as Frankenstein or the antihero Dracula and a love story sealed with a kiss after a long chase battle between the good and the evil. But what is striking in this work is the visual experience of multilayered image sequences, film footage morphing and speed throughout its 13 min length that poses illusionary depth.
Putz used a similar technique for Widrich’s Oscar nominated Copy Shop (2001): a Kafkaesque silent film distinguished for its poetic narrative. Playing with a surrealist twist on the object/subject duality and the degree of aberration on the projected mirror image by the optical lens, the Copy Shop’s grammar is primarily a work on paper: the film is consisted of circa 18,000 photocopied digital camera frames, which were later animated and filmed on 35mm. The story is about a copy shop worker who wakes up one morning to get to work where he accidentally photocopies his hand. This is just the beginning of what ends up to become a world filled with his images. Copy Shop is a brilliant commentary on technology and contemporary social media that highlights the importance of identification in narrative cinema and great editing skills.
In the same year Fast Film was made, another collaboration with artist Bady Minck for the making of In the Beginning was the Eye (Bady Minck 2003) distinguished Putz’s depth of his talent as cinematographer. First sequence and Putz’s camera is the eye glimpsing into someone’s house surrounded by shelves packed with books. We hear whispers as we follow a man who is looking for a book until he finds it. It’s a big red blank volume but after the turn of its pages the book itself yields the letters and 3-dimensional mountains.
So the story begins from The Ore Mountain and takes us around the Erzberg and Salzburg province via a rich collection of postcard images, an attempt that recalls French photographer Raymond Depardon’s Cities project. Author Hans Schifferle has described Minck’s film In the Beginning was the Eye, “Imagine a portrait of Austria created by Jan Svankmajer and David Lynch and inspired by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Jean-Luc Godard’s latest work Film Socialisme (2010) rendered the idea of the travelogue through smart phones technology and imagery inside the material wealth of a cruise holiday. In the Beginning was the Eye takes a step back when the postcard was still the core communication between travelers and friends back home. The camera technique and use of countless of postcards take us in the depths of our childhood experience with a 3D Viewmaster.
Putz’s admiration of Jan Svankmajer’s work is perhaps more transparent in The Beauty is the Beast (Bady Minck, 2005). The graphic images of this 2.06 min film echo the Czech filmmaker’s Dimensions of Dialogue (1982). Putz’s deeply surreal eye and his extreme close ups of a woman (Anja Salomonowitz), her hair and her furred tongue, operate the wild nature of civilization. He used a Canon-D60 claiming it was a brilliant camera, for its huge digital zoom working brilliantly in the daylight. The Beauty is the Beast is a parable of cultivation, a fable of civilization and its wilderness with no dialogue but quotes the words from Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis.
Putz has so far worked as cinematographer on almost twenty films, he also directs his own and has recently completed Dariusz Kowalski’s Towards Nowa Huta (working title). His attraction to analogue film has been central for it takes cinema to its original form but he admits the potential of great new technology available is extensive. He is now shooting on RED Epic, a new very small camera system used for feature films.
Though he is a great admirer of Depardon’s photography, Putz’s practice is not just about photographing. Inspired by cinematographers such as Christopher Doyle (That Day, on the Beach, Edward Yang 1983) and Roger Deakins (The Man Who Wasn’t There, Joel and Ethan Coen, 2001), his work has always been connected to digital postproduction and influenced by the possibilities that exist in visual imaging. He has recently embarked on a new documentary titled Heartbreakers for director Anja Salomonowitz.
Due to austerity cuts the Experimental film strand of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival stopped running in 2011.