Video Vortex #6: Florian Cramer: Bokeh Porn Poetics, On the Internet Film Genre of DSLR Video Camera Tests

On: March 13, 2011
Print Friendly
About Ourania
New media.

   

(A blogpost on Florian Cramer’s presentation, originally published @ Video Vortex #6 website. The original text can be found here )

Florian Cramer (media theorist, director of the Piet Zwart Institute) participated in the first day of Video Vortex to provide the audience with an insightful overview of the  Bokeh Porn concept. In his presentation he introduced us to Bokeh Porn as a subculture within online video aesthetics and the associations that connect it to Vimeo aesthetics.

This subculture of Bokeh Porn  has to do with past movements of amateur film making, computer operating systems and, last but not least, the DSLR video revolution. A revolution that enabled the proud owners of the commercial technology of DSLR cameras to participate in the production of more cinematic videos and has chosen Vimeo as the medium that better presents its final projects. The community that has adopted this aesthetical approach is not a pure amateur community but also a filmmaking one; its presence is not only found online (although the online community is enormous and apparent in fora and websites such as dvxuser,slashCAMeoshd) but also offline, with the recent example of the International Amsterdam DSLR meetup.

Florian Cramer, photo by: Anne Helmond
Florian Cramer, photo by: Anne Helmond

Florian Cramer presented the origins of Bokeh: in photography, the Japanese term Bokeh represents the aesthetic quality of the blur or, simply put, the blurry and out-of-focus background of the image; an effect that used to be captured in filmmaking only through professional cameras, as it has certain particular technical requirements (large film size, wide lense etc). This filmmaking aesthetics genre was originally introduced to broader audiences in post-1960 Hollywood film production with the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”; Bokeh is part of the mainstream visual language ever since.

The proliferation of such technology, that spreaded via DSLR video cameras, made it possible for the average amateur consumer to successfully achieve the Bokeh effect and integrate it in filmmaking /video production. A good, “typical” in the words of Cramer, example of an amateur video implementing this cinematographic technique, pushing the “blur” effect to the point of making Bokeh the central aspect of the whole film, is the online video “Light Benders” by Ben Carino, available on Vimeo. A second example can be also found online: “The Bathroom” (created by user pilpop) clearly illustrates the formula for Bokeh Porn which can be summarized as such: experimental productions applying Bokeh, introducing frames with soft colors, smooth shots and a piece of instrumental music to accompany the creation. Furthermore, in his presentation, Florian Cramer stressed the major role that the camera plays in such productions to the point of becoming the main actor in the film, the pure materialized version of McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message”, the Narcissus that is reflected in more contemporary ponds for the sake of the directors’  gratification.

As Cramer informed his audience, the term Bokeh Porn was theorized by Simon Wyndhamin his web log, in an attempt to depict the core of the culture that developed around Bokeh. More explicitly, according to Cramer the baseline of Bokeh Porn aesthetics is concluded in the production of short “test” demo films, where narratives are generally absent. This absence is not meant in order to serve modernist purposes but to fulfill the creators’ desires to film mainstream videos, in a non experimental implementation of an originally experimental technique. Bokeh Porn directors are not entirely amateurs yet they are individuals who, coming from amateur culture, wish to produce works that look and feel like professional ones. To achieve that, they have become vital parts of this subculture characterized by the obsession, fetishization of technical equipement, driven by the notion that the filming procedure is more important than the film itself, underlined by the presence of only one narrative that describes the Bokeh filmmaking process. Bokeh Porn stands for pure continuity, for “fluidum” instead of Barthes’ “punctum”, for the wish to expose the dream factor of the film -the camera itself.  Bokeh, in the words of Florian Cramer “is a form of visual fetishism, is not avant-garde but porn” (quote captured by Anne Helmond).

This short presentation on Bokeh Porn aesthetics concluded with inquiries that investigated the associations between Bokeh and reactions towards the flat digital image and the connection between this genre and the revival of analog aesthetics (seen through innovations such as the Hipstamatic application for iPhone devices). More specifically, the speaker argued for the haptic, tactile quality that we used to know as a cinematic quality. He also underlined the fact that with Bokeh Porn aesthetics this touchable, tactile quality is materialized through the camera as a production tool. All in all, for Florian Cramer, users implementing Bokeh Porn aesthetics in amateur, demo, filmmaking production stand as other Alices in Wonderland, holding their cameras – the dreamworld of cinema- in their hands.

Florian Cramer, born in 1969, is director of the Piet Zwart Institute and head of the research programme Communication in a Digital Age at the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Leave a Reply