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Dec 26, 2007

Easily and Clearly Influenced

Billy_ocean This afternoon on VH1 Classic -- "We Are the Eighties".  And within ten seconds of "Caribbean Queen" by Billy Ocean, I suddenly realized that way too much of my photo composition aesthetic was directly traceable to MTV in the 1980s.  And you know what? A lot of 1980s videography really really SUCKED.*

Of course it shouldn't surprise me that my compositional sense was greatly influenced by 1980s music videos.  I had been watching the stuff nonstop for 12 months when I picked up my first SLR.  What bummed me out, though, was realizing that in many ways I still lean on those origins when I take a photo now, 20+ years later.  Sure, I've seen and learned some new things during my fits and starts of subsequent photo work.  But I think that the "learned more" all built off a chain that started ~1983 and never got cut.  I think I'd be better off if I'd also learned from a few unrelated chains with different origins.  Maybe I'll start doing drugs or something.

But maybe not.  It's apparent that my insides are still so easily influenced by what I see and read.  Two nights ago I watched an NCIS episode with a bludgeoning murder, and then I re-read some of The Day of the Jackal -- Forsyth's great thriller about a plot to kill Charles DeGaulle.  So what should I dream about that night?  Getting my head smashed in.  And (later, after I'd been killed), participating in a plot to kill George W. Bush.  Drugs would probably not help me see anything new.  It would just be the same stuff, but in different colors.


*Need proof?  Cringe to Billy Ocean's Caribbean Queen right here at YouTube.

Photo: BBC.com

04:45 PM in Me, Misc.Blog 2007 | Permalink


Can you give a specific example of how your photography was influenced by MTV? I'm guessing most of my exposure was between '87 and '89.

Posted by: Lenore | Dec 26, 2007 6:23:46 PM

Oof. That's a painful ask. But here are some moments from the video if you choose to click it:

00:30 -- props/relationship of people to props

00:53 -- light/door/person

01:13 -- people/door/mirror

01:22 -- Billy/woman dark space.

[Oh, and for an unrelated horrible moment, check out the segment that starts at 00:34.]

I think I really internalized the compositional patterns and shortcuts used in this video (and, I think, in many other "let's shoot people performing or getting ready to perform on a stage"-format videos.

For the next couple of years when I spent a lot of time with a camera, I kept trying to recapture what I was seeing on the television. I finally quit trying to imitate, but by then, some of the patterns had stuck.

It won't surprise me if at some point I return to this hobby and make some deliberate efforts to see in new ways. But it also wouldn't surprise me if I end up doing that through some other medium like painting. Or music. Until then -- I remain your (mostly) happy amateur.

Oh and by the way -- here are some of the videos I remember liking most intensely in the 80s and the 90s (for their combo of photography, music, and choreography (where present) and that I still think I'd like if I saw them now (or when I see them now):

A-ha: Take On Me
George Michael: Freedom '90
George Michael: Father Figure*
John Cougar: Ain't Even Done With the Night
Yes: Owner of a Lonely Heart (extended)
Prince: Cream
Barnes & Barnes: Fish Heads
Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime (the original version)

Videos I knew were visually bad, from the get go:
Nena: 99 Luftballons
Lionel Richie: any and all
Scandal: The Warrior


*actually, I know I don't think this is that good, any more. But I still LIKE it. Happy memories :-)

Posted by: Phil | Dec 27, 2007 1:44:15 AM

I can't cringe. Pretty sure I bought that album at a time when I was dating a no kidding biker chick in Sacramento. I would try to cringe, but those are some pretty good memories capped by an amicable parting. Hadn't thought about that in years. Thanks!

Posted by: Doc | Dec 28, 2007 12:20:45 AM

Doc: I'm glad for your good memory.

For an unrelated video with bikers and chicks (but not biker chicks), you can watch another one from the same VH1 special: Motley Crue, "Girls, Girls, Girls"


Posted by: Phil | Dec 28, 2007 2:12:22 AM

I liked the video for "Take On Me" too, but one thing that bothered me about it was the part at the end that seemed like such a blatant ripoff of a scene toward the end of Altered States.

That 80s hair and poppy synth in the Aha video really takes you back, doesn't it? :)

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Dec 30, 2007 6:59:13 PM

Joe -- "homage", "interpretation," or "ripoff" -- I see you've taken your pick!

For a nice article on the video, see the wiki:


Posted by: Phil | Jan 3, 2008 11:59:00 PM

Ah.... Take on Me, Father Figure, Freedom '90, and any Talking Heads videos rock my world... so well done, in my opinion... and great music too. I'm a junkie. bah!

Posted by: Ashley Sue | Jan 4, 2008 12:49:26 PM

I really loved the Aha "Take On Me" video. Of course, I thought the lead singer was exceedingly cute, but the concept was good, too.
I must resist the temptation to see what the band members look like now, because it might cause permanent scars. I haven't recovered from the public appearances associated with the release of Duran Duran's latest album yet.

Posted by: Lenore | Jan 6, 2008 4:17:00 PM

There were a lot of advancements in video effects technology in the 1980s, more or less coinciding with the beginnings of music videos. A lot of the aesthetics of that time were influenced by whatever the hot new toy was in post-production that season. The one I recall in particular was Adrian Belew's "Big Electric Cat" being the first video to go wild with the ADO (Ampex Digital Optics: the first digital video effects unit to manipulate the 2D plane in video space), and a lot of mapping of video around spheres, which was done with a ridiculously expensive unit from England called the Mirage, if memory serves...to really make it work you had to have a Pascal programmer on staff.

Posted by: claire | Jan 20, 2008 9:37:03 AM