|T h e Q u i l l I n F o c u s|
Background information about Brian Belefant: Director/Writer/Photographer
After getting early parole from film school, Brian Belefant started shooting commercials. He won lots of awards, mostly for public service announcements that he'd directed as personal projects for things he cared about. A gun safety spot he shot was even inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Brian loves ideas. He's always looking for ways to challenge conventional thinking. Two years ago, Brian invented an entirely new camera filtration system, something that gives his film an ethereal, otherworldly look. He's spent the past two years testing the system, both on still and motion picture film, and last October he filed for a patent on it.
He is constantly looking for the right projects to work on. Projects that use that part of his brain that sees things a little off-center. They don't have to be film or writing or photographic projects. They just have to require innovation and maybe a little subversion.
Statement: [Brian] tried selling out, but it just didn't take. So a few years ago, he wandered into the desert in search of his truth. When he came out, he invented an entirely new camera filtration system, shot several short films, and rediscovered his writing-his latest screenplay was just named a semi-finalist in the Chesterfield Writer's Film Project.
Mia: Brian, I must admit, I am not familiar with any of your work other than your photography on Pixiport. But it helps to know that I never watch television, seldom see movies since most of my time is spent on the Internet. However, perusing through your website, having read as much information as I can about you, your beliefs, and studying your photography, I am able to visualize at least a two-dimensional picture of you.
My impression of you is that you avoid being defined; i.e., being predictable and coming across as a boring elitist.
Brian: I love that comment. I suppose I do. But I think I might phrase the notion differently. I want to surprise. That has more of a positive connotation.
Mia: You're somewhat eclectic, but not eccentric in some weird way. And when you say, "He's always looking for ways to challenge conventional thinking" the word, "controversy" comes to mind but I don't exactly see evidence of that in your work, at least not in your photography.
In the business of film, you seem to be building up a persona that isn't quite egocentric enough but leans towards the more practical side of it. In some ways, you project yourself as being less than serious: "When he's not working on a project for someone else, Brian shoots, writes, and tries to figure out why his cat has acne."
Brian: The reality is that I take my work extremely seriously, I just don't take myself all that seriously. After all, how important can I possibly be? All I'm doing is taking what I experience and regurgitating it back to the world, through photography, writing, and directing. I deal with really profound things sometimes, but that doesn't make me necessarily profound.
Mia: Judging by the reviews of your films, you have an appreciation for semi dark comedy, and probably love irony and wit bordering on biting humor. In this regard, your work reminds me of Pierre Mignot's, (the photography director of Les Boreades from Aria) who was once described as "one of the most idiosyncratic directors you can find." I loved both Mignot and the movie, Aria, because it was a blending of art, reality, satire, tragedy, experimental, strange.everything that one could possibly throw into a film, including the kitchen sink. The end result might have been messy, but so is life.
Brian: Semi dark? I'd actually take it all the way to dark. But it's not even that, really. I like to step back from conventional beliefs and confront expectations. One of my films is about a guy who ejaculates fire. It's a comedy (of course), but it's also a discourse on male sexual identity.
Another film juxtaposes acupuncture and voodoo two belief systems that share a singular, common element and explains how one works in relation to the other.
Sure, they're comedies. And I suppose they're dark. But really, they're only dark because they're about belief.
Mia: Perhaps, the best way to describe you is that you are energized, inherently curious and willing to experiment with everything.
Brian: Yes, but with a caveat: I don't experiment for experimentation's sake. I experiment to try and find a better way to do something. Most of my experiments fail miserably. But every once in a while I stumble onto something really wonderful.
Mia: Your advice, "Try every wacky technique you read about." In Hollywood, you seem to be keeping your head about you while others are losing theirs. And as a photographer, you seem intent on keeping an open eye on the pulse of life in case it has something to whisper to you. I see a lot of your personality in your photography, your immaculate attention to details. It takes a sensitive soul to see the world as you see it:
Take for example, your photo of roses titled, "Flowers" (GE57-09). It is so subtle, faded in parts to contrasting values of greens and dark browns to give it an ephemeral quality that is soft, and yet very focused. Your treatment of a "common" subject, in this regard, is an intense beauty that radiates within the fragility of a moment in time.
Mia: On your website, specifically under the Director's Page, you mention that you invented "a camera filtration system that gives me a bunch of really neat, unique looks." Even though you disclosed that "your patent attorney forbid you to reveal how the filtration works, are you willing to discuss what type of filtration system you've invented and has it been finally patented?
Brian: A patent hasn't been issued yet, so I don't think it's appropriate to talk about how the filtration works. But it's kind of the opposite of Prozac-it takes light and amplifies its mood. (Did I just say that? I sound like one of those flaky artist types, don't I?)
Well, as long as I'm going down that road, I'd like to make a point about the titles of my pieces: They generally have no significance, other that to help me identify an image to myself. I've come to believe that adding a title to a photograph is sort of like adding a laugh track to a sitcom you're helping your audience to react in a way that you've decided is appropriate. I generally keep my titles neutral, because I want people to react honestly.
Mia: I noticed many of your photos have a yellowish/sepia tint with a gradient effect applied to them giving them a vintage look.
Brian: I think of colors the way I've heard wine or perfume described there's a note that creates a major theme, with other notes that fill out the experience. When I shoot that yellowish/sepia thing, it's generally not a vintage look that I'm going for, but rather more of a vaguely nostalgic quality.
Mia: What percentage (if any) of your photos is digitally manipulated?
Brian: Very little. I love Photoshop. It's an extraordinarily powerful tool. But I use it to correct flaws more than to manipulate. I remove dust and scratches, and occasionally tweak exposure to bring out a little more detail in a shadow or highlight area.
Mia: Is this a way of capturing atmosphere, a mood as opposed to working with natural light, shadows and highlights? I think about sunsets and how incredibly beautiful they are, but it's next to impossible to capture the emotional elements that real sunsets elicit. And every photo of a sunset looks like the next photo of a sunset. But you choose to present a different perspective:
"Boat" (GE57-05) is an effective photo that captures a sunset expressed in terms of solitude, abandonment. The focus is not necessarily the sunset, as it only acts as a background for what is in the foreground: a boat leaning into the water at the same angle as the clouds diving toward the horizon. Everything feels like it's pulling towards the vanishing point-towards the sliver of a setting sun-and suggests a mood of fading away, an unutterable loss. What pulls this scene back, almost physically, is the cluster of driftwood lying parallel to the shore, and at right angles, (90°) to the boat.
What I found so incredibly effective about this composition is that the opposing angles, or perspectives, if you will, offer an anchored view to tie down this sudden feeling of loss and induces a calming effect. In the end, one walks away with satisfaction of having witnessed a type of miracle.
The same thing happens in "Nuns" (GE57-01) in which the focus is not immediately drawn to the nuns. The title does the work there. But from a visual point of view, the ornate building, which I assume is a church/Basilica takes precedence as it literally looms in the foreground. I see the building as a canvas in which the sunset, dusk is reflected against it. The nuns are entering the building perhaps for vespers. What I love about this photo is its subtle focus: The nuns in their pristine whites are not the immediate attraction.
But when they do become the focus, you can see that their path, steps are deliberate and have purpose. They are going somewhere, preferably indoors to pray, to mediate and you're imbued with a sense of awe and quiet reflection.
Brian: You're right, my photography is generally about evocation. I try to create images that express an emotion or feeling or mood.
I've spent the past several years developing techniques that enable me to go beyond merely capturing a situation or scene that is evocative, to actually creating the feeling I want to evoke. In this way, my own photography has moved from an interpretive art to a creative one. Something that I find incredibly rewarding.
Mia: I notice that your camera's angle offers a "panoramic" view. For me, its wide expanse is like an invitation to remain open to the world on a grand scale. I also find that it provides a sense of relief in that it creates space so one doesn't get caught, or "stuck" in a static photo. Many of your photos exhibit this panoramic technique. Is there another term for this type of technique?
Brian: I'm glad you mentioned my use of expanse and I think it's interesting that you interpreted it as an invitation to remain open to the world. I won't disagree, but I've also been told that oftentimes, the main subject of my photographs seems insignificant in scale relative to the environment it's in. I think that's pretty interesting.
Mia: Some other examples utilizing this technique:"Una Via" (GE57-03) which means "One Way", "Red Shack" (GE57-12); Road (GE57-10);"Building with Sky" (GE57-11); and,"Homage to Meola" (GE57-02). Out of these photos, I found "Una Via" and "Homage" the most interesting.
In "Una Via," there is literally only one way to enter this photo: dead center. The angle that juts out is sharp and there's not much room in the lower portion of the photo for the eye to travel except to the right where it naturally wants to follow the figure of the woman, who seems to be half leaning, half walking upwards. It appears as if it takes great effort on the part of the woman to be walking alongside the building. The starkness of the building, i.e., lack of any decoration, and the stains near the foundation reveal that this is probably a poor, decaying part of the neighborhood. The sallow lighting drains this photo of energy and creates an atmosphere of sadness and resignation.
In "Homage to Meola" I assume I am looking into a prison: the barbed wire on top of a fence, the barracks to the right and left. But I'm not sure. Regardless, it "appears" to be an enclosure in which there's not much freedom, which contradicts the openness, wide expanse I noted above. And what I get from these two, as well as, the other photos is a paradox. How life can be such a paradox in so many ways.
Last photo, my absolute favorite (if I had to choose), is "Bird in Flight" (GE57-04). This photo is breathtaking. "Flight" is a clean, light image that feels like it is literally taking off; a commercial quality photo that makes an artistic statement about grace. I liked the way the crane's wings come together as if caught in the moment of "pulling" in its resources in order to take off, and yet makes it look effortless. It trusts its instincts. I also like the contrast of the dock, a stationery object, against the water, which is always in constant motion, flux, suggesting change.
Mia: I'm curious, why did you choose Pixiport to submit and possibly showcase your work, as opposed to other sites? Obviously, you chose Pixiport because you like the site, but what are some of the things that you like about Pixiport?
Brian: I chose Pixiport because of the level of the work. Helyn has assembled an extremely fine group of photographers, and I'm truly honored to be shown among them.
Mia: I know that you have directed commercials, several short films, and you're also a writer. But I get the impression that your passion, eye for the visual leans towards photography and you admit as much: "I have a really strong photography background." Can you discuss some of your films and what prompted you to pursue these projects? What was it-the cinematography, the directing, the story, script or all of the above that caught your interest?
Brian: I separate each of my disciplines into what I hope each can accomplish with it. When I want to make a point, I write. When I want to tell a story, I make a film. When I want to evoke a feeling, I photograph.
Is photography my overriding passion? No. But I do get a particular joy from photography that is distinct from the joy I get from writing or making a film.
Mia: Pick a favorite director--I'm thinking of Lawrence Kasdan, David Lynch, Robert Altman, Ken Russell, or John Boorman--who might be some of the directors you relate to, or who closely reflect your tastes, attitude, vision; and, one whose talent you admire or wish to emulate and tell me why you admire their work.
Brian: An easy question. Krzysztof Kieslowski. His trilogy Blue, White, and Red manages to accomplish in one work everything I try to do in my separate arts. It tells a story (three, actually), makes a point (three, actually), and evokes an entire range of feelings.
It's also subversive in the way that I try to be, meaning that it confronts conventionally-held beliefs. And finally, the three stories told in the three separate films interweave there's a philosophy to the structure, as well as to the individual stories. It's truly a masterpiece.
Mia: What is your truth that you've found?
Brian: Photography has always served as a form of therapy for me. Unlike filmmaking, which is extremely collaborative, photography is solitary.
I like the solitude. And even though I complain about having to lug around 25 pounds of gear, there's nothing like getting up at four in the morning, hiking off into the woods, and shooting stuff that nobody else sees the way you do. The icing on the cake is when you have the skill and the equipment to know that what you'll get will look exactly as you intended.
For me, photography is about discovery. Not just in terms of images, but also about myself. When I'm alone, I can think. And I have a tendency to think about some pretty heavy things.
My mind tends to look for fundamentals the philosophical equivalent of the Grand Unified Theory of physics. And over the past ten years, Iıve spent a lot of shooting time working on it.
This last trip a road trip up to Vancouver in December I came across the final piece of the puzzle. It all makes sense. To me anyway. It's truly nothing less than the meaning of life, in pages and pages of notes that I need to spend probably months mulling over before I try to expand them into whatever form it's going to end up in. Probably a book. With pictures.
Mia: And in anticipation of your answer, that one's inner truth is always changing and finding new expression, where do you want to end up several years from now? Any immediate goals, plans, accidents of fate you wish to embrace?
Brian:I suppose I've alluded to it before, but I want to figure out how to combine all the different things I do.
My best friend doesn't call me a writer or a director or a photographer, she thinks of me as a philosopher. I think thatıs amazingly cool. Now if only I could figure out what she means.