Faith Into Madness
For the past 3 years, I have been photographing local competitive sports on the amateur level in the southern Illinois area. After successfully completing Near the Egress, which involved producing a stop-motion video comprised of modern dry-plate tintypes of the circus, I imagined making three similar videos with bodybuilders, cagefighters and bull riders as the subject matter. The bodybuilder project was put on hold after I stumbled upon the opportunity to photograph and to train with a local group of cagefighters. At some point during my investigation of modern male rites of passage in this visceral world of amateur cagefighting, I felt inspired to introduce a more colorful palette in my next video with the use Polaroid film emulsion lifts. With a limited budget and resource of Polaroid 669 film, I knew that I needed to make a shorter video for the sake of experimentation.
Instead of making a stop-motion video of cagefighters punching, kicking, and grappling in a caged arena, I decided to photograph a rodeo in Ridgway, IL, for I originally conceived of using this process with a bull rider flailing around on the back of a raging bull or bronco. I understood that the Polaroid emulsion lift process would allow for a more expressionistic look when sequenced in time. I originally exposed about 17 frames of a bronco rider with my DSLR and then proceeded to make fabricated “interframes” in Photoshop, for I suspected that the original sequence would be too choppy and short. This step allowed for me to express how the cowboy and horse struggle and oppose one another in a very raw visceral manner.
After editing in Photoshop, I printed and exposed 72 images to Polaroid 669 film with the use of a Daylab instant film processor. On average, I made two Polaroid copies for each of these 72 images. For a few of these Polaroid images, I interrupted the developing stage to create pocketed bursts of color, which I knew could contribute to the explosive and dangerous elements associated with riding a bronco or mustang. Later, each emulsion lift was photographed and sequence in non-linear editing software and enhanced to draw attention to the harsh colors and the internal movements of film surface itself. The last component involved making field recordings of sound and editing rhythmic sound loops to create a feeling of maintaining and losing control.
To perform a physical feat in front of family and friends in a sport that could potentially harm your health and well-being requires a great level of courage and faith in your abilities and the idea of invulnerability. The experience of riding an angry horse for 7 seconds does not make sense, but to perform such an absurd feat has the ability to make one feel alive through awakening the physical senses of the body and mind.
On one level, the title of the video, Faith Into Madness, is a commentary about the diehard athletes of the rodeo, but on a more personal level it deals with the battle for life. In November 2010, my 3-year old niece, Mariel, was not able to recover from a rare debilitating blood disease, despite all the prayers and powers of positive thoughts to heal her body. The faith expressed in prayer by her family and in medicine by her doctors quickly transitioned into a spiritual madness for everyone involved in Mariel’s hopeful, yet failed recovery. The experience surrounding Mariel’s last two weeks of living inspired the title of this video.
In conclusion, Faith Into Madness utilizes an experimental hybrid video/photo-based technique and sound design to transcend the triple-looping images of two forces, Faith and Madness, moving together in Sisyphean fashion.