VALERIA STREET (Janie Geiser, 2018, 11:34 minutes)
“The interplay of filmic layers (in Geiser’s work) creates a complex aesthetic of collage, a term borrowed from art history but also used in cinema to describe the collage film or, more generally, the principle of montage. The collagist structures of Geiser’s rephotography films engage critical issues of surface, space, and film history in distinctly hauntological terms, which, following Derrida, constitute an aberrant space, wholly other, infinite and ungraspable.” —Genevieve Yue
The starting point for VALERIA STREET was a frayed Kodak box of 7 slides that fell off a shelf of collage materials in my studio. Curious, I put them on a light box.
The slides depicted a group of 5 men, staged around a conference table in a generic office setting, curtains closed. The men were looking down at a set of drawings or documents. At the center of the frame, in the middle of the table, was one man. He held a pen in his left hand. When I looked through the camera lens, I saw that this man in the center was my father.
I had no memory of when these slides came into my possession. They must been in some boxes of ephemera that I saved when my father died twenty years ago.
In my recent films, I’ve been obsessed with unearthing possible and impossible narratives from photographs of strangers. Through re-contextualizing the images, reframing, reworking, layering with other materials, and revealing or obscuring parts of the image, something emerges.
Not knowing the history or context of the images, I’ve been able to imagine and invent new ones. The challenge of Valeria Street was that I knew one of the men. I didn’t know the situation depicted, or the other people around the table. I had never witnessed him in a situation like this. His world of work was a mystery.
The photographs were awkward and artificial—staged documentation or re-creation of some kind of presentation/signing of documents. My father was a chemical engineer with a large petro-chemical company.
The situation at the table is a familiar one of male power—a group of men gathered to make decisions. The men were arranged around the documents like the disciples in The Last Supper, or the guild members in Rembrandt’s painting “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild”, or numerous iconic photographs of presidential cabinets, boards of directors, or chambers of commerce.