Babette Mangolte. The Camera: Je or La Caméra: I

The Camera: Je or La Caméra: I is one of the most important films by photographer and filmmaker Babette Mangolte, best known as the director of photography for News from Home or Jeanne Dielman by Chantal Akerman. Filmed in New York at the end of the 1970s, Mangolte uses cinema to reveal her process of photographic creation: taking a series of studio portraits and then street photography in Manhattan.

Whether working with others or directing her own films, Babette Mangolte defines herself as a filmmaker and photographer at the same time. She uses film and photography as a means to experiment and deepen perception. Her camera, which is both a tool and a subject, enables her to explore the viewer’s different perspectives in terms of vision. In The Camera: Je or La Caméra: I (1977), viewers can experience the act of shooting photographs using a technique called the ‘subjective camera’. It’s a sort of personal manifesto by this camerawoman for whom "the I is an eye".

The film, with superior production values, uses the technique of ‘subjective camera’ in which the point of view is literally the ‘eye of the camera’, so the viewer can see the act of taking photographs from the photographer’s perspective. This strategy allows Mangolte to create a subjective story so that viewers directly experience the tension in a photo shoot and the power dynamics involved between the camera and the models.

Born in France in 1941, Babette Mangolte studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Louis-Lumière in Paris where she trained as a director of photography, a profession at that time reserved for men. She became the first French camerawoman but only really began to develop her work in New York, where she has lived since the 1970s. She has worked as director of photography on films by Chantal Akerman (Hotel Monterey, News from Home, Jeanne Dielman 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles), Yvonne Rainer (Film About a Woman Who, Lives of Performers), Marcel Hanoun, Jackie Raynal, Jean-Pierre Gorin and others.

Self Portrait of a Nude Model Turned Cinematographer, Sharon Green, 1971, silent, 16 mm, 4 min; The Camera: Je or La Caméra: I, Babette Mangolte, 1977, 16 mm, 88 min.

Digital projection. Copies courtesy of Filmmaker’s Coop and Sharon Green. Original language subtitled in Catalan.

31 January 2021


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