'Cameraperson' Goes Behind the Lens of a Documentary Cinematographer

Dec 27, 2016

Kirsten Johnson has spent a quarter of a century standing behind a camera. As a cinematographer she has traveled around the world, meeting people and hearing their stories, while creating images of their lives. Her new documentary, Cameraperson, puts those images into a different perspective.

"The lens takes you deeper into a person than the eye can do."

Cameraperson is an amalgam of unused footage from 24 of the documentaries she has worked on, along with some personal footage. It film spans two decades of her life and career, and is a study in how documentary films are made, how these images are created, and how content is curated. 

"There's now a generation of people who thinks about self representation, who thinks about respresentation, and knows that in many ways the representation of individuals can be changed by the way they are filmed, by the light, by the frame, by what's left out, by what's put in," says Johnson. "And that's what I really trusted in the making of Cameraperson." 

The film looks at various aspects of documentary filmmaking, including how film crews interact with their subjects. It shows Johnson setting up shots, speaking to subjects of the film, and the human moments in-between interviews. 

"As close as you're trying to get and sort of, as successfully as you convey what it is to be them to an audience, you are still not them and what's going on inside of them is still a mystery to you."

"The lens takes you deeper into a person than the eye can do," she says. "You know, with a long lens you can look deep into someone's eyes in a close-up in a way that you would have to be sort of standing right up next to them to do in person. And there is a phenomenon that happens where I often feel like I'm losing myself in the experience of the person that I'm filming because I so can feel their physical presence." 

Still, Johnson admits that the experience of a cameraperson does have its limitations. "You're not that person," she says. "As close as you're trying to get and sort of, as successfully as you convey what it is to be them to an audience, you are still not them and what's going on inside of them is still a mystery to you." 

*Originally aired September 2016