Frozen Film Frames from the 16mm Mekas Diaries

Title: Frozen Film Frames from the 16mm Mekas Diaries
Director Jonas Mekas
Release Date: 1996-07-09 [US]
Cast: Nico
Velvet Underground
Andy Warhol
Edie Minturn Sedgwick Allen Ginsberg
Adolphas Mekas
Jackie Kennedy
John Lennon
Lou Reed
Robert Frank
Nam June Paik...
Note: Jonas Mekas at Laurence Miller Gallery, 138 Spring Street, New York, New York 10012, (09 July-16 August 1996)

"My memories. They are out to get me, they are after me." — Jonas Mekas

The idea of changing film images into photographs, thus giving them new meaning as art objects, can be problematic. In his recent show, titled Frozen Film Frames, the pioneering experimental film maker Jonas Mekas presented large-scale colour film stills enlarged from frames of his original films. The result was an expansion of the perceptual meaning of both film and photographic images.

Since the 1950s Mekas has been one of the driving forces behind New York's avant-garde film culture, which he has promoted as a film maker, a critic, an organizer and an administrator. Mekas's own films, with their autobiographical and diaristic approach, were created in opposition to commercial Hollywood cinema, and examine, in part, the relationship between film and individual memory.

As Mekas's films consist of compilations of separate images, so do the photographs in this show. Each print consists of three or four consecutive frames taken from a film. We the movements, expressions and settings change as we look down from the top frame to the bottom one. Mekas's photographs colonize an area that more properly belongs to film. And for Mekas, who is a filmmaker rather than a photographer, these prints are fragments of memory.

Themes of memory — subconscious and personal as well as collective and social — run through all the images in the show. For Mekas, a displaced person, an émigré from Lithuania, the past is always there, yet ruptured from the present.

Subconscious memories are present in the three prints, one showing Warhol's chin and hand, another depicting Mekas's brother Adolphas's hands checking wheat, and a third of Allen Ginsberg's face. These images are deeply haunting voices, emotions and memory traces. The last series of images in the show are meditations on nature scenes in Cassis, Prospect Park and Colorado. They bring subconscious awareness of the past, and are combined with texts that add to their emotional resonance. Mekas invokes collective memories, particularly of the 1960s, with images that present joy and spirit and at the same time subjects of lament and loss. Images of Jackie Kennedy and her children, invoking the assassination of JFK, signify loss in the political domain. Loss in the cultural domain is represented by images of John Lennon, Andy Warhol, Elvis Presley, Edie Minturn Sedgwick, and Nico. We also see Lou Reed, Robert Frank and Nam June Paik. These are people we all know, but at the same time, we see Mekas's memories of them.

"These images are from my films. But they are no longer my films. At the same time, they are not photographs. What are they, then ? They are my obsessions. I got obsessed with the possibilities of frozen frames. It began as a chance curiosity and then became an obsession. I don't really know what these images are. But I recognize them as part of my memory. And I like seeing them again, these fragments of memories."

"I also know that such images wouldn't be possible to extract from the commercial cinema. They are possible only because of my single-frame filming style. That I find interesting and exciting. And I have to admit: I am hiding these images from Robert Frank. Last time I spoke with him, a few months ago, and obliquely mentioned what I was doing, he laughed and said, "Stay away from photography, it can be dangerous." But I know Robert is a very kind man and he knows that I have no pretentions to photography. I am, really, in no man's land and I have no idea where I am going and where this adventure will take me." — Jonas Mekas
Nico and Malanga New York 1966 Walden
Nico and Malanga New York 1966

© 1996-2011
Serge Mironneau