Natalie Chao / Are We All Wilderness? – camera, image, ‘you’ and the becoming 我們都是荒蕪之地

Natalie Chao / Are We All Wilderness? – camera, image, ‘you’ and the becoming 我們都是荒蕪之地

Natalie A. Chao 趙芷妮

發表於: 13 Apr 2020

In our recent video Manifesto 2 Artists’ Workshops, Natalie A. Chao said the camera was there to protect herself on the many street events in Hong Kong since 2019. At times, she questioned the camera’s invasive nature and wonder if we basically act on the spot without much analysis. Textualizing images she “gleaned” in writing is then a necessary part of the imaging event. Here is a set of notes Natalie wrote while reflecting on a film she made, Are We All Wilderness? (2019) in which she explores a unique mode of poetic narration, visually. Several entries refer to a work on her departed mother, To Know Her, partly comprising of her family video footage from her Mom’s camera.

Image courtesy of Natalie A. Chao



Are We All Wildernesses? Experimental Composition n°1 (2019)
Are We All Wildernesses? (revised version, 2020.03)






– The way we frame others must first be negotiated with the way we frame ourselves.

– There is no ‘female’ gaze—if there is one, it is much more than a look, it is the way we look, think, and feel through each of our senses. It is how we objectify ourselves and others, within our inner (sub)consciousness and towards each other in our external reality. Politicising the gaze disturbs the potential for empathy.

– By grounding our narratives in subjective psychological time — the way in which the artist originally experienced and processed reality — we allow for memory (forgotten and misremembered), emotions (personal and collective), desires (unrecognised and hidden) and questions (open and closed) to carry us forward into the abstract poetry of our minds… Far away from the static linearity of plot.
– The language (words evoked from experiences) we create becomes emotion (as expressed through the filmic medium) before manifesting into motion (in our ‘real’ lives).

– We need to give the camera away. If we cannot bear the thought of doing so then we must confront that we are using the camera as weapon and our intention is to load, aim and shoot our subjects — pretending to “see” as they do, or worse, trapping them in our objectivity.

– “When you are the camera and the camera is you.” From a 1976 Minolta Ad. I want to change this to “when you are the subject, and the subject is you”. The person in front of the camera should be able to see us too, and we should not hide, where our souls meet is where ‘truth’ happens.

– Seldom seen but always there. While I might not know my mother that well in an observable manner, I now know her in an unobservable way. Film allows these inner worlds to materialise just long enough for a collective and shared experience. (on I Know Her)

– The archive repeats itself until we lose our desire to remember. To create from the archive means to let go and follow our desires to see the past with present eyes and cope with reality.

Image courtesy of Natalie A. Chao

– Absence is presence, memory is fiction.
– What separates us except time and space? Our desire to remember.
– Nothing should be left unquestioned, and yet everything is still just ordinary life.

– Perhaps the instability of the female “I” comes from dualistic Western thinking and identity politics, etc… but how do we run away from language itself? Maybe by writing ourselves willingly into the fabric of our films. We forget to remember that we are just embedded narratives of ourselves.

– Words and bodies cannot be separated.

– When does the photograph become the memory? When everything is eternal, nothing is eternal.
– Live the questions you want to ask in every piece of work that you make, unless the answer is another question that you can go on to create more work.
– All meaning is created through relationship, which means all meaning is relative. So let’s not try to make meaning with images, but relationships with the people who exist in and outside of our frames.

– A documentary should not be scared to exist without images.

– We should honour the look of memory: with all its inaccurate flaws and revelations of our desires, anxieties, regret, and loss… Film is not mental time travel, we cannot cheat by editing our timelines. All we can do is accept the medium as a mediator between these made-up realities, a record keeper of who we are at each time we decide to look back.

– Cartier-Bresson said, “Thinking should be happening before and after the taking of a photograph, never during”. I think as much as I’ve reflected on the need to understand why we are choosing a composition or moving with the camera a certain way, when we’re rolling—I know that everything just happens on its own. That is poetry. It has always been poetry. But with this feeling comes the risk of making mistakes, as I felt paralysed a year ago while shooting a scene that I will never want to watch again. But the possibility of both is what is demanded of the craft. I must not be scared.

(May 2019)


ABOUT Natalie A. Chao 趙芷妮

Image courtesy of Natalie A. Chao

Natalie Archambaud Chao, a member of the video Manifesto 2 project, is a filmmaker and cinematographer. She completed her BA degree in Film Production at USC’s School Of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Hong Kong her entire life, she searched for a means to articulate her thoughts and attitudes in a city ruled by perpetual change. Film naturally became her consummate mode of expression and means of negotiating between mental and physical landscapes. Over the years, she continues to explore how time, space and the fleetingness of both are inevitably present in both our mundane and extraordinary lives. She hopes to be able to train her observational and critical eye both in directing and shooting a mix of fiction and documentary work. Her goal is to bridge the gap between realism and poetry in order to tell stories through a more engaged and intentional gaze, one which is not scared to question and see itself in the process.


Related reading: http://floatingprojectscollective.net/art-notes/crossing-border/

Related reading: http://floatingprojectscollective.net/art-notes/documentary-impulses-conversations-01/

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