In Joële Walinga’s experimental film Self-Portrait, she curates God knows how many hours of surveillance camera footage. Apparently, she does this to illustrate a “candid peak of humanity” which, for the most part, she succeeds at doing so. There’s barely any humans in the film but if anything, she illustrates that humanity, and thus, these cameras, are present in almost every square meter of this planet. It’s particularly curious where in this earth humans put these cameras. They’re on airports or ports. They’re on a house with a pool, or an aquarium watching both sea creatures and their visitors.
A few critics who saw this film put themselves as the potential subjects of the footage. I, however, imagine the person who felt the need for these security cameras. Footage of natural scenes are the most striking ones because it hinted at humanity. Specifically, it hinted at things like someone claiming that patch of nature as their property, and that camera waiting for someone who has no business being in said property. If that land doesn’t seem private, maybe it’s the government who put those cameras there. One way of looking at this footage is that it exists as one’s extension of the self.
Although of course, it’s easy to relate to the occasional human being who walks into the camera’s line of vision. I do have to point out a nitpick against Self-Portrait and no, it’s not that it’s ‘not interesting’ which, in fairness, one is an amateur for expecting this to have regular story beats. My nitpicks do involve elements of the subgenre though. Footage like this are prone to overreading. It’s also understandable to want Walinga to put herself within the film in some way, which is what I’m assuming the people who installed these cameras are doing.
The nature footage in Self-Portrait also gives way to a third of many possible interpretations. Maybe someone walks in and poaches one of the animals living in nature or illegally cuts a tree. Or maybe those cameras are there for when one of those animals walk by. This still falls under interpreting this as ownership, as a way of checking on the land that whoever owns. But there’s something sweet about this footage, surprisingly, existing as a way of checking in if every thing and creature in that land is doing ok. It feels like a cop thing to say but oh well.
Watch Self-Portrait on Mubi.