A Portrait Landscape
By ESTO - Gene Stroman and Daniel Dominguez
Home lives in that which is invisible.
Home is not an object, but a set of patterns greater than one individual,
existing in the space between people.
Home's patterns cannot be understood or controlled completely, only valued.
Home structures these patterns to create a space where each individual exists equally.
The force binding this is love.
Home's structure provides meaning to each individual's existence, deepening with time and effort.
Home can evolve in structure, range in scale and transcend all boundaries as well as time, itself.
Home's manifestations in what is visible are reflections of an attachment to a transcendent feeling.
Home is the highest quality we have.
Two Homes comes from two friends who spent the past three years in what would be called a home, then moving to form new ones 2,802 miles apart. This collaboration, a notion of home in itself, was carried out the first few months after moving into our respective neighborhoods of the Richmond District in San Francisco and Dupont Circle in Washington DC. Undertaking the project during this period of unfamiliarity allowed us to both witness and record our surroundings; to see our neighborhoods through fresh eyes, before our gaze was clouded with the preconceptions one naturally acquires for a place over time.
It was an opportune time to make a film about home. The seasons were changing and our old routines were being uprooted from under us. Moving into new places, getting married, finishing school and reassessing careers all seemed to shatter our conceptions of home, so much so, that it became clear that what remained were the pieces that made it up. We thought, what better way to capture this than to point a camera at these pieces and write down some of our most inner thoughts. What resulted is a superimposition of internal and external worlds; an attempt to explore how we impart meaning onto the visible landscape around us.
In our discussions before filming, we asked ourselves: What features do we latch onto when we’re new to a place? What makes us gravitate towards them? Curious to explore these questions, we each set out to film ten landscape compositions. Sometimes, the shots were emblematic of a tourist’s perception of a well-photographed city. But more often, the images leaned more idiosyncratic and personalized; an abandoned piece of furniture on the sidewalk, a vacant street park, etc. We noticed that we gravitated to these images not because we had connections with the place they conveyed, but because they presented common objects and/or scenes to which we could project our memories and other aspects of our identities onto.
After filming our neighborhoods, we began noticing connections forming between the elements we perceived as meaningful in our environments, whether it be the park full of dogs or the facade of a bookstore. The images we had captured were, in fact, reflections of our own mental states. And the mood or content of the images were similar to each other because we had both been undergoing a period of change. Eventually, we understood that these landscape compositions were both observational city scenes and also self-portraits, filmic snapshots of our psychological or emotional state as illuminated by the environment. Subsequently, the project evolved to encompass a more personal, diaristic approach in which the narrative we subconsciously felt from the city could be explicitly paired with the images we captured.
The film came to be composed of two representational methods, the long take static shot and narrative writing. The static shot, which fixes the camera on a single view, is like a painting or photograph, in that it captures a space for the eye to wander and apply its own values. And since much of the world, itself, is unmoving, to film it without cuts or motion is to experience it like one would experience the stillness of a painting, but over time. In this way, what is captured is the experience of looking at both fixed objects and the subtle articulations of change that take place over time, ultimately what forms a sense of place. Plus, narrative writing – the process of filtering experience to craft meaning – allowed us to intuitively write down that which we felt needed to be said. This came from a desire to string together a storyline from the raw moments of our lives; to make order from chaos.
Superimposing these two forms of representation, film and writing, yielded a sort of self-portrait of man and landscape. The outcome being analogous of the portrait landscapes of painter Henri Rousseau which show a giant person towering over a whimsical landscape and are painted in the romantically earnest way in which he viewed his world. Though, our film (and film as a medium) moves more towards realism as opposed to Rousseau's romanticism. This sensibility – to understand and respect the world as it is being seen – proved to be an important crux of our inception. For what we looked at did not have any ideas external from itself. As our gaze fell upon the soft rippled cloth against the window and the slightly worn red car parked just outside, we saw just that. All of this, with time, would become a manifestation of that transcendent feeling of home.
The process of creating Two Homes allowed us to explore themes of perception, identity, and time. Kevin Lynch writes, “we are all engaged in identifying the features that surround us, organizing them into images, and connecting those images to the other meanings we carry in our heads.” Our process – trying to make sense of our environments - distilling it into images, and assigning meaning – mimicked this natural inclination of people to acclimate to a place. By representing the process, the project provided us with a truer understanding of our new surroundings and a more nuanced awareness for the ways in which we relate the internal with the external world. Through an open exploration of what constitutes a neighborhood’s sense of place, we found enduring notions of home. So, have a look at our film. Then, we ask you to have a look at your room, your neighborhood, and your world.
In a world where meaning and purpose are so readily defined for us, it becomes paramount that each of us crafts narratives from our own lived experience. ESTO repeatedly asks, “How is meaning imbued in our environments? For whom and for what purpose?”. A collaboration between Daniel Dominguez and Gene Stroman, the collective experiments with a variety of mediums and lines of discourse to examine themes of memory, dreams, identity, perception, the ephemeral, the accidental, the incomplete, the vulnerable and the ambiguous in today’s urban landscape.