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Artist Interview: Bryn Corbett

In the mid 1960’s, Andy Warhol filmed portraits of hundreds of people, including friends, writers, artists, and people that came into his studio. These later became known as his Screen Tests. Utilizing similar ideas, Staring Down Andy is a project that Phoenix artist, Bryn Corbett has been working on for the last few months. Bryn’s work does not copy Andy Warhol’s portraits, but he uses high speed digital video equipment to capture the subject in an immediate way, then slows them down to capture small movements in a new way.

I had been seeing his video portraits from the project on youtube, and via some of my artist friends. So, Lisa Marie Sipe (of Culture Seen) and I decided to go check it out and “pose” for him. His “subjects” sit in front of a video camera and are filmed for two minutes. As I sat still, those two minutes seemed like an eternity. For me, it was very hot under the lights, and I happened to be wearing new contact lenses. My eyes welled up through the whole two minutes, and I was pretty miserable.

In the final versions, my portrait the video was slowed down about five percent, while Lisa’s was slowed down a little more, and the results were interesting, and sometimes revealing. In the videos that I have seen, some people laughed, while others sat perfectly still. And some were quite emotional. In the spring, he will be showing some of his work, so Culture Seen will tell you when to see these intriguing videos.

Culture Seen: What was your inspiration for this video project?

Bryn Corbett: I think a common theme (in my work) is my use of tools (lenses, microphones, software) to take something that is ostensibly normal, move it out of a familiar context to a new and different one… and then see what happens. So, the idea of taking something as fundamentally personal and individual, yet universal as a person’s face and applying this broad principle – the context shift – seemed like an interesting avenue to explore.

I guess I have always had an interest in how sound and images can be manipulated in time and space…speed up, slow down, zoom in, zoom out. Movies like Koyaanisqatsi and other time lapse footage are fascinating to me. Have you ever seen the movie The Conversation? The ideas in that movie (using technology to distort how we can perceive things) are equally fascinating from an audio perspective. I also like the early recordings of Scanner and these are interesting to me for similar reasons.

How do you see the subject’s perspective?

The conventions and accepted rules associated with having a ‘snap-shot’ taken are changed to some degree. The challenge for the subject becomes, ‘what do I do now that I have posed, and smiled… its usually over in a split second and my image is captured’. For the sitter, (I think) when we get past the first 10 -15 seconds, a level of comfort or discomfort sets in. Some people remain motionless and stoic, some people become mildly agitated and very animated, while some people use it as an opportunity to perform for the camera, and some people meditate…all these different responses happen in two minutes, from different people.

And, what is your perspective of the subject?

I try to give as much information as I can about the format of the sitting, but I deliberately try not to give specific direction. I like people to feel comfortable and safe and encourage them to do whatever feels right for them. There is also always the option to stop at any time during the process if discomfort sets in. It may be interesting to do a couple more events like this but with a different emphasis where I either give some kind of explicit direction at certain points during the filming process, or do something specific or unexpected to make the subjects react.

I have noticed that some people try to interact with me during the portrait sittings, (one person asked if I would interrogate him and try to make him lie). However, I always try bring it back to the notion that they (the sitter) should be interacting with the lens in front of them… just them and the camera.

I really am superfluous during those 2 minutes.

What is your post production and processing of the film experience?

This is the tedious part. Some questions I consider during this part of the process are; What are my choices? How long do I let the finished portraits run for? How much ‘slo-mo’ do I apply?  For some of the portraits, I have stretched the initial 2 minutes out to over 3 hrs. Others last for 5-10 minutes. Some are slowed down to 1% of their original speed, some run a bit faster at 5% of the original speed but this is still extremely slow motion. The thing that keeps me interested during this tedious part of the process is when I see the slow, graceful movements of the head/eyes/mouth/hands in some of the portraits, almost as if there is some choreography going on there. The software renders can take hours per portrait depending upon the level of processing. Thank God for fast computers (because even on fast computers, all of this is still a slow process).

What are your future plans for these portraits.

The portraits will be displayed at Practical Art, a gallery, located in Phoenix for the whole month of March. The idea is for these living portraits to be shown on multiple computer monitors – all being played simultaneously on continuous loops. The monitors will be mounted on the wall and will look like picture frames. To the casual observer the pictures will look like a collection still photographs. However, all of the pictures will be moving at various slow motion speeds – the facial expressions, head movements, smiles, frowns of each person will be constantly and in some case imperceptibly changing. In fact the whole wall of images will constantly be evolving so there will never be the same combination of images doing the same things at the same time more than once. After this I would like to see if there is any interest in showing either the same images, or a new collection  in different locations, either locally or further afield.

I’ve read that you were not inspired by Andy Warhol when you started the project. Is that true? 

This is true. When I started kicking the idea around of doing this project – peoples faces, portraits, black and white, slow motion, I wasn’t consciously aware of the Andy Warhol connection, although I do think I had seen a number of the screen tests. My interest was more along exploring the possibilities of what might happen with the slow motion rendering. Warhol came to light in the course of discussions I had with a few people after I had started. It seemed appropriate to weave him in in some way – hence theStaring Down Andy’ theme. So while there are obvious similarities, there are also crucial differences to what I do. I think the Andy Warhol connection has given a useful reference point to many people, and may have been a reason why some people chose to become subjects.


Are there are any artists, besides Andy Warhol that might be an inspiration for your work? 

I would say my biggest and most consistent influence in the way I approach art (as a listener, viewer, creator) is Brian Eno and his theoretical/systems approach to a lot of the work he has done.

What are you thinking about now?

How unseasonably and refreshingly cold it is here in Phoenix at the moment.

What will we see from you next?

I am always looking for new faces to film for additional portraits and I am always looking for new voices to capture or snippets of conversations that I can steal to put into audio tracks I make. I will continue working on music (writing/producing/recording) and, am currently trying to pull together a collection of songs for a CD project called In Transition which will potentially pull in collaborators from all over the world thanks to the magic of the internet. In addition, I would like to experiment more with time lapse and maybe even stop frame animation (perhaps using humans as the puppets if I can find anyone who will allow me to ‘animate’ them).

Contact Bryn




  1. Bryn Corbett (Reply) on Friday 23, 2011

    the videos are up on the wall in the gallery – reception Friday night (9th March) at practical art

    please stop by and say hello if you can