'Stories the City Tells Itself:' Inside Neil Goldberg’s Video Study of New York
Stories the City Tells Itself: The Video Art and Photography of Neil Goldberg is the first exhibition of contemporary video art at the Museum of the City of New York in Manhattan. The exhibition combines traditional prints with video, all based on candid images of people doing ordinary things in New York, such as getting out of the subway or missing the train. Goldberg integrates video, photographs and somewhat painterly blow-ups of video frames into a unique mixed-media experience. The exhibition, which has been widely praised by art critics, runs through June 19.
Still from the video Wind Tunnel
(single-channel video installation, 2012, 40 min., silent)
Did you start shooting stills and get into video, or was it the other way around?
Neil Goldberg: I started with photography late in elementary school. My dad was a chemist and he’d built a darkroom for my older brother. When my brother died, I started using all that equipment to develop my own pictures. I started out very interested in the mechanics of traditional photography—shooting and printing. I loved rolling my film into the canister.
When did you start working in video?
In 1993 I did a short film called “She’s A Talker.” I borrowed a friend’s mom’s VHS camcorder with an onboard mic and went to 85 gay men in all five boroughs of New York and asked them to comb their cat’s fur while saying, “She’s a talker.” It was a transformative moment for me because it was something I couldn’t have done with a photograph. I felt freed to capture moments that happen over a period of time.
What video formats are in this show?
(series of five giclée prints, 2012)
I use video that I’ve shot over 20 years, from VHS and Hi8 to some DV and two newer pieces in HD that I shot with a Canon 7D. I never loved DV, but I loved Hi8 and that kind of crappiness it could have...crappiness that didn’t look “digital.” I went with the flow, though, and shot a lot of DV. Now, with cameras like the 7D, I can shoot HD. I do love HD, but, like any love affair, it isn’t perfect. I don’t like the 16:9 frame and I think HD is too vivid.
How do you mean “too vivid?”
I think that [HD video] is so pervasive today that people relate to it like they would to their own home videos or what they see on the Internet all the time. I’ve found that for certain material, in order for it to be perceived the way I intend it to be, I have to create some kind of remove from what people understand video to be. I’ll do that by slowing it down and positioning the camera in places people aren’t expecting.
What tools do you use to do that kind of work?
I use Apple Final Cut—not X, an older version—to do most of my editing and the few effects I use. I also do a little in [Apple] Motion and [Adobe] After Effects, but my work has never been very heavy in effects.
This is the first exhibit of its kind at the Museum of the City of New York. Do you see the art world taking video more seriously now than when you started shooting video?
Video art is definitely being integrated more into museum programming than it was then, in the mid-’90s. Back then people didn’t know what to do with it. Do we show it in our movie theater? Does it need to be in a special video art gallery? I’m not really a historian of this so it’s hard for me to say exactly when it happened, but we are in a place now where you see many more museums presenting a seamless integration of video with other arts, whether it’s still photography or sculpture or painting.