Nelson Sullivan is most well known for his unique documentation of NYC life in during the 1980’s His camera caught many fascinating, over the top personalities and his footage is still being viewed three decades later. Here is some of what Nelson, himself had to say about his filming technique, his influences and his thoughts on the state of the world and the future.
During a visit that he had with Christina at the Chelsea hotel in the late 80’s, Nelson had his own camera turned on him for an impromptu interview with Lynn. “I’d like to do an interview.. especially about the work that you’ve already done.” as she focuses the lens on Sullivan. Nelson reply’s “I did so much work, I mean I’ve done so much I’ve forgotten it… and then when I see it, it reminds me of all the things I’ve forgotten. There is so much more that we forget than we remember.” Lynn asks “Dose this have anything to do with (the movie) 2001?” referring to the fish eye lens. “It looks the same doesn’t it?” Sullivan’s face lights up at the mention of the film. “I think that fish eye is a lot like Hal in 2001. I think I may have been very influenced by that film because when I went to see it the last time, I had done some magic mushrooms and I realised how many thousands of times I had done magic mushrooms and seen that film before. Every frame seemed like something I’d seen.. a thousand times before.”
Lynn asks “What do you think was the most important thing about that film?” Sullivan responds “Hal’s fish eye lens.. because it’s so distorted that it’s obviously not reality but it’s something from which you can reconstruct reality, so you realize you are looking at pure information and not the real thing. I think it’s interesting. It’s an interesting concept because it’s obviously not reality which you’re seeing but you are seeing something from which you reconstruct your own idea of what that reality was. Sullivan goes on to say “In a fish eye lens you get so much more information, even though it’s distorted and doesn’t fit together the way it does when your really looking at it.. you get so much more of a big picture. That’s why I like it.”
Nelson gives an example of how he can get into a cab and get three people into the shot with the fish eye lens, which would be impossible with a regular lens. Lynn interjects that it’s doesn’t really have the same feeling as you would get with a regular lens. “It’s not necessarily the image that I want but it’s the image that gives me the most information.. It’s the best one for the job for sure.”
Lynn inquires”What kinds of things are you striving for in you work? In your video? Sullivan reply’s “I’m attempting to bend reality, to effect things even as they happen to me.. record them. I’m not completely passive, I’m an active passive variety of person.” Lynn comments “You seem in a sense that your still seeking.. exactly what you want to do” “Yeah I am” Sullivan responded “I am still seeking, It’s coming to me what I’m doing. I’ve always known that I’m doing something that’s really strange. It’s something that’s so simple yet it’s so obvious that it’s been overlooked. I have a feeling that that’s the only thing that ever saves the human race, is that they overlook the most obvious realities. In fact we seem to all be running from the truth, from the minute that we’re born and we’re blinded from obvious simple truth.” Sullivan continues “And I’ve always felt like if.. I’m lucky that truth will come to me and I’ll arrive at it if I’m lucky, you know? I feel like I’ve been blessed.. I really feel like.. some simple things are becoming apparent to me
“Isn’t it the fact that.. “Lynn asks “the recorded image, in a sense is.. very basic to the arts and also it can be a lot of fun and also can be very educational.” “And..” Sullivan replies “It’s a way to communicate.” Lynn says “Communicate ideas?” Nelson responds “A lot of ideas, everything. It’s a way to communicate ideas. A really direct sort of way to communicate ideas, depending how good the communicator, both parties are.”
Lynn tells Nelson “I’m interested in interviewing you because you seem like you have a lot of valuable material on video and even the sense to have filmed the work.” to which Sullivan reply’s ” I have all kinds of good plans for my video show.” Lynn then asks “Well what’s going to make people interested in watching your show?”. “The degree of colour on my show,” Sullivan responds “the degree of mobility, fluidity, colour and linear experience that you can’t experience anywhere on t.v., done with my technique. A film crew can’t do what I do, they’re not flexible enough.
At this point Lynn initiates some kind of rapid fire round in the questioning ” What do you think about the world now, the oil slick, Bush, diseases, the homeless?”. Sullivan groans ” I think terrible times are coming but I think the word is about to grow up and it’s about time. The world is about to be transformed by a new awareness that it can’t escape anymore and that the closer we come to the brink of disaster the more we have to acknowledge that we should be ashamed of ourselves.. for not taking better care of ourselves and our situation on this planet. The truth that we have to grow up fast is ever more undeniable every second that we live and survive on this planet, and that we are all rushing towards a transfiguration. Probably a catalyst will be in the year 2000, even though it’s an arbitrary calendar event, In a sense. It’s the thing that will bind everyone in the world together and make it hard for them to deny that we should really be on another plane all together (rather) than the one we’re on if we’re going to survive. We have to do that.”
If you would like to view the footage it can be found on YouTube “Nelson Sullivan discusses the reality of video in the Chelsea hotel”