"Photographing Dead Man"
by Christopher Porter

From Projections : a forum for film-makers 7 (edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue), 264-270.



There is a saddled horse standing down by the river. Its owner, shot dead, lies under the horse's belly. A rifle can be seen sticking out from under the blanket that is tied to the mare's back. In the distance, a large Indian man floats down the river in a stolen canoe; a wounded man is curled up in the bow. Everything in the frame is from the late nineteenth century. If the camera pans a few inches to the left, it catches a chrome-plated tripod holding a huge reflector. A few inches to the right and we can see a woman in nylon hiking boots.

Nobody, played by Gary Farmer, was to wear a photograph of himslef mounted in a small frame as a sort of amulet. In the story that Jim Jarmusch wrote for Dead Man, this photograph was taken when Nobody had been brought to Europe and displayed as an example of a Native American.

Since the stills photographer had not yet arrived, but Gary's intricate costume needed to be finished and sized, I was asked if i would shoot the photo (I was the gaffer on the film, and had arrived several weeks early to help the cinematographer, Robby Müller, do stock and lighting tests for the film.) So I looked at turn-of-the-century photographs of Native Americans to give me an idea of how this amulet should look. Oftentimes in the pictures I saw, the entire backdrop and well beyond was left visible, the actual subjects filling only a portion of the frame. There seemed to be a sort of honesty in leaving so much bared, as though the process itself was not the most important aspect of the photographs, and it gave me an idea. Demetra McBride [the producer], Jim and Robby agreed to let me shoot photographs of my own while I worked on the film as the gaffer.

The 'machine' that creates the depiction or illuson for the world of a movie tries to disappear behind its product. We don't want to leave in anything that might jar the audience's belief in this contrived world. In the photographs following, I hoped that the collision of these two environments - the real and the fictional - would create a sort of third environment. One that was absurd and perhaps - at the time - amusing, but also one that revealed parts of the film-making process that are normally left unseen. In the frame we can see a Native American from the late 1800s. He is dressed in skins, leather boots and a wild-feathered head-dress. An old tintype hangs from his belt. He is standing alone in a huge damp forest . . . but he is holding a shiny plastic umbrella.

With the tests and location surveys completed, I set out on my third Jim Jarmusch-Robby Müller film. As before, I was in charge of the lighting crew, but this time I had a still camera permanently slung over my shoulder.

Forwarded by Mike Carmona




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