“birth, sex, death, and the search for God,” he has turned his camera on explicit lovemaking, childbirth, even autopsy. Many of his most famous works pursue the nature of vision itself and transcend the act of filming. Some, including the legendary Mothlight,were made without using a camera at all, as he pioneered the art of making images directly on film, by drawing, painting, and scratching.
This best known and most influential of all “experimental” or “avant-garde”
filmmakers took light as his great subject, and his interest in light itself was
tied to his interest in recovering that which he acknowledged no adult could
ever recover, the pre-linguistic seeing of children (“How many colors are there
in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of ‘Green’?” he famously
asked), an interest which transmuted itself into a desire to free objects and
light from structures based on language.
Brakhage’s films vibrate between a series of opposing poles that are never
quite as opposite as they seem at first. Chief among them is the two senses that
light and objects have in his films. We see things for their recognizable and
namable forms — that is a pregnant woman in Window Water Baby
Moving — and also, even in this most documentary of Brakhage films, as a
play of light and shape, for example his poetic stress on the way light is
refracted through water droplets on the woman’s belly. Part of Brakhage’s goal
is to enrich viewers’ seeing of things in the ordinary world, to help each
viewer uncover unique and imaginative ways of seeing.