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Kirsten Johnson's 'Cameraperson' is a cinematic scrapbook of joy and horror

"Camerperson" creator Kirsten Johnson working in the field
Lynsey Addario/Janus Films
Kirsten Johnson/Janus Films

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Kirsten Johnson is an award-winning documentary cinematographer who has shot an incredible range of subjects over the course of her 25-year career: survivors of a massacre, a newborn baby clinging to life, pugilists after a boxing match.

She has woven together footage from her many projects to create the visual memoir “Cameraperson.” The film puts viewers in a cinematographer's shoes as Johnson explores the ethical dilemmas she faces behind the camera.

Cameraperson trailer

​The Frame's John Horn sat down with Johnson to discuss "Cameraperson."

To hear the full conversation, click the play button at the top of the page.

Interview Highlights

On the vision behind "Cameraperson":

Over time, I ended up reaching out to dozens of directors and pulling together this set of footage that was really the moments that had marked me the most, and I wanted to put them together in a way that would put the audience in the position that I am often in.

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson at a shoot.
Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson at a shoot.
Majlinda Hoxha/Janus Films

On filming people in crisis:

The intention is, obviously, we're trying to show a place where people are working to make change, but there's a great naiveté in many ways to me being there. I'm there as a skilled cameraperson. I'm not there as a medical professional. And movies make us want to have happy endings. There's a way in which I felt like, if I kept filming, it would turn out all right... It didn't.

Award-winning documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson
Award-winning documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson

On the relationship between filmmaker and subject:

It's always shifting because a person who is being filmed finds themselves revealing things they didn't expect to reveal. And then you as a cameraperson are in this very particular dance with them of, do we continue to cross this line? Do we go further? Do you pull me back from the line? And that dance is very active... This is what "Cameraperson" is for me — it's a revelation of the ways in which I transgress the boundaries.

On working through language barriers:

One of the things that I treasure about being a cameraperson is how much you can see in other people even when you can't understand the language that they're speaking in. And it is often the case that I am working in places where I don't understand the language, and later things are translated to me. But it is my job in the moment to look for the clues to who someone is.

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