I have a pet peeve when it comes to interviews for documentaries – subjects videoed while looking off-camera and speaking with an off-screen interviewer. Perhaps it comes from many years as an editorial portrait photographer where direct eye contact proved vital in creating magazine portrait photographs that seemed almost alive, springing off the page.
I evolved technical and behavioural methods to engage directly and deeply with my subjects despite often having little time with them. Speaking deliberately and quietly while going about my business was one of them – it helped create intimacy. Another was to use only sheet film cameras or Rolleiflex twin lens reflexes rather than single lens reflex cameras which, by their nature, feel dominating and intrusive on both sides of the lens.
My favourite portable sheet film camera was a handmade, wooden view camera with a long lens that I would place my eyes as closely to as possible when interacting with my subjects. The camera almost had a presence of its own that my Graflex didn’t quite match.
I often dreamed of having a device that would allow even closer interaction with my subjects by presenting an image of my face along the path of the lens that was making the photograph. I couldn’t find anyone to make such a device so I shelved the idea for the future if I moved to a place where I could find such a technician.
Meanwhile I discovered that documentary director Errol Morris had beat me to it with a rather more technical solution – the Interrotron. Today, while looking for web pages about the Interrotron to show an engineer friend I came across an example of another approach to the same problem, made by US cinematographer Steve McWilliams.
The device is named EyeDirect and it is a model of simplicity compared to Morris’ rather Heath Robinson solution. McWilliams is selling three versions of various sizes and portabilities. I like the EyeDirect Folding Mark E – FMKE for short.
The FMKE is specifically designed to guarantee eye contact from any subject while using a DSLR, C300/100 or prosumer camera. The adjustable base plate, glass mirrors, light-weight and small size, lets you work off a monopod or even handheld.
It is challenging enough making engaging portrait photographs and even more so doing in-depth interviews, but the availability of this device will make it so much easier to shoot long, engaging interviews now.
As documentarian and DSLR video pioneer Philip Bloom says of the EyeDirect, “Essential piece of kit for direct-to-camera interviews.”