Account Project Description
In Account, two looped, adjacent projections—a 16mm color film and a black-and-white video—play in perfect synchrony. Both projections show the same events simultaneously. The sites presented are emblematic of phases in San Francisco’s social and economic development: an industrialized area near Islais Creek, the interior of San Francisco City Hall, and an outsized corporate campus called Pacific Shores Center. Each site is shown by way of slow pans and tilts, punctuated by long pauses between movements, and concludes with the camera abruptly vaulting into the space it was previously depicting.
The film and video accounts share identical camera movements and framing, yet the two representations are radically different: while the film was shot in the manner of actualités, the video is an exacting—if abstracted—computer simulation of the same nominal subjects.
While the camera movements were planned in advance, the action within the films was not scripted. At the appointed day for shooting, I arrived at each site and filmed what was there. Each vignette was shot in single takes with a 1930s-vintage spring-wound camera. There was no cast and no crew. The result is a straightforward record, but one rich with incidental, ephemeral detail.
Upon completing the films, I meticulously reconstructed each site as a three-dimensional computer model, using software and techniques common in the special effects and computer-aided design industries. I began by returning to each site and studying it closely. Objects were sketched, measured, and photographed from multiple viewpoints. (The resulting archive grew to include hundreds of pages of notes and thousands of photographs.) In addition to these traditional means of study, I built several custom instruments to measure specific features, including an apparatus to survey the topography of Islais’ bank and a device to measure details on the inaccessible inner dome of City Hall. United States Geological Survey data was used to locate buildings within the landscape. Reference material in hand, I proceeded to model each object within the simulated space of the computer software, where volumes are described as mathematical surfaces resembling hollow shells. My goal was not to make the simulation as real as possible, but to elicit an uncanny sense of ‘sameness’ between two fundamentally different representations. Accordingly, some objects at the original locations were not included in the reconstruction, and those objects included were modified and simplified to varying degrees, following unique rules developed for each site. A uniform, light-gray surface was then assigned to everything in the environment. Finally, artificial lighting was introduced and the appearance of each environment calculated from the vantage point of a simulated camera. As the computer simulation was also done without the aid of specialists or assistants, Account took nearly five years to complete.