The Early Video Project



Early Video Books

Many of the early books were anthologies of writings by artists and critics conscious of video's new and unsettled place in the arts, but also aware of the critical opportunity that video art presented. They were meant for an audience familiar with contemporary art history and comfortable with avant-garde ideas. During the eighties, some video writing became more critical of a fine art historical context for video art and more concerned with video art's impact on the broader media culture.


Gene Youngblood. Expanded Cinema. New York: E.P.Dutton & Co., 1970.

An excellent and unique book by a single author. It discusses both film and video art from a Fullerian perspective of expanding technological change. Considering its early date it is perceptive and covers much early materiel well. It is still an important reference on pre-1970 computer-generated film and early American video art. A "must read" for the serious student. Youngblood deserves great credit, in my opinion, for such early recognition of the significance of his subject and its looming relevance. He also shares with Russell Connor the first use of the term 'video art' in print. Connor, who curated Vision and Television, a pioneer museum video art exhibition at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis in January of 1970, used the term in his catalog. Expanded Cinema came out shortly after. Before that, not even the artists knew what to call it.


Michael Shamberg and the Raindance Foundation. Guerrilla Television. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.

Not so much about video art per se as about the countercultural video phenomenon. However, a portion of today's video art had its origins in the countercultural world of those years. Guerrilla Television was scary reading to the establishment art world of the early seventies, which was willing to entertain the idea of a video art only under quite restricted circumstances, and shunned manifestations which did not fall within them. It may have given broadcasters food for thought as well.

Written by Shamberg, it nevertheless incorporates ideas from many people involved in early video, and offers a rich exposition of language and rhetoric particular to the time. Designed by the Ant Farm, a West Coast media group, it's photographs and images certainly capture some of the visual culture of the early video practitioners and offer some interesting visual information as well. Seeing Paul Ryan in monastic habit is worth the price of the entire book.


Frank Gillette. Between Paradigms. New York: Gordon & Breach, An Interface Book, 1973.

Between Paradigms (wonderful apt title) was unusual in several ways. Written by a video artist who was a founder of Raindance, it is not strictly about video, though video images and drawings from his work are included. Instead, the book is a collection of 100 paragraphs, each titled, which are essentially comments and annotations by Gillette on paragraphs and aphorisms (also included) by authors such as Buckminister Fuller, Gregory Bateson, Warren McCulloch, John Dewey, James Joyce, Willard Van Orman Quine, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mircea Eliade, Georges Bataille, T.A. Adorno, and many others.

The main theme is that we are about to enter a new cultural and intellectual paradigm (Thomas Kuhn). The precepts of the old paradigm - which Gillette calls 'amythic' - if continued, lead to a continuation of undesireable past conditions. The condition of being between paradigms is full of both danger and opportunity. A new way of thinking, which Gillette explores, must evolve if we are to initiate substantial and necessary change.

Gillette tries on the philosopher's robe from time to time and, with alterations as to length, it can be made to fit. The book is demanding, requiring patience and concentration, but there are rewards. Gillette writes in a very latinate style, sometimes, and intentionally, humorously so.


Paul Ryan. Birth And Death And Cybernation: Cybernetics of the Sacred. New York: Gordon & Breach, An Interface Book, 1973.

In my opinion a very rich book, though not slick by any means. It consists of a number of essays written from 1969 to 1972. Ryan was, at that time, the only person writing in some depth about every aspect of video he could think of, and he thought of everything. His essays draw upon his association with McLuhan at Fordham, his work with video and schoolchildren, the dynamics of using video as a tool for self understanding, the hard politics of using video to confront a capitalist establishment, the work of Warren McCulloch and triadicism in communications theory. His essay entitled "Toward an Information Economy" is startling given its early date.

Through it all is Ryan's fascination with the possibilities inherent in Cable TV. This is not as banal as it sounds. For Ryan, cable represented the major possibility of uncontrollable world-wide interactive communication of moving image and sound, a vision inspired by Teilhard's concept of the noösphere, often mentioned. At this time, of course, the personal computer was only a gleam in Steve Jobs' eye and the infant internet, unknown to most, was totally controlled by military and university science. Still, Ryan offered, in 1972, an altogether prescient vision of possibilities that we all face today.

Ryan also introduces the reader to René Thom's catastrophe theory, and discusses its relevance to his concerns. Ryan's essays are supported by contributions from Avery Johnson and Victor Gioscia. This is, at times, a very personal work, but what it lacks in formality it more than makes up for in resonance.


Ira Schneider and Beryl Korot, eds. Video Art: An Anthology. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Video Art: An Anthology sold 11,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. Seventy video artists (most of whom are still active in the media arts) were each given two pages to present information about their work in any form they chose. In addition, there were essays by Wulf Herzogenrath, Douglas Davis, John Hanhardt, David Ross, Willoughby Sharp, Peter Frank, David Antin, Frank Gillette, Davidson Gigliotti, among others. Schneider and Korot's democratic approach served them well. Mary Lucier and Ann Woodword also worked on the production and editing. A landmark book for several years, it is still a "must read." You will find some classic video articles in this book, but the best thing is the insight you will gain about how the artists themselves perceived their work and chose to present it.


Peggy Gale, ed. Video by Artists. Toronto: Art Metropole, 1976.

This is not a mainstream publication, but an ad hoc book; a type frequently seen in the early and mid-seventies. Video By Artists contains several articles (including ones by Dan Graham and Les Levine) and graphic output (photos, histories, resumes and documents) by Ant Farm, General Idea, Dan Graham, Lisa Steele, David Askevold, etc. It contains a useful bibliography of articles in periodicals. It is a Canadian publication, and it should be noted that video was a popular medium for artists in Canada. In fact, the story of the entire avant-garde in Canada in the early and mid-seventies and its impact on video is well worth a long careful look. Consider just the dynamic impact of Michael Snow's films on later video art, for example.


Jonathan Price. Video Visions: A Medium Discovers Itself. New York: New American Library, 1977.

Price interviewed many people involved in early video: broadcast people at WGBH and other PBS stations, numerous artists, and others. He wrote at a high level of enthusiasm and, being an outsider to the video community, arrived at some interesting insights about the differences between types of video art, and their potential impact on media culture. He did get a number of facts wrong. Price was not an art critic; his responses to what he saw were based on direct observation and his personal interpretation of them. Video Visions was not directed at a specialist audience and went into several editions.


Gregory Battcock, ed. New Artists Video: A Critical Anthology. New York: E.P.Dutton,1978.

New Artists Video was one of the best of the pure anthologies; Battcock was a pro at what he did. He was highly respected in New York's avant-garde world and had access to everyone. Some of the articles are reprints, but eleven of them were previously unpublished. Writers included Douglas Davis, Richard Kostelanetz, Richard Lorber, David Ross, Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman, Robert Stefanotty, Les Levine, Rosalind Kraus, Stuart Marshall, Ingrid Wiegand, and others.



John Hanhardt, ed. Video Culture: A Critical Investigation. Layton, Utah: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., Peregrine Smith Books; and Rochester, New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1986.

Hanhardt, now Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts at the Guggenheim, was the Curator of Film and Video at the Whitney Museum of American Art when this book was published. Video Culture , which includes material he developed as a reading list for his students at Wesleyan, is a fine sourcebook of critical writing necessary to an understanding of the cultural importance of video, and media in general.

Included are essays by Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, Jean Baudrillard. Video art is specifically discussed in essays by David Antin, David Ross, Rosalind Krauss, and Nam June Paik. The relationship between video, film and contemporary media culture is explicated by Gene Youngbood (author of Expanded Cinema), Jack Burnham, John Ellis, and Douglas Davis.


Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer, eds. Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art. New York: Aperture Press, 1991.

Illuminating Video is a fairly recent video art book. It contains thirty-nine essays, largely reflecting 1980s trends in art history and criticism. About half of the essays are by artists, the rest by writers who frequently contribute work on video art to publications such as Afterimage, Art-Rite and other media art periodicals.

Throughout, the assumptions of art are questioned on the bases of multi-culturalism, feminism, racism and other important positions, lending a certain theoretical density to the work. This quality had been characteristic of much video writing in the previous decade, tending to bring video and video art within the broad context of cultural studies.

By the time of Video Culture and Illuminating Video video was not, itself, an issue. Instead, the issue was what it meant and how it was to be perceived and understood.


Some very early video "how-to's"; an historical perspective.

I thought I would introduce to you some notable video "how-to's" that were published in the early seventies, when small-format video was still a reel-to-reel assumption. Don't be fooled, these are not dry-as-dust technical manuals. There is much in them that suggests a certain attitude of mind about video and its proper uses.


Grayson Mattingly & Welby Smith. Introducing The Single Camera VTR System: A Layman's Guide to Videotape Recording. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, Inc., 1971,1973.

The first attempt, and not a bad one. The first edition of this book was developed around the absolute first generation of "consumer" video equipment, Sony and Panasonic units which had two mutually incompatible systems (of course!). They were alike, however, in their propensity to break down if you stared at them too long. Mattingly and Smith inaugurated what became a tradition of using cartoon-like graphics to illustrate the technical principles of video. Grayson Mattingly, by the way, introduced Parry Teasdale, later of the Videofreex, to video.


The Videofreex. The Spaghetti City Video Manual. New York: Praeger, 1973.

The text was by Parry Teasdale, the often wonderful cartoon illustrations by Ann Woodward. Other Videofreex contributed; I took all three photos, for example, and Chuck Kennedy, who was the Videofreex fount of technical wisdom, certainly had a hand in it. This book was largely addressed to a college age audience with minimal technical background. The equipment referred to was the Sony Videorover AV-3600, the common type of video tape recorder/camera combination then in use.

It was humorous, reasonably well-organized and Teasdale and Woodward had a fine knack for explaining technical matters to non-technical minds. This book sold nearly 18,000 copies in the United States, and was translated into Dutch and French. It was very popular in Europe, and a pirate translation was published in Germany.


Ken Marsh. Independent Video: A Complete Guide to the Physics, Operation, and Application of the New Television for the Student, the Artist and for Community TV. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1974.

This book was entirely technical but, again, written so that a non-technical person could, with persistence, grasp it. One could become a quite good practical video operations engineer by absorbing the material in this book. It was distributed by Simon and Schuster. I am unable to say how many copies were distributed, but I remember that it was very popular among technically-minded video people.



Cy Griffin, ed. Video Tools. New York: CTL Electronics, Inc., 1972.
Video Tools 2. Paula Jaffe and Bill Narum, eds., New York: CTL Electronics, Inc., 1973.

CTL Electronics (still in existence, Nam June Paik shops there sometimes) was a supplier of major importance to small format video users in New York in the late sixties and seventies. The boss, Chi Tien Lui, was accessible and was very good at adapting video equipment to uses that only an artist would think of. He took an lively interest in what his customers were doing and really should be seen as an integral part of New York's early video community.

A large and interesting group of people coalesced around him, helping to create a studio and editing facility (known as The Eggstore) and these large (11" x 14") publications. Lui, at the technical heart of New York's early video community, was a little ahead of his time. As a result, his fortunes repeatedly waxed and waned. Video Tools was certainly modeled on the Whole Earth Catalog to some extent, and it contained an enormous variety, not to say hodge-podge, of historical, technical, production, and post-production information as well as prices, current trends in hardware, etc. It was a wonderful browse. This format was popular in the early seventies; a sort of oversized one or two-issue-only ad hoc magazine.

Cy Griffin was, himself, an interesting video character. He became associated with AIM, the American Indian Movement, made many tapes with Native American activists, and was present with camera at the FBI siege at Wounded Knee. When the FBI moved in, Griffin quickly buried the videotapes, hoping to preserve the evidence. Sadly, he was never able to find them again.


Michael Murray. The Videotape Book: A Basic Guide to Portable TV Production. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1974.

Clearly aimed at those using video as a tool for social change, there were no cartoon illustrations here; good socially illuminating photographs only. Murray learned video from John Reilly, founder of Global Village and teacher of hundreds of video documentarians. The emphasis is on production techniques, though some theory is encountered.


Barry Ancona, ed. The Video Handbook. New York: Media Horizons, Inc., 1974.

This book was for people seeking careers or already working in broadcast television. The chapters were written by professionals working in the field; the whole effort directed largely toward studio production. Ancona was the publisher of Videography Magazine where his father, Victor Ancona, wrote a column of often quite fierce video art criticism.

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© Davidson Gigliotti, 2000CE