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.
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,
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Cy Griffin, ed. Video Tools. New York: CTL Electronics,
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
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
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
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.
Return to top of page
Submit comments on this page to:email@example.com
© Davidson Gigliotti, 2000CE