Thread: How do you photograph anxiety?

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  1. #1 How do you photograph anxiety? 
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    If we're talking about anxiety, what would you think would be the best subject without actually using the obvious (eg. worried person)? Let's say an object or something not dull or negative?
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  2. #2  
    Senior Member Mark A. Jaeger's Avatar
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    Isn't anxiety an emotion that can only be felt by the anxious individual but may be discerned by a sensitive person from the anxious persons mannerisms. Someone else can empathize. Anxiety can also come or go based upon action/situational change/comforting words, etc.

    IMO: I don't think there is an object that communicates anxiety any more than there is one for fear or other emotions. Anxiety is a perception - a fear about the past, present or future.
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  3. #3  
    Senior Member Dominik Muench's Avatar
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    Id guess its something that would heavily rely on a certain style of editing. Maybe talk to a few people and see how anxiety manifests for them and then see how you can convey that through the edit and shot style.
    Fast paced, disorienting, overwhelming, claustrophobic, off balanced shots, shaky handheld camera.
    Dr. Dominik Münch D.O.C.A
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  4. #4  
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    I have yet to be on a film set that doesn't have anxiety.

    When we're in final color sessions, my usual question on a scene is not "what color do you want" or "how bright should this be?" I ask, "how should we feel when we see this?" If it's anxiety, my inclination would be higher contrast, colder, less saturation... the opposite of "happy and upbeat." I'd try to give the director and DP a few options for different looks, but that's the usual color choice.

    Of course, the lighting decisions on set inform what we do with color and brightness.
    marc wielage, csi • colorist/post consultant • daVinci Resolve Certified Trainer
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  5. #5  
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    With great trepidation. Seriously though, my possibly faulty recall of scenes demonstrating anxiety open with some physical result of that anxious state if the person is not immediately revealed as a bundle of shivering neuroses. Those opening cues seem to always fall away in a pan, tilt, focus pull or dissolve to view the affected person for a dwelling period, then an intervention or an action change occurs.

    The environment in which the person is revealed is also a cue, alone in a bar, alone in a car, travelling alone among disinterested other travellers on public transport after a prior confronting event.

    There may be a close up of a cigarette in an ashtray then a follow of the cigarette up to the person's face. Likewise for a glass of alcohol.

    There might be a close-up of minor damage from scratched surfaces, like fingernails on a surface, scrunched notepaper, chewed down fingernail, an object drops due to stress and then the person has an over-the-top reaction to a small catastrophe.

    There may be a third-party reaction as the opener, like the young child staring at the silent emotional mess mom or dad have become or the best friend across teh table about to make the "okay, tell me" demand.

    The person may be hyperactively burning off the adrenalin or the depression with heavy-duty activity like running to exhaustion, or ripping skids in a powerful car or driving to an almost suicidal end then holding just short of disaster.

    While there may be collateral physical effects occurring, it always seems to come back to the person affected as it must, unless the story ends there.

    Over time I have been impressed with how innovative, writers, directors and actors have become in depicting the silent stoic. There has to be a lot of reliance upon an audience's own life experiences and not all will get it.
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  6. #6  
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    As far as film form, I'd think about creating tension as a device to speak to anxiety. In a time-based medium, this might be expressed as suspense. E.g. we see the flame, bubbles begin to form, become more rapid...will the unattended pot of water boil over? The water doesn't have feelings, but can be a visual metaphor for anxiety.

    In a still image, you might draw on a variety of compositional techniques that create visual tension-- some of the above suggestions speak to this.

    As far as actual non-human objects that inherently convey anxiety, context (both story and cultural) is pretty important in determining what kind of reaction a viewer has. But certain things do tend to trigger an anxious reaction in many people-- a syringe, venomous insects, blood spatters, etc.
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