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Further Investigations of Pixelvision, Nadja, Howlround and Ashley Blewer’s Delve Through the History of Video Formats

I’ve had a longstanding fascination with Pixelvision cameras since I first saw Michael Almereyda’s 1994 film Nadja, which is a noirish black and white arthouse take on the vampire genre (think left of centre 1990s American indie film along the lines of Hal Hartley’s work, with which it shares a number of central actors, with dashes of David Lynch, who both produced and appears in Nadja) which at times utilised Pixelvision cameras.

Pixelvision video cameras were curious things; as noted in Ashley Blewer’s The Illustrated Guide to Video Formats, they were released in the US in 1987 by toy company Fisher-Price, were only available for around a year and approximately 400,000 were made.

It was relatively expensive for a child’s toy, which it was marketed to, as it cost $179 USD (which was the equivalent of roughly $430 or £300 in 2021) and had a number of distinctive features which make them something of a curio: it produced a distinctive minimal very low resolution 120 x 90 pixel monochrome only video and recorded onto conventional audio cassettes. However, it’s price and the style of video it produced attracted artists, music videomakers, filmmakers etc, including the above mentioned Michael Almereyda and the cameras are now collector’s items with working models often fetching fairly high prices.

Ashley Blewer’s The Illustrated Guide to Video Formats is also something of a curio; it contains hand drawn illustrations of dozens of different video tape formats, related equipment etc and the book acts as an informative, playful, easily accessible curator of a wide range of them. And boy were there a lot over the years.

Apparently Blewer is working on a similar guide that focuses on audio formats, which I’m looking forward to seeing.

Older and sometimes obsolete media formats, particularly analogue ones, seem to have gained something of a romantic evocative appreciation and use over the years, with their characteristics often being  utilised in hauntology orientated work, where, as I wrote in A Year in the Country: Cathode Ray and Celluloid Hinterlands:

“The use and foregrounding of recording medium noise and imperfections, such as the crackle and hiss of vinyl, tape wobble and so on that calls attention to the decaying nature of older analogue mediums and which can be used to create a sense of time out of joint and edge memories of previous eras.”

All of which brings me to the photograph below, which is one of musician Robin The Fog’s live setups (aka Howlround), who extensively utilises analogue tape in his work; the photo makes me smile every time I see it and shows a notable dedication to his cause (!)

Links at A Year In The Country:


Links elsewhere:

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