Portapak world, encore une fois.

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

Wow, here I was thinking about early alternative video last week or so and now, a few of the surviving pioneers of early handheld television…the heroes of helical, the visionaries of vidicon tubes, have gone and put the preeminent journal of that technology in that time, Radical Software, up on the web in a near-flawless example of preservation, giving us searchable, downloadable riches. The wise communiards of the Videofreex and the Raindance folks, live again, in earnest black-and-white pixels…this time in PDF, not NTSC.

This publication (and no, ‘Software’ did not refer to computer programs in that far-distant context) was one of my textbooks, one of my guides during my Goddard days, and paging through the Letraset-ty, IBM Composer-typeset and typewriter-type pasteups seems to not only nurture my nostalgia centers, but get me to thinking more about Big Ideas in the realm of communications perched here comfortably into the 2000s.

The portable videotape camera-and-tape deck system, or “portapak,” has been called by some, the most revolutionary breakthrough in media since Gutenberg.

—Philip Lopate in “Aesthetics of the Portapak,” in volume 2 number 6. And he was just getting warmed up. I wonder how many times Gutenberg’s name has been invoked in the context of new communications technology, say, since Gutenberg?

There are some real surprises here, and I’m gonna have to plow systematically through here to glean all the cool stuff. (If you’re interested in the basic history, this page does a fine job of pulling that together.) Did you know that Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly was an early force in independent video as he tried to use the new medium to broaden and illuminate the older one? Mhm. Looking at pages packed with experiments-in-video-as-public-art (“walk through a room full of monitors showing scenes from around the world, and…”) …well, I wonder what they’d make of The Situation Room.

Wolf Blitzer ≠ Nam June Paik, in my estimation.

Boy, if the early Whole Earth Catalogs and Mother Earth Newses would be given this quality of online preservation (nicely-scanned PDFs with searchable, cut-and-pasteable texts), I would be in seventies heaven, and maybe some Ideas Worth Sharing would be given new lives.