Thursday, 2 August 2012

Stephen Dwoskin (1939-2012)

Steve Dwoskin was an extraordinarily talented film maker who died in London on the morning of 28th June 2012 from heart failure. He was 73.

There have been many tributes to him. This is a link to an obituary on the Lux website, an international arts agency for the support and promotion of artists’ moving image practice and the ideas that surround it:

I was privileged to meet and work with Steve in the '90s on one of his films, 'Face of Our Fear'. We resumed a correspondence in recent years, and in my most recent email to him (sent a week or so before he passed) I wrote that I hoped he was keeping life and limb together. Sadly, that was not the case. Although Steve used a wheelchair and had chronic health problems, he was extremely prolific as an artist. But I knew he had been in and out of hospital for some time and that at the end of his life, his health was steadily declining. Steve said how difficult it was to work in his condition but he had started to write his autobiography. His most recent film 'Age is...' premieres at The Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland on 9th August 2012.

This is an excerpt from the manuscript of my autobiography, 'Art Life and Everything', where I describe my experience of working on 'Face of Our Fear', one of Steve's documentaries:

"In 1992, I was invited to be part of a documentary called 'Face of Our Fear' that was shown on Channel Four as part of a disability season. This was a new experience for me and I was quite nervous at the thought of being filmed - I had been in the school nativity play but that was the sum of my acting experience.

The documentary was made by Stephen Dwoskin, co-founder of the London Film Co-op and a well-respected American experimental film maker. His work has been compared to that of Andy Warhol because of his camera technique: his camera records as an observer rather than being centred upon narrative.

Steve contracted polio as a child and comments about disability from a personal perspective:
'It's about the notion of stigma. I think disability carries within it all the prejudice, not just about disability, but all prejudice about race and religion. It all comes out when people are confronted with disability issues. The notion of stigma comes from the tattoo mark that puts someone into the slave class. Anything that appears to be different is stigmatised.'

I had a very small part in the film and fortunately there were no lines to learn. There were one or two moments of scrutiny during filming that made me a little uncomfortable: a close-up in the opening sequence of myself applying lipstick in front of a mirror, and individual portraits of each cast member later in the film where Steve aimed a hand held camera in our direction and we just stared silently back at the camera, returning his gaze. At one point, Steve asked me to read aloud from a book about disability compensation rates – this was simple enough and the scene was shot in one take. I was glad to be part of his documentary, although I felt rather self-conscious in front of the camera, but it was a memorable experience and one that I am extremely proud to have been part of."

Rest in peace, Steve Dwoskin. You will be greatly missed.

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