Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boxing Yourself In: "Revealed: Portraits from Beneath One's Surface" (2011)

Photographer Scott Indermaur had one of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments while driving one day.

Indermaur is a portrait photographer, but wanted to capture a person's spiritual and personal beliefs as well. How do you do that with a photograph? He came up with a simple idea. Have the portrait subjects hold a small box filled with items that represent their spirituality, giving the spectator a look at both the subject and the incarnation of what goes on in their minds. This simple idea has generated this inspirational documentary.

Indermaur teamed his "Revealed" idea with National Public Radio's decades-old series "What I Believe." Now, the portraits of the subjects and their wooden box are accompanied by "what I believe" essays. The short film follows almost a dozen subjects as they work to fill the small wooden box provided by Indermaur, and talk about their lives and representational items.

The subjects are everyday people, who are as varied as a group of normal people would be. Most have experienced past trauma, and use this opportunity to acknowledge and demonstrate how they have conquered it, or at least how they still deal with it.

Some of the subjects you might deem loopy, like the shamanistic healer or the medium, but they come off as pretty normal. Indermaur says this experience has taught him not to judge others, and this outlook comes through in the film. He refuses to help the person with their box (not in a mean way), and is very patient during the shoot.

The shoot itself is fascinating. The subject stands in the dark, flashlight beams dance off the box, and their faces are illuminated by strobe-like flashes of light. Indermaur does not coach or direct the subjects, letting them do it again if need be.

De Rezendes does a fantastic job of directing and editing. My attention was held throughout, and I was interested in all of the subjects, from the shy woman who must deal with her mental illness on a daily basis to a woman who refuses to be defined by a "salad dressing incident" with a relative years before.

Indermaur's dream is to take this project to a global level (he has shot well over a hundred portraits in this country already). While I would have liked to have seen more coverage on the subject selection process, and the essays, de Rezendes film is great, and Indermaur is talented in front of as well as behind the camera. His explanation on why he hasn't photographed himself as part of the project is smart and true, as is "Revealed: Portraits from Beneath One's Surface." (* * * *) out of five stars.