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Stephen Dwoskin (1939–2012)

Experimental filmmaker Stephen Dwoskin, who is often regarded as a spearhead of the 1960s and ’70s independent cinematography scene in places like London and New York, died last week at the age of seventy-three. A New York native, Dwoskin studied art with Willem de Kooning and Josef Albers at New York University, later attending the Parsons School of Design. He began his career as a painter and designer, earning several awards for graphic design. During this time documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio acted as his agent and introduced him to artists including Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Frank as well as to experimental cinema, which he quickly took to, studying films by Maya Deren, Jack Smith, and Ron Rice. In the mid-’60s Dwoskin settled in Notting Hill, where he quickly became a leading figure in the independent filmmaking scene, cofounding the London Filmmakers Cooperative in 1966 and coordinating a series of underground screenings of films for the first Notting Hill Film Festival.

In a press release, the Tate Modern, where Dwoskin’s final film, Age Is... (2012) will receive its UK premiere in September 2012, states that early films like Chinese Checkers (1964), Trixi (1969), and Dyn Amo (1972) illustrate the beginnings of his signature style as each work initiates “a triadic dynamic between the camera, performer, and viewer through which the performers return the gaze of both viewer and filmmaker. His subtle deconstruction of the conventional system of the gaze disturbs and defies viewers to reflect upon their own habits of ‘looking.’ The viewer becomes transfixed by Dwoskin’s unique perspective of looking, his slow-moving camera, his intense scrutiny of his subject and textured images, and his ethereal soundtracks.” Films like Central Bazaar (1976) or The Silent Cry (1977) similarly show this tendency.

In 1974, Dwoskin began making autobiographical films, documenting the way he interacted with people and public space via his body, which was left disabled by his childhood struggle with polio. He continued to develop this practice throughout his career, which culminated in works including Intoxicated by My Illness (2001) and The Sun and the Moon (2007). Dwoskin’s work has been the subject of major film retrospectives in over fourteen cities, including New York, London, and Geneva, with two recent retrospectives taking place at the British Film Institute in 2009 and the Arsenal in Berlin in 2010. His complete body of work consists of more than fifty films as well as a number of paintings, photo collages, drawings, and designs.