Craig Scheihing is a visual artist, filmmaker, and photographer who is an integral part of the Philadelphia DIY music scene. About three years ago, Craig began working out of a personal studio at Big Mama’s, an art space in Philly that is absolutely bursting with young talent.
After a year of working in the space, Craig created Big Mama’s Cinematheque, which he says “grew out of a desire to create an accessible DIY space for film and video artists to share their work, help cultivate a new generation of filmmakers through a workshop initiative, and share the tools and resources I’d amassed through my own work.”
With his obviously gifted eye, a DIY mentality, and a connection to many young bands, Craig has produced music videos, album artwork, and, most recently, adapted films to project alongside bands as they perform live.
The young artist grew up two hours north of Philadelphia, in the slate mining town of Pen Argyl, and was introduced to the city’s punk scene through going skating with his brother at Love and FDR parks. After falling in love with the city, Craig moved here himself to study film at Temple University. During college is when his obsession with film really began, as his creative eye was being fostered by professor Steven Berkowitz. Much of Craig’s early influence came from legendary filmmakers Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage, but more recently he has been drawn to Bruce Baillie‘s films.
He says, “I felt they were pure visual poetry, devoid of spoken or written language, personal images with universal relevance, an expressive space which I aspire to.” Craig has also been largely influenced by artists who work out of the Brooklyn-based cinema-arts organization Mono No Aware, and claims “the organization itself was the true inspiration and motivation behind Big Mama’s Cinematheque.”
One of the most interesting facets of Craig’s films being paired up with music is how he approaches the relationship between mediums. He points out that when working in those two mediums time is a dimension of the work, and that “a motion picture camera could be considered a percussive instrument. You’re like working in different time signatures, and you can shoot rhythmically between single frames and motion.” By deliberately shooting at varying frame rates with different shot durations, Craig’s work can often speed up and slow down while taking you through different environments. He explained that filming in short increments helps save film and ends up creating a cool stop-motion like effect, which Craig likens to “trying to get a little note from each place your at.”
In addition to exploring the time relationship between film and music, Craig points out that he experiences a sense of heightened engagement when working with physical media. He says, “physical practice demands a more specific intention in the act of capture, or at least, the capacity to appreciate one’s mistakes.” While watching Craig’s videos, that much becomes clear. His work generally sits in a space that is reflective, non-narrative, and slightly eager, while containing technical imperfections like film grain that ultimately make the visuals more powerful than if they were lacking such distortion.
That sentiment, “the appreciation of one’s mistakes,” runs deeps through Craig’s work. Most of his videos capture everyday events in a candid manner that is void of context, and force the viewer to bring in their own experiences and emotions to analyze the piece. Craig said, “I feel like there’s already enough material in life, that, I don’t know, making it up would just be an approximation.” By documenting life through his trained eye and assortment of cameras, his films often leave you meditative and self-assured in accepting things for what they are.
For example, Craig worked with vocalist/guitarist Tim Jordan of Sun Organ to create a film for their track, “Ass Kickin’ Rock’n’Roll,” which follows Tim on a rainy stroll through the city while enjoying a cup of coffee, riding public transit, and trodding through puddles. The visual interpretation of these everyday collisions is edited to fit organically with Sun Organ’s fuzzy, mystical punk music, and makes for a cerebral film with some breathtaking shots. The spots and grain add feelings of frazzled haziness as the song is introduced, a human figure appears as a cig-smoking giant in muddy puddle reflections as the music intensifies, and the track’s instrumental ending is accompanied by a kaleidoscope of nature and familiar faces.
Craig often collaborates with the musicians he is working with, handing the camera off to them or brainstorming ideas together. One of his notable collaborations was working with vocalist/guitarist Frances Quinlan of Hop Along to produce a video for the track “Powerful Man.” Craig noted that a lot of thought went into the piece’s charcoal painting aesthetic due to the tough subject matter, and that “neither of us felt comfortable trying to represent that scenario photographically.” Ultimately, Craig and Frances spent nights on end in his studio alternating painting frame by frame, which resulted in an impressionistic effect that creates a telling vibe throughout the video.
While Craig shares most of his work online, he prefers to get it out into the world and have people experience it first hand. He says that projecting his work live in collaboration with bands is rewarding, and came from constantly being surrounded by musicians and lacking a meaningful outlet for his films. In regards to the creative process, Craig explains the chosen material is usually an improvised work-in-progress that changes to work with the band’s set.
He explained, “I have a bulk of older material that I edited rather heavily for my own performances earlier this year under the title of Photographic Memory, Chance Imagery, and Motion, in which the context of projecting for bands was reversed – my films being performed with a live score accompanying, as opposed to my films accompanying a band performing live.” Using those three emotion-provoking films as a starting point, Craig’s first true attempt at live projections came at July’s OK Fest at PhilaMOCA, which coincided with the release of his VHS compilation, Dog Year, and the kick-off of the Amanda X and Spirit of the Beehive U.S. tour.
Craig joined that escapade in order to bring his videos on the road, and document the experience for the two up-and-coming punk bands. Amanda X’s Cat Park said, “He didn’t just project his film onto our sets, he performed alongside both bands. He synced up his films to the music perfectly and would even distort the projection when the music escalated.” That type of live multimedia collaboration works beautifully, and if you saw the tour’s return to First Unitarian Church, you know it creates a truly encompassing and relatable experience for the crowd. Dogs On Acid’s Nate Dionne said, “There’s something universally relatable to his imagery and style that pairs excellently with live music. I always leave having experienced something that makes me want to go out and create.”
More recently, Craig joined Dogs On Acid for a two-week tour through the UK, where he ran into his fair share of technical difficulties: “turns out running two US projectors into a power strip, then into a US three-prong to two-prong outlet converter, then into a voltage converter with an EU plug, then into an EU to UK plug converter is not the safest or most reliable way of doing things.”
Regardless of technology confusion, the entire Philly crew was received well overseas. Nate Dionne said, “Craig’s projections helped engage the audiences in a way that I don’t think we would’ve been able to on our own. It was like we had a visual translator with us for every show.” What was most exciting for Craig, aside from having his cameras with him in foreign territory, was making connections with people hundreds of miles away who recognized mutual friends in his films. He said that at a number of their shows, people would come up to him asking how he knew so-and-so from the video, or saying how beautiful his shots of Pennsylvania were. He added, “It’s exciting to see some sort of international web of artists and friends grow larger and stronger.”
With that network of young artists growing into something strong and vibrant around the world, it is exhilarating to see how our corner is making a contribution. Craig does something that may be thought of as simple in our viral-video filled world, but his caring and thoughtful approach to documenting the simplicities of real life often strike emotional chords. Especially when paired with hazy rock or upbeat punk, his films stir up feelings of nostalgia and inspire you to embrace the experience at hand.
In addition to creating these works of art, Craig, and other artists at Big Mama’s, holds workshops and screenings to share their love and knowledge of film with others. Craig will be instructing a Hand-Processing 16mm Color Reversal workshop on November 29th. Learn more about the Cinematheque here.
Below, find a slideshow of photos from Craig’s studio as well as some of his work.
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