The Camera is The Body

Ana Vaz




In beginningless time, there lies the body. It squirms under the ground it grips,

traversing the perennial shadows of a day that is still night. Subject to the weight of

gravity, it drags itself under arid particles which brand the soft knees. Black, corpulent

ants nibble on the hands as they grope around the earth. The blind hands grope for

holes in the ground. The eggs of burrowing owls boil under the warm soil. It doesn’t fly,

it digs. There is no tongue save for the one licking its own lips and the ground babbling

noises, incomplete murmurs. It drags on with the elasticity of a newborn. It fears

neither fall nor unbalance. It probes sensations as it would a map, while groundwater

courses beneath the earth, while the hands listen to the vibration. Worms delight in the

humid soil, while owls burrow, while vultures circle their prey. The sun rises, witnessing

the drawing of shadows, the rhythm of birds, the gradation of colors. Everything

vibrates with a tongue-less tongue, since the “lingua franca” of beings that fly, crawl,

circle, walk and glisten is not the verb, but the body. Above, the head, the heaviest organ

in the human body; below, the feet, where knowledge of the ground is to be found. The

verb is native to a land ruled by a unified deity that haunts its earthlings, leading them

to fear their own bodies. However, earthlings crawl on the ground, shifting their

tongues from the heavens to the larvae, to the lava, as others, hardened, make others

poison the earth, as other hardened ones harden some into puncturing the land, as

other hardened ones burn others for not being a mirror of their own brutality. The sun’s

luminosity blinds the eyes that no longer see anything. Under the tree’s shadow, dark

spots illuminate the retina. They move as bantam eclipses, darkening vision. Ocular

eclipses people vision with blind spots. These blind spots turn into peoples. Peoples turn

into blind spots. Black halos vibrate in circles, deforming sight that unlearns to

see                                                          until the hands see the tree: thick, hard, old, ancient,

shaken by the shock of the chainsaw cutting through its Saturn rings. Irregular rings of

time. The tree falls. The body rises. Shaken by the tremor on the ground, the infant’s

breathless body crawls, wanting to see, to focus, to walk, but it does not know how.

Blind hands seek rings strewn about the earth. Irregular breathing of one who wishes to

see, to focus, to hear, to walk, but does not know how. The point-of-view shot simulates

a body’s perspective, attesting to the fact that the camera is a body and, above all, that

the body is also a camera, our first camera.


Close up

When you are the camera and the camera is you.

(1976 ad for Minolta, quoted by poet Eucanãa Ferraz)


She could no longer see anything. The machine seemed to have stopped working and

was now stuck on an image without focus, contours, face nor figure/background

distinction. She remembered having attached to the camera a 300mm lens with a

duplicator, which seemed to have transformed her vision in an otherworldly way.

Queasy due to the effect of the lens-turned-point-of-view, she seemed to touch with her

eyes the harshness of the glimmering asphalt, silvery grey from the summer rain, the

cars’ headlights, reds and yellows turned into soap bubbles, the thick fog that covered

up the city rendering the huge LED ads out of focus and making them a glowing blue,

red, green, white hurt in the eyes (they desperately want to compete with the glow of the

moon). Seasick, she sailed on, with artificial eyes seeing the surface of things in extreme

close up. She whirled panoramically with eyes morphing into a body under the city-land

to where the animals who had been previously expelled from it returned. Figures, wings,

red, green, traffic light, blue sky, white concrete, silvery grey, tin car, bird wing, until the

carcará’s eyes stared at her from the center of the frame. Swarthy tones, browns

bordered by the yellow-orange of its red face. Carcará originates from a Tupi Karaka’ra

onomatopoeia meaning “to tear with one’s nails”. A predatory bird from the hawk

family, the carcará is known for its survival instinct. A non-specific, generalist predator,

it is considered an omnivorous opportunist, meaning, it will eat anything it comes

across: the living, the dead, innards or garbage. The carcará is exactly like the song goes:

he grabs, he kills, he eats[1]. Wherever congregations of humans who eat, die and produce

waste are to be found, that’s where the carcará will be. Allies of vultures, the carcarás

may be commonly spotted in the vicinity of bus depots, feeding on roadkill, above

landfills, garbage deposits, at the backs of barbecue restaurants, on the trail of tractors

that plow the land and bring to the surface larvae and worms, down highways, along

fires. She assumed carcarás had probably migrated slowly from the northeast to the

center-west region in search of opportunities, much like the peoples who had come with

the migratory currents occasioned by the arid uprising of the city’s construction. Thus

seen from near-and-far, with their yellow beaks, their black mane, their undaunted

look, the carcará may become an icon of urban survival in the face of modernity’s

garbage. However, what truly makes the carcará what it is is not the metaphor of its

existence, but rather the intensity of its hunger, the redness of its face, the agility of its

movements, the defiant look of one who stares back at what stares at it, the low angle of

its flight, approximating earth and sky. A Dionysian deity must inhabit the bird,

laughing at the human tragedy that doesn’t know its way around its own garbage. Blue

plastic bags, torn, strewn like organs in the open where a river was once, a river of fetid

debris. The city’s sewers could not contain the late summer storms in this year without

Carnaval. Rainwater accumulated under the paving stones, engendering veritable

waterfalls; brown, grey, white foam flooding the streets of the empty city. Seasick, she

sailed on, unable to focus on any figure whatsoever, all things would lose contour,

everything was rain and silver, drops of water against the windshields of cars, the lights

of a lighthouse with no exact geography. From so near-so far, the camera became a

veritable hallucinogen under the effect of which nothing remained inert. What was once

an instrument of war, identification, control, surveillance, capture, accusation, terror

and some panic, mutated here. Attached to the body that, through it, seemed to touch

the surface of things, the camera morphed into an extension of the body itself – a

perfect synthetic prosthesis for a psychotropic immersion in an environment where she

no longer found herself, where she no longer found the carcará. She saw only the

droplets on the wet grass, the gigantic termite mounds in relief, the plastic bottles

perforated by their beaks, the flesh and trash remnants littering the ground. Night was

falling and she listened to the fine din of car horns, the friction between tire and water,

thunder and car, lens and eyes rendering the limits between bodies indiscernible. Rain,

the expression of porousness. Thunders, newspaper ads. The camera in her eye-hands

had become a kind of spatial microscope where bodies and spirits of sidewalks, roads,

streetlights, statues, birds, buildings, rainbows, helicopters, umbrellas, traffic signs,

burrowing owls, larvae, worms and humans seemed to utter, more or less loudly: we are

alive. And so, before this fauna of creatures, she wondered: what to make of this other

creature to whom I am cuffed through the eye? This one, silently transforming me.

Seasick, she drew difficult breaths behind the eye piece until the image disappeared, in a

haze. She continued filming not knowing exactly what she was recording, but certain

that the creature had a will of its own. A will that would remain unattainable were it not

for the full complicity of her breathless body.


Wide Shot


5mm. Wide-angle lens swallowing the entire landscape, both concentrating and

distorting the borders of the image. A metallic sky following rain, a hot summer

downpour intensifying the friction between the asphalt and the old rubber of tires en

route to the south exit. The lens widens the landscape made of a single extension,

dressed in a green uniform extending as far as the eye can see. In the back of the shot, a

metal giant winds the plantation’s grains. The sun falls behind the sky. No noise but for

the breathing and the cutting speed of cars on the road, silencing the animals, the

beasts, the flies. The thick barbed wire delineates the limits of each plantation, which

are all in fact the same. Soy grows in gradations of size which are aligned and primed for

harvesting with the efficiency of military tanks. There, not a lot will grow any more,

since the tank sows eternal poisoned life. Laying by the roadside, the run over, poisoned

bodies of anteaters, ocelots, tapirs, capybaras, foxes, wild dogs, mane wolves. Nothing

and all of this really fits into the long shot.  A shot breakdown is needed. Long-shots are

also referred to as establishing shots, thus assuming the scene as an environment,

where figures and “backgrounds” negotiate their own legibility before the camera. When

figures are lacking, there are only “backgrounds”, and this is when the act of seeing

begins. With no guide, no voice, no actress, no actor, no seeing-eye dogs for a humanity

that awaits the narrative climax we then begin to see. What was once background

becomes figure. The historically mute landscape, “empty” as the primitive scene for the

invader, settler, colonizer, peoples itself with a people that has no face nor identity.

Emptied of its heroes, the scene can begin, at last: sheep-like clouds glide low to the

wind, leaves from resilient trumpet trees rattle their dead flowers, the metal giant in the

background moves to the forefront by sheer force of its tireless silence. In the

background, the flight of the famished bird projects a shadow as it fails to find nurture

in that poison-field sowing dead seeds. An endless soy plantation invades the “cerrado”

as heavy load trucks shoot across the frame and angry thunders descend from the sky.

Without actually seeing them, we foresee the beasts’ trajectory as they seek refuge

anyplace but here. The duration of the shot is the duration of the act of seeing which is

also listening, but it is above all the act of being. More than the shot, it is the duration of

being there that actually writes the scene. The scene has already begun, there’s no need

to shout: Action.




Magic hour, moments between darkness and light. First ray of sun. Fix the camera on

one spot, preferably ground-level, land-level. With half-closed eyes, as one who wishes

to see something minuscule, try and see in its most minute details the activity of this

land, this spot. Aim the camera where a being might be, a writing that may call. Here:

ants walk in lines with no beginning or end, carrying eggs, words, odors, houses. Fixed

lens. 80 mm. Attach lens to camera. Now we see the little ants crossing the frame

speedily. From now on, unlatch lens from camera. Without a lens, the camera turns into

a box of mirrors receiving all the vibration from the light. Unattached, the lens becomes

a macro-lens. One must hold the lens with the utmost care and try and focus on one

spot without ever attaching the lens. Through the eye piece, watch the ants becoming

gigantic, corpulent entities, agility dancers vibrating in focal oscillation due to the

tremor of the hands. It is the tremor of the hands in their search for focus which makes

and breaks the image as a mirage. The ants carry clear oval structures above their heads.

Probably larvae woven by the seamstresses with fine silk drool. Perfect geodesic cocoons

which will crack open with the birth of one more ant. The queens live surrounded by

mountains of such cocoons below ground. The crickets grasp the pointy leaves, singing

day. The perspiration of plants rains down on the ground as the lens, loose in mid-air,

transforms things into beings. The trembling focus, for its turn, transforms beings into

black, green and white figures, revealing nothing but the porousness of their bodies.

Despite its conception as an instrument of revelation, measuring and capture, here the

lens, detached from the camera, loses all precision, giving back perception to the senses.

Thus, enmeshed in the tremor of this friction between machine and life, a contact zone

is established where there is no faith, law or king[2]. Seeing the land with these bottle

eyes, the minuscule had become gigantic and the gigantic, minuscule.




He started the car one, two, three, four times. The grip was firmly secured on the back of

the pickup. It cut a cold, silvery semi-rectangle holding the camera and giving support

to no more than two bodies on the truck bed. Fixed lens. 30 mm. One must cut the car

out of the frame in order to hide the machine, so that we see only the road, the

movement, other cars, other bodies. It was four in the morning and night was still

certain. At five it blues.  He started the engine five, six, seven times. The camera faced

head-on, simulating the perspective of a car-body, an other-than-human yet

otherworldly human body. She activated the camera in the darkness of night. No car, no

person, no ray of blue. It was Ash Wednesday of a year without Carnaval. The pitch-

dark wet asphalt glistened with the cold light of streetlights. Water puddle oasis

vanished due to the heat. We crossed the Monumental Axis from west to east. Only the

headlights of a few cars grafted blurry impressions onto the eyepiece, now open, now

closed. Holding fast to the cold silver rectangle we crossed the silent night. No visible

beast, only the timid awakening of the lapwings wanting all the blue in the sky. At five, it

blues; ten minutes past five it’s already day. As we traversed the central crossing of the

bird plane over which the city hovers, it blued. American blue, midnight-blue, day for

night, the technique invented in the film studios of North America (the one that stole

for himself the invading name of the continent). Here, there was no day for night, only

the pre-American dark night, petrol blue that blues from the sky instead of a filter. The

nocturnal travelling leads to day, but leads nowhere. It is a passing shot, it is a travel

shot in which the actual lack of destination inherent to all journeys makes itself known

and felt. One believes one is headed somewhere, but they are never quite sure if they got

there, if they took a detour or if the voyage continues. The travelling is the shot that

implies a third machine beyond the body and the camera – a car, a train, a bicycle, a

dolly, a truck, a pickup, a boat or a ship. An illusionist technique, since it can efface

distances as though the body’s effort in moving were not needed and, for a moment,

neither petrol, coal or gas. Illusion of the image as voyage, illusion of the shot that

transforms the body into a speed machine. Here, instead of seeing the train as it enters

the station, we are on the train, travelling, we are on the earth, spinning. Magellan

journeyed around the earth 20 years before Vesalius journeyed inside the human body

(1543). De humani corporis fabrica is the first scientific treaty to invade the human

body in order to reveal it as organs dissected by the hands of a scientist. Voilá c’est que

tu est![3] Circular rotation around the earth, interior rotation inside the body revealing

organs-without-body much more than a body-without-organs[4]. And so, in this

concomitance of invasions – both on the body revealed as organs isolated as functional

machines and on territories, now revealed as plots to be looted and invaded –,  body

and land are definitely separated. What the lights that reveal brought us was the

definite separation of the body-world into soap bubbles that only dream of immunity,

that kill and tame beasts, erect towers to the sky, cover the earth in asphalt, drill the

underground to steal its silver fire, breath of the dragon                     Viewing as a means

to reveal ended up veiling the image-skin of the land-body without ever preserving it.

Meanwhile, we crossed the pre-Colombian night to the howling of mane wolves with

their red manes, to the cries of burrowing owls calling their peers, to the slow, eternal

steps of the giant anteaters crossing roads, to the legions of capybaras sleeping by

silvery lakes, to the dance of the capuchin monkeys absconding with all food in the

supermarkets. And it all took place in a time before and after the running over of all

beasts, before and after the burning of all forests, before and after the collapse of all

towers, before and after the extraction of all uranium from the Congo, before and after

all the iron had been mined from Minas Gerais, before and after the sudden death by

poisoning of all the scoundrels who pretend to rule the earth, before and after the

unequivocal death of the radioactive isotopes in the fields of Fukushima, before and

after the earthquakes that rattled the architecture of all great cities, before and after the

extraction of the last drop of silver from the mountain afloat in the heart of the Earth. It

blued.                            The travelling continues without direction, or destination. The car

has already stopped. They have descended from the grip and they each go their own

way. The travellings have multiplied and are still being projected in a cave barred to

visitors. In it, there is no need for cameras, cars, coal, nor night’s blue petrol. It is

suffices to turn off the lights.

Ana Vaz

Brasília, carnival, 2021.

Written during shooting of It is night in America, a film-in-the-making


Translated by Ismar Tirelli Neto


  1. Carcará is the name of a song written in 1964 by singer-songwriter from Maranhão João do Vale and writer-composer José Candido, from Alagoas. The song became a symbol of resistance to the Brazilian military regime and was performed in the iconic show Opinião by Maria Bethãnia. The carcará symbolizes resistance to the famines that dislocated sections of the country’s population with the arrival of modernity. Carcará! He grabs, he kills, he eats / Carcará! He won’t starve to death / Carcará! Braver than men / Carcará! He grabs, he kills, he eats.
  2. A quote from Portuguese chronicler and historian Pero de Magalhães Gândavo in his História da Província Santa Cruz a que vulgarmente chamamos Brasil, the first book to be written in a European language on what we still refer to vulgarly as Brazil, printed in Lisbon, in 1576. It is in this book that we find the already mythical description of an allegedly Amerindian phonetics by the historian, who cannot hide his funereal passion for spelling in the following excerpt: The language of all the Indians along the coast [is one that] lacks three letters: there is no f, nor l, nor r, something that causes perplexity because here there is neither faith [Fé], now law [lei], nor King [Rei], and, in this way, they live without justice in a disorderly manner.
  3. See what you are! An expression from German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk used to characterize Vesalius’ violent invasion of the human body in the third tome of his trilogy on the Spheres: Foams.
  4. A concept elaborated by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri, philosophers of the body-as-territory. The expression first appears in The Logic of Sense (1969), where Deleuze opposes literatures of the sensible based on the principle of surface and the principle of depth in the works of Lewis Carrol and Antonin Artaud. In the chapter titled The Schizophrenic and the Little Girl, the Little Girl, Lewis Carrol’s character in Alice in Wonderland, is confronted with a world of surfaces and changing appearances through the gaze, the being and the body, while the Schizophrenic, whose example would be Antonin Artaud, is related to the world by depths, by that which is subterranean, and through this rejection of surfaces he is able to return to a body-without-organs, a body that is not divisible into functions and is a pure flow of becoming.