Ernie Gehr

In representational films sometimes the image affirms its own presence as image, graphic entity, but most often it serves as vehicle to a photo-recorded event. Traditional and established avant garde film teaches film to be an image, a representing. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind. It is not a vehicle for ideas or portrayals of emotion outside of its own existence as emoted idea. Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space. -Ernie Gehr, January 1971

Ernie Gehr began making films in the regular 8mm format in the 1960s and has worked steadily since then, completing more than 24 films. A self-taught artist, Gehr has established himself as one of the true masters of film form, and his graceful sense of style and subtle, poetic sensibility have deeply affected the cinematic avant-garde. His films have screened internationally, including retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Musee du Cinema in Brussels and at the San Francisco Cinematheque, and he has received awards and grants from numerous institutions, including the National Endowment for the Arts, a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship and the Maya Deren Award from the American Film Institute. Currently a faculty member at the San Francisco Art Institute, Gehr has also taught and lectured at the University of California at Berkeley, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Deutcher Akademischer Austauschdienst in Berlin. In March 1995 he received the 1995 Adaline Kent Award Exhibition, an award presented annually to a California artist. Ernie Gehr and Bruce Conner are the only two filmmakers to have received this prestigious award, which includes an honorarium and a solo exhibition entitled Brother Can You Spare Some Time? in the San Francisco Art Institute's Walter/McBean Gallery.

Ernie Gehr's Complete Filmography
Ernie Gehr's current installation, Brother Can You Spare Some Time?

Selected Films of Ernie Gehr

Untitled: Part One

(1981); 16mm, color, sound, 30 minutes
"The telephoto lens in Untitled: Part One provides an extraordinary sense of both observation and distance in perhaps Gehr's most subtle and moving city film. Whereas Gehr frequently records the more impersonal aspects of the city, here he focuses on the gestures and circulation of human figures. The magnification of the lens allows him to register the intimate details of the texture of skin or the uncertain tread of an elderly foot, while remaining somewhat outside the scene. In documenting the streetside acts of exchange and encounter in a neighborhood dominated by recent immigrants (largely Jews from Russia), Gehr captures a history of circulation and exile written in the bodies of the city's inhabitants." -Tom Gunning, Perspective and Retrospective: The Films of Ernie Gehr

Signal-Germany on The Air

(1982-85); 16mm, color, sound, 37 minutes
"The artifice of the film image stands in stark contrast to the 'reality' of the scene-one is highly conscious of the frame outlines-of what's in and what's out. The color is almost always 'unreal' -some artifact of photographic depiction. The spaces and sounds between, behind, and above the image comes through, we fill out the scene. The mind permeates the space and we become highly aware of the processes used for this inspection. While watching you become aware of your own space, your own patterns of movement. Common ground and individual experience are the poles here, and the active mind shuttles between them in the duration. The recalcitrant world, once it is depicted and articulated, can be peeled back like an onion, revealing constituent layers. In Signal-Germany on the Air it is history that's in the air, behind the mask of every face, every facade, every street sign." -Daniel Eisenberg, "Some Notes on the Films of Ernie Gehr"

"A long sequence at the end of Signal was shot in the rain. This is almost comforting. The subdued colors of an overcast day seem more appropriate than the bright, saturated colors of the storefronts earlier in the film. It seems for a while as though the rain can wash away all traces of the past. But, when a bright orange flare-out signals both the end of a camera roll and the end of the film, the steady hiss of the rain reveals itself as the end of a conflagration." -Harvey Nosowitz in Film Quarterly

Rear Window

(1986/91); 16mm, color, sound, 10 minutes
"Images were recorded in 1985/86 from the rear window of what used to be our apartment in Brooklyn. The death of my father and an earlier work of mine, Signal-Germany on the Air, were still very much on my mind when this film was initiated. I cupped my hands in front of the camera lens and attempted to make tactile light, color and image. The work shifts from a play between the 'elements' to whipping up a 'storm' out of thin air." -Ernie Gehr, January 1993


Morning (1968)
Wait (1968)

Reverberation (1969)
Transparency (1969)
History (1970)
Field (1970)
Field (short version) (1970)

Serene Velocity (1970)
Three (1970)

Still (1969-71)
Eureka (1974)

Shift (1972-74)
Behind the Scenes (1975)
Table (1976)
Untitled (1977)
Hotel (1979)
Mirage (1981)
Part One (1981)

Signal-Germany on the Air (1982-85)
Listen (1986-91)
Rear Window (1986-91)
This Side of Paradise (1991)
Side/Walk/Shuttle (l991)
Daniel Willi (work in progress)

* notes compiled and written by Brian Frye