Jonas Mekas – the original vlogger

I’m not so much in the future as always in the present. The future always takes care of itself. What I do now with my video camera, it can only record what is happening now. I am celebrating reality and the essence of the moment. And that’s the greatest challenge that I have.

Jonas Mekas

Jonas Mekas is considered the godfather of avant-garde film. Throughout the 1950’s his writing in Film Culture magazine and The Village Voice helped foster an emerging experimental film movement that was given a home when he formed the Film-Maker’s Co-operative and Cinematheque in New York in 1962. One of his great stylistic achievements was to develop the diary film as an art form, carrying his Bolex camera everywhere he went capturing the world around him. Without Mekas and films such as Walden we wouldn’t have vloggers such as Casey Neistat and Charles Trippy.

Camera: Pierce Jackson, Kasper Bech Dyg and Jonas Mekas
Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Me, I just film my life

Mekas naturally transitioned from film to video sometime in the 1980’s. Even now, well into his 90’s, his camera goes everywhere with him ready to celebrate “reality and the essence of the moment.” In his 365-Day Project from 2007, Mekas made a video record of every day of the year on a Sony camcorder. A project that presages the daily vloggers who now dominate YouTube, most of whom probably unaware of the debt they owe to a 90-something Lithuanian refugee who survived the Nazi labour camps.

Jonas Mekas camera
from Jonas Mekas – In Focus – The Artist’s Studio by MOCA

I make films, therefore I live

He appears to carry over the discipline of low-budget film-making, editing ‘in camera’, telling one interviewer that, “I do almost all of my editing during the filming”. Among the scenes he captured on his ever-present camera were candid moments of Andy Warhol, not the artist as he presented himself curated to the world, but everyday episodes that eventually became the film, Scenes from the life of Andy Warhol.

nothing is happening, it is real world

from Jonas Mekas – In Focus – The Artist’s Studio by MOCA

Diaries, notes, sketches – I have to film

As subjects for his camera, Mekas doesn’t discriminate between the famous, such as Jackie Kennedy and Yoko Ono, and a flock of pigeons dancing in the Brooklyn sky – they are merely things to be filmed. A birthday party, people leaving the cinema, a walk in New York.

It’s almost as if he formed the underground cinema movement so he could become part of it. The community aspect of his film-making project, the desire to share films and ideas, is another huge influence on the world of online video makers and film-makers of today.

Just get a camera and do it

The Film-makers Co-operative was born of a desire to self-distribute films that would otherwise not be seen by an audience. Informal screenings and discussions took place in what became Mekas’ New York loft apartment. That urge to freely distribute film and video without the control of gatekeepers is what led video sharing platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube to explode. The DIY ethos that Mekas developed and promoted, an almost punk attitude to film-making long before Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer applied it to rock and roll, grab a camera and – ‘shoot, shoot, shoot’ (as the Tate restrospective of the London Film-makers’ Co-op was titled) – has had a profound influence on contemporary video culture. Among his many, richly deserved accolades and epithets, Jonas Mekas deserves to be recognised as the original vlogger.

Some further sources used for this post:

Jonas Mekas – In Focus – The Artist’s Studio


4 thoughts on “Jonas Mekas – the original vlogger”

  1. What an amazing life. No electricity, radio but well water that tasted like wine at the beginning of his life. Later he played the camera like a saxophone. He wasn’t boasting, he did.

    Interesting that Mekas did most of his editing in-camera.

    How do you edit your walking films,John? I had assumed you spent quite a lot of time on editing after the walks.


    1. he’s such an inspiration brY an. I increasingly spend longer editing my walking videos – at the beginning I tried to apply a Super 8 mentality and be very economical with the footage and more or less edit in camera. But now I do spend a lot longer on the edit, although the linear nature of a walk still dictates the structure.


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