Skip to main content

Portapak Conversation


1973 00:08:25 United StatesEnglishB&WMono4:31/2" open reel video


This eight-minute video is part experimental video art, part sketch comedy routine, and part informational lesson on the advantages and disadvantages of owning Sony's latest video technology. In it, David and Carol participate in a brilliantly theatrical, seemingly improvisational conversation, in which each one adopts the specific identity and perspective associated with a particular video technology: David plays the part of the Sony Camera AVC 3400, while Carol takes on the personality of the Sony Portapak AV3400. Caught in a lover’s quarrel, the two banter and argue, each speaking from their perspective as a machine. Carol asserts, “Sync, your power, your ability is dependent on me…you’re just eyes to me camera.” David retorts, “I am immediate, I say yes to life,” eventually jabbing, “You eat tape like a pig.”

Later, their debate gets more heated, playing upon the sexual innuendo that their gendered voices and attitudes embody. Carol criticizes David, the camera, claiming, “your ego is so aggressive and offensive,” to which David replies to the portapak, “you’re overheating all the time…I’m just zippy zappy.” Since each thinks the other is inferior to his or her own model and function, David and Carol’s narcissistic mode of argumentation serves as an excellent learning tool: the viewer learns quite a bit about the use, cost, pit falls, and applications of each machine in 1971.

Portapak Conversation is a quintessential Videofreex video—playful and educational, creative yet accessible—all the while, consistently showcasing intelligent video work, as seen with the superimposing of David and Carol’s faces onto the objects they claim to represent, a move that anticipates the later development of video installations by artists such as Tony Oursler that make use of projected animations on inanimate objects.

—Faye Gleisser

VDB Videofreex

Videofreex, one of the first video collectives, was founded in 1969 by David Cort, Mary Curtis Ratcliff and Parry Teasdale, after David and Parry met each other, video cameras in hand, at the Woodstock Music Festival. Working out of a loft in lower Manhattan, the group's first major project was producing a live and tape TV presentation for the CBS network, The Now Show, for which they traveled the country, interviewing countercultural figures such as Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

The group soon grew to ten full-time members--including Chuck Kennedy, Nancy Cain, Skip Blumberg, Davidson Gigliotti, Carol Vontobel, Bart Friedman and Ann Woodward--and produced tapes, installations and multimedia events. The Videofreex trained hundreds of makers in this brand new medium though the group's Media Bus project.

In 1971 the Freex moved to a 27-room, former boarding house called Maple Tree Farm in Lanesville, NY, operating one of the earliest media centers. Their innovative programming ranged from artists' tapes and performances to behind-the-scenes coverage of national politics and alternate culture. They also covered their Catskill Mountain hamlet, and in early 1972 they launched the first pirate TV station, Lanesville TV. An exuberant experiment with two-way, interactive broadcasting, it used live phone-ins and stretched cameras to the highway, transmitting whatever the active minds of the Freex coupled with their early video gear could share with their rural viewers.

During the decade that the Freex were together, this pioneer video group amassed an archive of 1,500+ raw tapes and edits.

In 2001, the Video Data Bank began assembling this unique archive of original 1/2-inch open-reel videos, collecting them from basements and attics where the tapes were stored. A restoration plan was hammered out in 2007 and a distribution contract was signed between VDB and the newly formalized Videofreex Partnership (administered by Skip Blumberg).

The Videofreex Archive, now housed at VDB, chronicles the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The  titles listed here are the first wave of an ongoing project to preserve and digitize important examples of this early video.

More About the Videofreex Archive Preservation

Also see:

Parry Teasdale: An Interview

Videofreex Official Website