A visual effect produced by a video camera or processor which sees its own signal.

The camera, pointed towards a monitor, captures the image, sends it to the monitor, and the process repeats within milliseconds to produce various amazing, moving, almost living pictures. The signal can be altered between the camera and the monitor, by adding effects or mixing in another video signal. In addition, the controls of the camera and the monitor affect the propogating feedback.

As soon as video technology came out in the early 60's, artists soon discovered and experimented with feedback. The psychedelic era used it as another art form to create cosmic, trippy art. The new technique paralleled early experiments with electronic music; most finished vf peices from the era used Moogs and other analog keyboards as accompaniment.

A few electronics and graphics labaratories sought to gain control of the phenomenon, but little came of it beyond some bizarre tapes that are hard to find these days. Video feedback faded into the cluttered toolbox of the fringe artist, becoming a seldom-used technique.

The most beautiful thing about vf is that it is completely analog; the textures are somehow completely different in feel from anything produced by today's computer-addicted design establishment. This is something you can only experience by trying it. The way the image responds to every movement of your wrist as you hold the camera, the way it flows and changes unexpectedly, the way colors can jump out of nowhere.

Since its heyday, scattered artists and experimenters have used vf in their projects, installations, and performances. For example, Brian Eno and some New York friends built an installation where you lie on a transparent waterbed with a video proejector shining from below onto a screen above. Cameras next to the bed pointed at the screen to produce feedback that shifted with your movements on the bed.

Despite the unique and versatile products of vf, nobody has truly established it as its own artform. The possible reasons for this unfortunate fact are as follows:

  • an enjoyable vf performance relies on other stimulation such as music and dance. So far, vf is considered a secondary artform, always an element of something else.
  • as a craft, the limits and controls are hard to define. There are so many variables that affect the image, and the ever-shifting image itself is so volatile, that true control is hard to come by. Basicly, you can make pretty shapes, but you can never seem to get the same thing twice.

Video feedback is like guitar feedback, as a technique to experiment with equipment and produce unique effects. Many, many bands rely on guitar feedback as an instrument in itself.

Try it now! Plug your camcorder into your teevee, and point it at the teevee. The room should be as dark as possible. Turn autofocus off, as well as autoexposure if you can. Zoom out until you see a bright spot in the middle of the screen. Now slowly zoom "into" the spot. Yes, you are now sliding through a wormhole to meet your maker. Change your shorts.