Artist creating video portraits for downtown Gilroy residency

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benton c bainbridge 6th street studios and art center
Benton C Bainbridge stands inside his studio surrounded by his equipment at 6th Street Studios and Art Center in downtown Gilroy. An example of his video portraiture work can be seen on the screen behind him. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

A visit to Benton C Bainbridge’s downtown Gilroy studio is like taking a step into a 1990s electronics store.

CRT televisions sit on tables and the floor, next to a JVC VHS player, wood-paneled video synthesizers and even a Vectrex video game console. A Sony Handycam Hi8 camcorder, complete with an actual viewfinder made for one eye, stands on a tripod, juxtaposed with a group of modern-day flat screen monitors and laptops.

Although fluent in the latest digital technology, Bainbridge said he’s attracted to the bulky dated equipment because of their physical nature, with actual moving parts for commands instead of do-everything LCD screens.

“I’m a digital artist, but I also like to use this old school approach of physical hardware,” he said.

Bainbridge is the latest participant in 6th Street Studios and Art Center’s artist-in-residence program, where artists have access to one of the studios at 64 West Sixth St. for up to three months.

While in Gilroy, Bainbridge is continuing his video portraiture series he began a decade ago. Using camcorders from around the time of the new millennium, Bainbridge records his subjects as they react to the various filters he applies to the image.

“I’ve long been interested in portraiture, not just as a way to capture the likeness of somebody, but as a way to capture something about their personality,” he said. “Using filters, you can bring out the things the camera wouldn’t bring out.”

benton c bainbridge james mcgirk 6th street studios and art center
James McGirk (left) sits for his video portrait as Benton C Bainbridge adjusts his equipment. Photo: Erin McGirk

Bainbridge said his project was inspired by the live lighting effects utilized by Andy Warhol in his 1966 film, “Chelsea Girls.”

“I saw that and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to do that with video projections, and use it to light my subjects?’” Bainbridge recalled.

While testing out the idea with his friends, Bainbridge could not find an adapter in order to capture the video onto his computer. However, he did have a stack of VHS tapes lying around, and used those to capture the sessions.

That sparked an artist residency in Manhattan, where Bainbridge captured 60 portraits onto VHS and exhibited them at Eyebeam.

Bainbridge’s audio-visual work has been shown in countless exhibitions in the United States and abroad.

Along with Jeff Crouse, Bainbridge currently has an interactive exhibition at the Andrew Freedman Home in Bronx, NY, where guests can play a piano using only their facial expressions.

Originally from northwestern Pennsylvania, Bainbridge is the son of an artist and a computer engineer. While his father says the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, Bainbridge describes himself as more of a “hybrid tree, where one branch is grafted from the other.”

Living in San Francisco for a number of years, Bainbridge has spent most of his time in the Monterey Bay Area since Covid-19 hit.

For his Gilroy artist residency, Bainbridge is inviting locals to take part in the video portraiture sessions. He holds open studio hours on Sundays from 11am to 3pm through April 9, except for March 13. Appointments can also be made at 6thstreetartstudios.org/artist-in-residence.

To view Bainbridge’s work, visit bentoncbainbridge.com. A TV running a loop of Bainbridge’s video portraits can also be viewed through the front windows of 6th Street Studios and Art Center.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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