LOOK AND LEARN excavates the visual vocabulary we use to operate and construct the daily world. The film explores the juxtaposition of two material image forms: visual instructions (assembly guides, photography manuals, maps, diagrams) and photographs, mainly a set of several 1950s-era elementary school group photographs. The visual instructions mimic maps in their hope of directing us to something (or somewhere) perhaps to a better understanding of our world and how things work.
These instructions fight for time with the school photos which place groups of individual students into unforgiving grids. These photographs suggest a more orderly time when the instructions might actually be followed. The photos themselves become another kind of diagram, forming barely glimpsed guides to the students’ future world. They look ahead to the '60s and '70s when the imagined order of things will be exploded.
Janie Geiser’s sound collage includes found records of film soundtracks as well as institutional alarms, contemporary field recordings and short segments of speeches from the 1965 Berkeley Teach-In. Perhaps some of these students found themselves there.
In the final section of LOOK AND LEARN, the images are harder to grasp as Geiser moves the photos, along with documentary photographs of anti-war and civil rights era protests, quickly under the camera as she shoots. There is a sense of chaos, of a rushing forward and backwards, of time out of reach, of the impossibility of holding onto change: then, now, later.
"Society is a game, and it has rules, but children are seldom privy to those rules. We tend to think that this makes them innocent, but it can also make them unwitting victims to structures such as racism. A bit later in the film, Geiser introduces the silhouettes of game pieces, one of which holds a bat in his hand like Punch from the PUNCH AND JUDY puppet shows, ready to administer a beating... Divorced from their specific context, these objects simply signify gamesmanship, the absence of clear rules for how to proceed. Together with the children's lack of secure identity, Geiser seems to suggest that one may indeed look, but this is no guarantee that you can learn what you need to know to navigate a dangerous reality and its all-too-hazardous chutes and ladders." - Michael Sicinzki, Letterboxd
"Geiser’s universe is a fascinating experimental manifestation of the moving image through the use of shards, reﬁned sharp shards that penetrate deep into the unconscious." - Sarmiento Hinojosa, Desistﬁlm