Supposed Histories

Tell me a story about yourself that isn't true.

Photography & Videography by Roo Lewis

Words by Naeem Alvi

In Issue 4 of The Quarterly, our Creative Director Roo Lewis is invited to take over a project by Mother co-founder Mark Waites. The project, aptly named ‘Supposed Histories’ follows a simple idea. People are asked to tell a completely made up story about themselves and their every move is captured on camera. The end result exposes the subtle body movements and cover-up tactics we all unconsciously, and often unknowingly, employ when we’re fabricating information.

As we put the final touches to Issue 4 of The Quarterly, we thought we’d share the first of three videos Roo put together during his time behind the camera. To get a deeper understanding of where Supposed Histories came from we also talked to Mark about how the idea came about, and where the project is heading.

Mark, how did Supposed Histories start? I’d been looking for a film project that would stretch me a little as I own the most underused Canon 5D in the country. There I am with this amazing piece of kit and all I do with it is photograph my kids. Also, it’s very healthy to have a some work going on outside office hours, something that can be done inexpensively which doesn’t need a client’s permission to get made.

The idea came to me when a friend got up at a storytelling evening called ‘True stories told live’. The organisers of that event insist that the stories are true and that got me thinking about what story I’d tell. I realised that while I have a terrible memory I have no problem what-so-ever making stuff up. I kind of went in the opposite direction and created a project that encouraged storytellers to tell un-true tales about themselves.

How do you choose your subjects to film? At first I asked friends who I knew to be good storytellers but quite quickly others heard about the project and began contacting me. I don’t mind cajoling people but I loved tapping into rich vein of would-be bullshitters

How much information do you give your subjects before the camera starts rolling? I didn’t want to influence the stories at all so, quite deliberately, I gave very little information and often just gave the brief: ‘Tell me a story about yourself that isn’t true’. If the storytellers asked “What about?” I’d answer “Anything, it’s your story” and I’d suggest a 2-5 minute time length, but that was a guide rather than a rule. I didn’t want to hear a story until it was being told as I really enjoyed finding out what stories people chose to put themselves in the centre of. Do they make themselves the hero or the villain? Are they in control of events or at their mercy? A good shrink would have a field day.

Feh Tarty tell us his very own Supposed History. Video by Roo Lewis and Greg Barnes.

In your opinion, is it important for the viewer to believe the story they’re being told? No, not at all. I think it’s more enjoyable that we know we’re being told a work of fiction, although a couple of storytellers told me afterwards “That’s all true”. I’ll leave it to your readers to make their own guesses.

How did it feel having someone else take over your project for a little while? Sanj from The Quarterly contacted me just as I was wondering what to do with Supposed Histories. I’d posted over 50 stories, the project had got some great write ups but I’d stalled as to where to go next. His suggestion that Roo (Lewis) shoot some stories was perfect timing as I knew he’d breathe new life into it.

I love the quality of his footage and his grading has added a layer that was lacking in my efforts. Also, I’d locked the camera off and let the storytellers do their thing, kind of radio on the TV, whereas Roo has enjoyed shooting other elements and cutting them into the stories.

Where do you see Supposed Histories going in the future? Good question. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing live storytelling nights and that might still happen. Any suggestions are very welcome.

”Do they make themselves the hero or the villain? Are they in control of events or at their mercy? A good shrink would have a field day.” – Mark Waites

To see the full series and extended article pre-order yourself a copy of Issue 4.