Photocinema: The Creative Edges of Photography and Film

Photocinema: The Creative Edges of Photography and Film

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Overview

Taking as its starting point the notion of photocinema—or the interplay of the still and moving image—the photographs, interviews, and critical essays in this volume explore the ways in which the two media converge and diverge, expanding the boundaries of each in interesting and unexpected ways. The book’s innovative approach to film and photography produces what might be termed a hybrid “third space,” where the whole becomes much more than the sum of its individual parts, encouraging viewers to expand their perceptions to begin to understand the bigger picture.
 
The latest edition in Intellect’s Critical Photography series, Photocinema represents a nuanced theoretical and practical exploration of the experimental cinematic techniques exemplified by artists like Wim Wenders and Hollis Frampton. In addition to new critical essays by Victor Burgin and David Campany, the book includes interviews with Martin Parr, Hannah Starkey, and Aaron Schumann, and a portfolio of photographs from various new and established artists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841505626
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 04/15/2013
Series: Intellect Books - Critical Photography Series
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Neil Campbell is professor of American studies at the University of Derby and the author of several books, including The Cultures of the American New West, American Cultural Studies, and The Rhizomatic West.

Read an Excerpt

Photocinema: The Creative Edges of Photography and Film


By Neil Campbell, Alfredo Cramerotti, Huw Davies, Jane Fletcher

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Intellect
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-562-6



CHAPTER 1

In the Light of the Lumières: Art at the Beginnings and Ends of Cinema

David Campany


It seems clear that in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the histories of both photography and the moving image. Even contemporary artists are interested, where once such media were attractive precisely because they did not seem to have histories, or at least histories that mattered. No doubt there are many reasons for this, but I will cite just two. Firstly, recent technological transformations have produced new orders of production, dissemination and archiving that allow us to grasp the differences between past moments in visual culture and our present, which is now organised according to the logics of the digital archive. The pasts of photography and the moving image are available to us as never before and in ways that have the potential to make them seem as radically contemporary as they are historical. Secondly, there has been a realisation that many of the concerns and interests that inform the work of contemporary photographers and film-makers — artistic, technical, philosophical, social and ontological — have been encountered before.

For example, it would be possible to read William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (his publication of 24 photographic images and text of 1844 that introduced photography to the British) as a prediction of what might be the future uses or applications of his invention; Talbot suggested the medium might be used to produce forensic evidence, legal documents, substitutes for memory, art, art history and archiving, among other things. (He did not foresee advertising or pornography but his understanding that photography could be both promotional and illicit suggests that he may not have been entirely surprised to see it used that way.) As we wonder what photography, now an eclipsed medium, is for or good at, The Pencil of Nature finds new significance. In cinema, the directions suggested right at the beginning, by the pioneering films of Louis and August Lumière on the one hand and Georges Meliès on the other, certainly anticipate some of the central drives of the moving image in contemporary art: the description of everyday life, the invention of imaginary worlds, the documentary potential and a fascination with movement itself. Contemporary film-makers and audiences find magic in the realism of the Lumières' films and realism in the magic of Meliès' films.

I would like to consider just one film that has fascinated me since I first saw it, and to think about it in relation to contemporary photography and film in art. It is Arrivée des congressistes à Neuville-sur-Saône, made by the Lumières in 1895. It is the film with which I opened my recent book, Photography and Cinema, but I did not have the space there to draw out some of its deeper implications. (Campany 2008) My hope is that a consideration of this film in the context of the present collection of essays may shed some light on the revival of art's revived interest in the history of the moving image.

On 11th June, 1895, the French Congress of Photographic Societies was gathered in Lyon. Photography had been in existence for about sixty years and cinema was a new invention. The Lumières had just been granted a patent for their Cinématographe, the first movie camera and projection system. Louis, who worked for the family's photography business, was there to demonstrate it. A boat trip to Neuville-sur-Saône had been arranged for the photographers, and Louis set up his camera to record them. He filmed as they came down the narrow gangway onto the quayside. The Lumières made several movies of people filing past their camera, including the first film to be screened publicly (La Sortie des usines Lumière, 1895). The subject matter was ideal: endlessly different figures passing through a fixed frame express so much, so simply about photographs in motion.

The photographers had heard of the Cinématographe and were interested to see it. In the film, which consists of a single shot of around 48 seconds, some smile self-consciously as they pass, others wave their hats. One man, looking more serious, holds a large plate camera to his chest. He halts as he passes, takes a quick photo of Louis and the movie camera and rejoins the flow. The whereabouts of his snapshot are unknown. He may have not actually taken one. Perhaps what really mattered was the filming of the gesture, the first footage of a still photographer "in action". Louis was not bluffing. In fact, those photographers were the first to see the film when it was developed and projected for them the following day.

What might they have thought of what they saw? Was the Cinématographe something familiar and agreeable or radically different? What effect would it have on photography? What purpose might it serve? Was it competition? Was it a novelty or would it last? And what was the meaning of that moment when Louis was photographed and the photographer was filmed? It passes in seconds, but its enigma remains. Was it a friendly affirmation that photographer and film-maker were essentially the same, or a realisation of profound difference? Was this cinema affirming a debt to photography or distancing itself? The questions must have been felt acutely. Whatever curiosity or trepidation the photographers experienced as they were filmed would have been compounded as they watched their encounter played back in real time.

The image I reproduce here derives from a frame of the film. For reasons that will become clear, I should be more precise: it is a "frame grab" from a DVD transfer of the film. It was acquired by playing the film on a computer and using a simple piece of software to pause the film, then copy and extract the chosen frame. This particular frame might be considered the "high point" of the action (not that this is an "action" movie; it is more of a "motion" movie). But this highpoint is in fact a moment of suspension, when the photographer pauses, almost stopping to take his photograph. There is an elegant symmetry between his taking of a still photograph and the necessary stilling of his own body. In order to take his still, he must still himself momentarily. In effect, he turns himself into a photograph in order to take his photograph. He pauses but he also poses, separating himself from the motion recorded by the Cinématographe.

If he actually did take a photograph, let us assume he was sufficiently still to get a clear image. It would have shown Louis operating the movie camera, his body still, apart from his moving arm, which would have appeared blurred as it cranked the ciné-film through the camera. The man taking the photograph was Jules Janssen, a pioneer astronomer and chronophotographer. Among his achievements Janssen had developed a photographic revolver, a gun-like contraption designed to make sequential images of eclipses and other celestial activity. Such sequences constitute an image form somewhere between the still photograph and cinema, belonging equally to both since they derive from the wish to arrest things and to see them in various sequential states. But in this film, Janssen uses a regular plate camera that takes just one photograph, siding with his fellow photographers in front of the movie camera rather than with the cinematographer behind it. Janssen attempts to take an instantaneous shot, a "decisive moment" so to speak, although we had to wait another three decades or so for idea of the decisive moment to really become significant for the photography of everyday life.

Like the others in the film, Janssen knows his movements are being recorded and seems aware that he should not really be performing too overtly for the camera. Louis is trying to make a documentary, or at least that is how it appears. In fact most of the photographers behave in a way that is somewhere between theatricality and a pretended absorption. Let us call it coyness, or flirtation. While following the instruction to disembark and exit frame left or right, they make gestures that both proclaim their presence and recognise the presence of the camera and its operator. The photographers may even be gesturing to posterity, knowing their motions will be preserved forever. Janssen was certainly in on the act. Also on 11th June, 1895, the Lumières shot the film M. Janssen causant avec M. Lagrange, which was shown to the Photographic Congress the next day. Janssen and Lagrange sat concealed behind the movie screen and spoke the words of a filmed conversation (the synchronised recording and playback of sound and moving image would not become standard for another 35 years).

So we cannot think of Arrivée des congressistes à Neuville-sur-Saône as a documentary in the narrow sense of a neutral observation of the world. If it is a documentary at all, it is a highly reflexive one, showing how a group of photographers at a particular moment in history behaves in front of a movie camera operated by someone most of the group probably know and count as a colleague. Perhaps all this makes the film a richer document than was ever intended. It certainly has a resonance well beyond that small group of photographers.

When the audience saw Jules Janssen pause to take his snapshot it would have been the second still moment in the presentation of the film. The very first frame would have appeared on the screen as a still picture, set in motion by the deliberately delayed hand-cranking of the projector. Suddenly, the static photograph would spring into animated life.

The movement within the image and the movement of the image would be thrilling and fascinating in themselves. The same year, the Lumières made a comic short film about a photographer growing impatient with a sitter who will not keep still (Photographe, 1895). Right from the very start, they seemed to have grasped that stillness was an ideal foil for the presentation of the fascinating spectacle of movement.

In being single, silent shots from fixed vantage points perhaps all the Lumieres' films could be described as "motion pictures". This is a very old-fashioned term. These days we encounter it perhaps once a year, when the Oscars are handed out in Los Angeles by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But the phrase hints at that excitement that surrounded the phenomenon of the moving image. Can we still imagine that uncanny pleasure of seeing pictures in motion for the first time?

If that pleasure lives on anywhere, it is in contemporary art, where the moving image seems compelled to spiral back to the beginnings of cinema. Indeed the theorist and curator Raymond Bellour has spoken of a "Lumière drive" in much recent film and video art, with its preference for the long take, simple apparatus and almost forensic attention to duration and movement. These were the pleasures of the Lumières' films, most of which were records of minor, everyday movements: trains arriving or departing; menial tasks being performed; people walking or setting off on journeys. In the late nineteenth century, the Lumières' films seemed spectacularly modern and "state of the art", now their relative primitivism seems like an essential and profound moment of origin, if not pure then at least clear, rich and a little strange.

In the inter-war cinema of Hollywood production and the various avant-gardes, the tendency was to see the single shot not as an autonomous entity but as a constituent part of an edited, montage whole. But when cinema began to demand of itself a counter-tradition in the decades after the Second World War it looked to the long take. The films of Roberto Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman, Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Stanley Kubrick and later Chantal Akerman, Wim Wenders, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Tsai Ming Liang, Jia Zhang-Ke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Bella Tarr and Michael Haneke (leaving aside those contemporary artist-film-makers producing works for the gallery environment) exploit the long take, the locked-off camera and the funereal tracking shot. The slow, even glacial tempo preferred by these film-makers seeks a distance from the spectacle of Hollywood and the cut and thrust of television. The fleeting is often considered irredeemably frivolous and artistically beyond the pale. Instead the camera's gaze is so long and penetrating as to estrange what at first looks banal and familiar. The long look describes the surface of the world but doubt creeps into the equation between appearance and meaning. As Wenders once noted, "When people think they've seen enough of something, but there's more, and no change of shot, then they react in a curiously livid way." (Wenders 2001: 162)

One of the clearest echoes of the work of the Lumières is to be found in the films of the Canadian artist Mark Lewis, who is interested in the possibility of an overlap between the hypnotic potential of cinema's single take and the pictorial tradition of art as it evolved in the gallery setting. His silent films are presented in the gallery as, quite literally, moving pictures.

North Circular (2000) begins as a fixed shot of an empty car park. Judging by the light it is early dusk. In the distance is a derelict modernist office block that is roughly the same shape as the image itself. After two unnerving minutes of almost photographic stillness the camera lunges forward, leaves the ground and glides towards the block's façade of broken windows. Three boys are playing inside the building. One of them approaches a table and sets in motion a spinning top. Coming closer, we watch the top as it loses its centrifugal grace and begins to wobble. The instant it skitters to a halt, the shot ends with a cut to black, four minutes after it began. Looped for gallery presentation, what seemed at first coldly hermetic begins to open up. Lewis' film becomes a metaphor for its own mechanism and for the mechanism of history: everything must come to an end — including modernity and its movies — if only to start anew. It is a rare reflection on the nature of modern life and on film's long-standing depiction of its fortunes.

North Circular is also emblematic of the 40 or so films Lewis has made since the mid-1990s. Many are silent single takes that run the length of a reel of commercially available celluloid film, transferred to DVD for gallery projection. They are slow, meditative and rich in allusion. Among other things, North Circular alludes to Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin's painting Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin (1738). An absorbed boy watches his humble top, while the mastery and mystery of the depiction have the potential to absorb the beholder and set the mind spinning. The viewer contemplates the painting the way the boy contemplates the spinning of the top, and perhaps for the same amount of time. Lewis himself has spoken of Chardin's anticipation of art's great shift from the "representation of drama to the drama of representation". The modern artwork may depict the most inconsequential moments of everyday life, but the manner in which it does so may be profound. Nothing much more than this "happens" in Lewis' films, but that is enough.

Windfarm (2001) presents a majestically composed landscape in which dozens of wind turbines rotate at their individual speeds. One is stationary, while another casts its flickering shadow across the mid-ground. The invisible wind that animates the scene also flutters the desert plants in the foreground. Each element in the frame marks time in its own way, while we observe them all through the elapsing of a filmic time made palpable by the tension between motion and stillness. It exemplifies Lewis' interest in finding ways to fuse the pictorial tradition with the art of movement.

For certain guardians of art's pictorial tradition, Jeff Wall among them, the moving image is an intrusion. Movement was what the pictorial arts of painting, sculpture and photography were obliged to find the courage, invention and craft to depict. Film simply mimics movement. This is not to denigrate the moving image (there are few artists to whom it means more than it does to Wall), but film places the moving image outside of art, in the cinema. But here we must recognise the radically different paths by which the moving image has found its way into the contemporary gallery. Firstly, the gallery and museum have taken under their wing those films and practices left adrift by the collapse of those older forms of avant-garde and experimental film production and distribution. For example, over the last two decades or so the network of film-makers' co-ops and independent venues that supported experimental film since the early 1960s has all but collapsed. Such work has been granted a new home in the gallery and museum system. This has given rise to a certain amount of misgiving and ambivalence, because gallery spaces are unsuited to the proper presentation of much experimental film. Firstly, 16mm and 35mm projectors are expensive to maintain and invigilate, there are no projection booths, there is no seating, there are light leaks and sound leaks and there is no scheduling (unless, of course, the gallery is temporarily turned into a cinema). Secondly, art and the museum have become a home for what we might call a "culture of exile" — those films with forms and values that find little outlet elsewhere. Thirdly, there are forms of moving image that have developed within the gallery and museum setting, taking on and working with its specific history and specific forms of attention. This is complex situation presented to the contemporary art audience.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Photocinema: The Creative Edges of Photography and Film by Neil Campbell, Alfredo Cramerotti, Huw Davies, Jane Fletcher. Copyright © 2013 Intellect. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword A note from the editors to the reader: Photograph/cinema/word,
Introduction: The Cinematic Promenade Neil Campbell,
— 1 — In the Light of the Lumières: Art at the Beginnings and Ends of Cinema David Campany,
— 2 — "Being of two minds": The Dialogical Pictures of Robert Frank and Wim Wenders Neil Campbell,
— 3 — Eric Baudelaire's Sugar Water, the Deleuzean Event and the Dispersion of Spectatorial Labour Tan Lin,
— 4 — Interactive Cinema and the Uncinematic Victor Burgin,
— 5 — Tesseract Rachel Moore,
— 6 — Brief Encounters Hannah Starkey, Aaron Schuman, Martin Parr,
Stillness and Time: Hannah Starkey's Photographs Hannah Starkey/Jane Fletcher,
Once Upon a Time in the West (2008–2009) Aaron Schuman/Neil Campbell,
Making Connections Martin Parr/Huw Davies,
— 7 — Portfolio Section Preamble Alfredo Cramerotti and Huw Davies,
Afterword Louise Clements,
Authors' Biographies,
Acknowledgements,

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