I’m interested in non-places; marginal, liminal, overlooked spaces that tend to be empty of a sense of history and barren – hostile – to the human condition. So far, I’ve focused on the railway journey and views seen from the train.
How can film be used to create collages about places – to capture something about how it felt to encounter them? The filmed footage is broken down into fragments; into a series of disrupted, distorted, uncertain and ephemeral perspectives. Reassembled, disparate events are forced together and interrupt each other, time is distorted and images haunt those that go before. These disruptions disturb the status quo to allow space for new possibilities to seep through. The final films create the vision of a world poised between beauty and dystopia where grains of truth intermingle with fantasy and lies.
So far, all footage has been captured using a mobile phone camera, exploiting the point where the technology fails to keep things in focus and appearing as the natural eye would see them.
This blog is a space to think carefully about my practice –identify what works well and not so well and where things can be improved. In essence, it’s about retaining a critical discourse about the work now I don’t have the support system of my MA course.
More about the project
What generates the reality I experience?
According to David Eagleman it includes:
Data captured by my senses and transmitted to the brain.
Information sent to the brain by my own internal model of the world – facts learnt from previous experience – that rectangular metal objects are cars, fluffy white things in the sky are clouds, etc. This short cut referencing system means my mind doesn’t have to work things out from basic principles each time.
Corrected or adjusted information – for example, when I look around me the image my eyes take in is jerky and unstable rather like film shot without a tripod. However, my internal model has learnt things like buildings, horizon and landscape are generally stable so it automatically removes any movement. Also, I think I see colour but this doesn’t really exist – my eyes translate the wavelengths they see into something I perceive as colours.
Missed information – when I pay attention I feel like my senses have captured most information but in truth they only collect what’s needed.
Restrictions created by my biology – my senses can only supply data that lies within their physical capabilities – a whole lot of information outside this natural range remains invisible.
So, it seems the reality I experience is not what’s actually out there in the world. Instead, it’s a version of reality my brain has created; facts blended with assumptions, interpretations and extrapolations.
And, unless everyone’s senses and minds operate in an identical way, there seems little likelihood that the reality I perceive is precisely the same as the one experienced by anyone else.
Source: Dr David Eagleman The brain with David Eagleman, episode1, Blink films 2016
What our senses pick up – light, sound, taste, smell, sensations – isn’t piped straight to the brain. Instead this information is converted into electrical signals, transmitted to the brain, sifted through to identify patterns and then re-assembled. What results is a version of reality that’s less about what’s happening around us and is far more a constructed product of the mind itself.
Data from the senses each runs at slightly different timings so light, for example, is processed slower than sound as its more complex. The brain conceals the effect but there is around a 0.5 second delay between an event occurring and our conscious experience of it. So, we live in the past; by the time you think the moment NOW is occurring, it’s already long gone.
Source: Dr David Eagleman, The brain with David Eagleman, Blink films 2016
In the two short films I’ve made recently (In search of the unreal n.01 and n.02) the sections that interest me the most are the views seen through another train. They offer multiple perspectives simultaneously – the train I’m travelling on, the one passing in the other direction and the scenery in the far distance. They contain disparate layers naturally trapped together into one frame – an accidental collagic collision of fairly random perspectives, events, objects and people.
Other footage in each film may have been layered digitally to construct unique perspectives but these shots through the trains have not been manipulated in this way.
It makes me wonder… What other collages can I find naturally occurring around me? What part do things like reflection, shadow, shafts of light, mist and smoke have to play? How different do the final results feel if they’re documented in photography or film?
These experiments in instant collages are being recorded using Instagram.
Mid-way through my MA I made a whole series of collages by combining two photographs of women, one contemporary and one taken up to 80 years ago. I haven’t made any since – the films of edgelands have taken over – but this week I revisited them and made ten new collages. This set of work could run and run. The matches aren’t as easy to uncover as one might think, although if they were hassle-free to make there’d be no fun doing them!
Making so intensively risks carelessness and compromise, but as I found out on my MA it’s also a chance to drive the work forward and force it to evolve. In this case, I can feel the influence of my recent films creeping in as a third delicately translucent image insinuates itself to haunt the others, altering them subtly. Simplified cuts bisect vertical and horizontal planes in a way that feels more self-assured than before. There’s also a trickery of the eye as the cuts in the paper – the demarcation lines between one image and another – are implied rather than real. The fractures to the original images remain – there’s nothing intact to see here. Each collage is printed on cotton rag paper rather than the semi-gloss photographic paper I used in the past, offering soft, matt, saturated colour more in keeping with the slightly retro feel of the original images.
The collages will be available for sale together with a series of landscape prints from my recent films at Making Art Work’s Art Market in Maidstone in September.
More about the work
The trigger image for each collage is a twentieth century black and white portrait of an actress – an immaculately made up star frozen in perfect, dramatic pose. On the face of it is passive perfection but I sense a hint of resistance from the tilt of her head or defiant glint in her eyes. It’s beauty that comes with a steely edge. I pair each old image with another in a similar posture found in a contemporary fashion magazine. The new constructed image that is created takes on its own unique character, crafted as it is from the fragments of two others.
Each print is a limited edition of 12 produced on Somerset paper using Epson Ultrachrome inks. Size – 26 x 26cms, unframed
The last film I made caused me some frustration. The image kept pixelating, partially I think because I was filming from a moving base (the train) and because the editing software struggled with the data thrown at it. Due to this I’m reconsidering the camera and editing software used. However, I can also see that it’s an opportunity – an uncontrolled distortion of the footage – one perhaps with potential for further exploitation.
Pixilation is a type of glitch. There are two types of glitches. The first is artificial, manufactured using special software or by moving footage to another Codec. The results are predictable – a particular piece of footage run through the same process twice gives identical results each time. The second type of glitch is random and happens when circumstances overwhelm the technology being used. As my knowledge grows, I can predict when it may happen but I can’t control it or have any certainty about what the end results will look like. This is the sort of glitch I’m seeing in my footage.
I’m already deliberately distorting the natural vision in the films I make so why not simply embrace the glitch as another form of this?
Sean Cubitt & Rosa Menkman, ‘Indefinite Visions’ Conference, Whitechapel Gallery, 24th to 25th June 2016