What have you been making?
(what) In the last seven months I’ve been making color photographs using the whole surface of 35mm film rolls. (how)To expose the whole film strip in a single gesture, I am rewinding or pulling the film in front of the lens with the shutter open. (why) Since the beginning of my study, I am interested in the fluidity of reality and the potential of photographic and cinematographic processes to record such characteristic.
How did you do it? (method)
Describe your research: What/How/Why + References + Historical / Theoretical framework
My research alternate between three mode of production, strip-photography, reading and writing. Most of my work focuses on image-making. I explore this by testing the possibilities contained within camera (Flusser, p36). I have been exploring the role of the shutter in photographic and cinematographic apparatuses. I built or used shutter-less cameras to make photo-chemicals photographs.
Most of my images are color photographs made using kodak color negative film. I take photograph using the whole strip of film. I move the film behind the aperture with the shutter wide open. The film is moved linearly by using the rewinding mechanism of the camera. In the same time, I hold the shutter open by positioning the setting on bulb. This is a technique called strip-photography, and date back to the 19th century. The book The Art of Strip Photography: Making Still Images with a Moving Camera (2011) by Marteen Vanvolsem was decisive to understand the particular history and the specificties of this technique. Vanvolsem shows how strip-photography can be used to explore the time-based possibilities of the photographic image.
How to explore the fluid character of reality with photographic and cinematographic apparatuses?
(exposure) It is with this question in mind that I started my research. One of the main things that photographic and cinematographic techniques are doing is breaking and fragmenting the continuity of light. It is mainly the shutter that control the flux of light, at least in most usage of cameras. So, the first thing I did was to remove or keep the shutter open. A continuous flux of light result ultimately to an overexpose image. One way to regain control over the time of exposure was to move the film away from the light source. I use a manual SLR camera from 1966, a Minolta SRT101. This camera has a manual film-advancing and rewind mechanism. It is this rewind mechanism that I use to move the film in front of the aperture. Another essential feature is the Bulb option on the shutter dial, that allows the manual control of the focal plane shutter.
The combination of this rewinding mechanism and the manual control over the shutter is the base of the technique. In a way the shutter’s power to control the light flux is transferred to the moving of the film. What interest me here is that the shutter is limited to a binary control, light or no light. This specificity, whatever the speed of the shutter, only allows the sequencing of images. It is a fragmentation of the flux of light, and this fragmentation feels like to be a fundamental structure of photographic and cinematographic apparatuses and more widely in the way we understand things. I work against this fragmentation trying to deregulate some of the processes. I theorise this with reference to the notion of the apparatus developed by Jean-Louis Baudry and Vilem Flusser. [See: Newman an Instant by Leotard]
Moving the film in a shutter-less apparatus allows for a “dynamic exposure” (Vanvolsem, p153). A continuous exposure coupled with the moving of the film provide the setting for a continuous recording, only limited by the length of the film.
The dynamic exposure in strip-photography is a direct result of the speed of the film and the aperture. The exposure time is the duration of the shooting process. This are the two main parameters of control. A constant speed will give a constant exposure as variations of speed will bring variations to the exposure. In the first image I made (fig1) the variations of exposures are clearly visible in the shape of vertical lines. Those lines are created by a multitude of superimposed frames. This clearly indicate the struggle I had to perform a smooth circular movement when I rewound the film.
Fig 1 : Extract of first roll (1/6th of the image)
The jerking motion is visually printed onto the film. It is hard to get a smooth motion with such a small rewind crank. A larger crank gives more amplitude and therefore a smoother motion. I had the chance to build a medium format camera during a workshop, on which I stick a larger crank. As the contact sheet below demonstrates, the frame lines disappeared with a smooth motion.
Fig 3: Medium Format
But the movement of the film not only impacts the exposure, it also plays a major role in the depiction of objects. The depiction of object is relative to the movement of film, the movement of the camera and the movement of the operator’s body. To sharply depict an object onto the film, the object and the film should travel at the same speed. This complex relation is not possible to achieve manually and only a mechanical device that will synchronize the film’s speed with the object’s one could potentially approach the equation.
The impossibility of synchronizing with the reality is of importance for me because it pushes away the idea of a perfect representation of reality ruled by sharpness and fixity. Strip-photography creates another relation with the reality, one ruled by movement, intuition and asynchronism. (A world we can relate to? Refer?) In the image below (Fig 4) I try to match the speed of the passing landscape from a train window. I rewound the film intuitively, trying to match the different speeds. It became even more difficult when I realized that the distance of the object from the camera influences its relative speed. A mountain in the background moves slowly in the frame compare to the rails in the foreground. The resulting photograph is made of variations, between sharpness and motion blurs. In some way the dynamism of the exposure echoes in the dynamism of the image.
Motion blur structures visually the image. Separate objects like tree or houses can be seen connected together, linked in the image by drooling colors and shapes. Solids appear to be melted, as if the photographic surface gain a liquid quality. Like in the society of Zygmunt Bauman, the liquid state is achieved by deregulation of the traditional norms and values (Max Weber). In the strip-photography, the norm that is subject to that deregulation is the one of central perspective. Because the film and the camera are moving, the central perspective point implemented in the frame and the optical system is no longer centrally focused (Vanvolsem) therefore strip-photography can be characterized by its continuous shift of perspective.
It is hard for me not to link this multi-point perspective with the increase in physical and mental mobility that we experience today (Pascal Gielen, Paolo Virno). Here art and strip-photography can inform our understanding of contemporary mobility?
Here maybe lays the subject of my research, movement.
Living in different country, adopting different perspectives (are we?), flexibility towards norms? How do we represent this flexibility?
TO TALK ABOUT: Gesture, the body, mobility, relation to subject. The means of production: the mark of the making
(Historically this consensus of photography as a true representation of world grew in parallel of the pursuit of the freezing of time, and a general focus on speed in Western civilizations. Cameras, like the cars, the trains and the plane became faster and images became sharper. They also became smaller, and quickly a mainstream symbol of travel, mobility and individual expression.)
Moving the film during the exposition impacts the image in two ways,
Time of exposure & Speed of the film
M. BERMAN, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, 1983
K. MARX & F.ENGELS (on capitalism, modernity, melting the solids quote (manifeste p.c))
HERACLITUS (on change, flux, opposites)
W. SCHIVELBUSH, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization and Perception of Time and Space, Univ. Cali. Press, 1986
M. MERLAU-PONTY, Phenomenologie de la perception, Gallimard, NRF, 1945
M.HALBWACHS, On collective memory, Uni. Chicago Press, 1992