“After watching a movie your relationship with the film changes as details are forgotten, so when you try to remember the hour and a half or so you’ll recall some things but invariably at the expense of others. But here in these photographs I’m giving it all back to you. A pictorial translation on one page of every single frame that you saw.”
How does your relationship with technology inform these photographs?
The thing that first struck me was why had no-one done this before? After all, it’s blindingly obvious and startling in its simplicity – to capture a film in its entirety by setting the exposure time to the film’s duration.
The reason was down to technology.
People often compare my process to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs - his cinema halls. Sugimoto would open his shutter for the duration of the film, and the result would bleach out the screen and illuminate the auditorium. He wasn’t trying to make the same point as me. But even if he had tried, he wouldn’t have been able to achieve the same ends back then.
The reason is that light, when shone through a lens onto a screen produces a hot spot in the middle that then darkens and vignettes as it approaches the edge of the frame. The key difference nowadays is that I photograph the films on a practically pixel-free monitor so the edges are almost as illuminated as the central area. Now, this still results in a slight vignette – which exists because when the film was shot the same lens rule applied when the light entered the movie camera.
If I had projected the films and photographed them it would have been impossible to capture all of the tonal disparities in a single exposure. If it weren’t for massive 5K monitors and their even splay of light these pictures simply wouldn’t be possible.
Do you feel it’s important to the project to keep working with popular cinema as a medium?
No, I’ve shot a lot of other subjects - sports, cartoons, advertisements and so on. Ages ago I collected all the footage of 9/11 from various television networks - Fox, BBC, CBS, ABC - and photographed the coverage from eight to ten o’clock or so, from when the first plane hit until the second tower fell. I wondered if I photographed all of the separate broadcasts might there be a single image amongst them that would represent or echo the time that I remember watching the event unfold live on TV? In the end I felt that no decisive picture emerged,
So, is it the duration that you’re interested in? Almost more than the subject matter?
Not particularly, but if we’re talking news footage here there are probably some seminal snippets that are too brief to work using this process. The film of the suffragette who threw herself under the horse at Epsom, I don’t think that would show any kind of interesting arc as a still. I have shot the very short Zapruder footage, the Kennedy assassination, the 8mm. I wanted to see how this culturally familiar section of a home movie would look compressed into a smear.
It does feel to me as though there is something keenly dedicated to an analysis of the simple act of looking into the images, no? An effort to map out the shape and sentience of an attention span....
In the fuzzier ones I’ve noticed that people tend to see the things in them that they want to see, especially if it’s a familiar film. It’s apophenia. They find shapes and scenes that tally with their recollection of the film. Take the photograph of The Wizard of Oz. Sometimes someone will tell me that they can make out the shape of the Tin Man. But they don’t see the Tin Man. They’ve managed to make themselves see the Tin Man. It’s almost as if the picture works like a Technicolor Rorschach blot.
It’s up to us to project our own wants onto the image. We’ll find what we want to find.
Exactly. My photograph of ‘Deep Throat’ is a good example of how we all naturally gravitate towards pareidolia, because people often say that they can see Linda Lovelace’s bobbing face, whereas actually what they’re seeing is the end-result of a long-held shot of a pair of kitchen cupboards that in the lengthy exposure now seem to resemble a pair of eyes.
Also, I think there’s something in the manipulation of time that’s unique to these pictures. They differ from time lapse photographs which are always of a single event. With a movie the narrative jumps around in time and this makes for a very different composition from say the classic static long exposure photograph of stars drawing curves in the sky.
For sure. But going back to Sugimoto: in his pictures the cinema as a space is highlighted and the film erased. With your work, conversely, all we have is the screen. The cinema – the method of delivery – disappears.
Maybe you want to focus on our private experience of the work rather than the authority it is granted by being screened in a cinema or hanging in a gallery?
Perhaps. After watching a movie your relationship with the film changes as details are forgotten, so when you try to remember the hour and a half or so you’ll recall some things but invariably at the expense of others. But here in these photographs I’m giving it all back to you. A pictorial translation on one page of every single frame that you saw.
The photographs paint a picture of moviegoing as an escapist activity that is ultimately disposable. There’s something so curious in flattening out the films in this way – a prefiguring of our forgetfulness.
We’re talking about bad science now.
Yes. Self-supporting post-justification. Most artists behave like bad scientists. There’s a nervous tendency to reappraise and find or forge “evidence” or “meaning” after the fact. I’m trying my best not to do it with these...
To my mind, these works are dedicated entirely to a scrutiny of bad science. The predominance of bad science.
I couldn’t agree more. Look at these - the Italian Series – One of these pictures threw surprising light on this process, I’m still unsure if it ticks the bad science box or not.
This one. This one’s a bloody miracle. It’s the photograph of The Gospel According to St Matthew. Check out the undeniably “Turin-Shroudy” representation of Jesus in the middle.
The face of Jesus.
I can’t imagine how that must have felt seeing that come through.
When I re-watched the film later, I realised that the Jesus face comes from Pasolini’s directorial style. He places most of his actors’ heads in the same central field, all framed exactly the same way: big face, eyes straight at you and when they’re all added together - Behold, the son of man.
Few others are so explicit though?
None apart from the Jesus one.
You’re relinquishing quite a lot of control, no? You can decide what to show me and what not to show me....
Yes. And I often feel like a gimp to this process. I’m just an editor or a secretary who works for the pictures…
Yeah and I’m thinking here about your work as a sculptor. Say, I enter a room - see a plinth - and on the plinth is an object. That dictates the atmosphere of the room so aggressively. But these photographs of films, their innate qualities....It’s something else entirely.
I think cinema may be a logical extension of my other work. And maybe all my sculptural tropes are a bit cinematic since they often contain movement or an illusion of movement. As a kid, I collected 8mm films, now it’s 16mm ones that I screen every now and again. I’ve always been in love with it. Ratcheted film.
The cinematic toolbox is an interesting idea. I’m thinking now about ready-mades, going back to Duchamp’s ideas; here, it’s not about repurposing found material but working with material that’s already been found. The dynamic between discovery and the purpose of things….
But that could just be bad science again. That ‘reading into’ has a healthy historic precedent though. Think about the Dadaists. They drew a squiggle; then re-appraised the squiggle. It was all in the re-assessment. Attempting to add reason and explain something made by hand that’s also random. This kind of thinking fundamentally changed the way we all see art.
Yes. Either we find what we’re looking for, or we have the face of Jesus staring straight out at us and determining our interactions with the image.... Where possession begins, and where it ends. That concept?
Perhaps. But I don’t think of myself as conceptual in that way. I work with my gut over concepts any day.
Yes, but there’s the inescapable precedent to the film works...
A conceptual one.
But it’s in the films themselves. I walk into the studio today and you’re shooting Silence of the Lambs and I’m thinking about all of the different implications of that film; about gender, about violence, about sexuality, about psychosis....
That’s interesting, but about you. For my part, I have to play a waiting game with the camera and see how the picture looks when it’s cooked before deciding anything. Will it show me what I’m looking for? even though I don’t really know what that is until I see it. This is what I was trying to preface when I talked about the simple curiosity that underpins this work. I’m hunting for something that I can’t explain. It’s just – subjective, and I like that sense of unpredictable expectation.
Who is fixing the image here? The director? The editor? The lighting guy? Me? We will never know who affects the stain. And in the end, that’s all I can show you...
A retinal stain.