Picture of the Week #80: Raymond Waters’ Haute Couture

I’ve wanted to revive the popular Picture of the Week feature for a while, but needed a spur to do so. A couple of years ago, I featured a beautiful artwork by Raymond Waters, which featured a print of Charlie Chaplin‘s The Gold Rush arranged with fairy lights. So, when Waters drew my attention to his latest exhibits, I was only too happy to show them off here once more. The dress pictured above is from the Haute Couture series, and is made of strips of film from Chaplin’s Modern Times: a closer view will reveal more:

As well as such bona fide classics, Waters creates vivid coloured outfits using particular films, including John Carpenter’s Vampires, which is clearly better to wear than to watch:

Waters’ commitment to treating the film itself (a disappearing commodity in the digital age) as aesthetic content in itself, rather than the raw material for the more important projected image, offers a genuinely novel angle on film history. We already carry films, in the form of memories of films, around with us at all times: making films into clothing gives physical expression to that fact, just as it manifests the longstanding relationship between film and fashion.

[Read more about the work of Raymond Waters here.]

Fragment #29: Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion

Still playing around with iMovie, which lets me make short videos, I made this quick piece that features a montage of Eadweard Muybridge‘s Animal Locomotion photographic series. The music is an excerpt from Philip Glass’s 1982 opera The Photographer, which took its libretto from documents and transcripts from Muybridge‘s life, and in particular the court proceedings from when he was on trial for the murder of his wife’s lover. If you want to keep up with these videos, and hopefully watch me get better at making them, you can now subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Picture of the Week #79: Gallery 1988’s Crazy 4 Cult Show

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Gallery 1988 was opened in Los Angeles in 2004 by Katie Cromwell and Jensen Karp. Since then, it has built up an avid following for its annual Crazy 4 Cult exhibition of work by new artists focused on popular cinema. Many of the ‘cult films’ beloved of the shows contributors are comedies and fantasies and fantasy comedies from the late 80s and early 90s: there’s a lingering love for Tim Burton, Back to the Future, The Goonies, the Evil Dead sequels, Pee Wee Herman, Donnie Darko and The Big Lebowski. Colourful and accessible, perhaps their attraction is that they treat with nostalgic, loving care the movies that mattered during the childhood and adolescence of the gallery’s target demographic, movies that were themselves often reverently referential to their predecessors. Here’s a sample of recent exhibits [Click on any image for a larger view]:

Picture of the Week #77: Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills


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Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’, examples of which you can see in this slideshow and gallery (click on the images below for a larger view), were taken in New York from 1977 to 1980. Sherman uses herself as the model for a series of set-ups which see her assuming the roles of various characters from imaginary movies, like a portfolio of stills from the career of an actress. Although we’ve seen none of these films, we recognise something of these character types: women on the run, waiting in a motel room for a lover, plotting a theft, regretting an infidelity – every expression, every setting, every prop is a prompt to create our own stories.  

What might seem like an exercise in fantasy, a professional game of dress-up, ends up poignantly conveying a sense of isolation, perhaps inadvertently encapsulating the limited options available to women in Hollywood; the feminist interpretation is there if you want it – Sherman shows how easily you can knock up a pre-fab female stereotype with a bit of make-up and a wig, and how readily the spectator will accept and participate in the construction and reinforcement of ideals of femininity. The staging is never glamorous, and always a little cheap and sparse, as if Sherman’s characters have been left stranded, out of time and out of context after the collapse of the studio system. From one picture to the next, she is troubled, locked in a private struggle with a story which is never explained to us; Sherman is invariably looking off screen, rarely returning the camera’s gaze, both exposed to us and simultaneously inaccessible, distant. In that sense, they offer a beautifully succinct summary of our tendentious relationship with the people we see on the screen above us at the cinema.



Picture of the Week #76: The Mesdag Panorama, Den Haag

Last year, I wrote a post about the Salzburg panorama, an amazing, vast 19th-century 360-degree painting housed in glorious surroundings at the centre of the city. This week, I’ve seen another astonishing panorama, in the heart of Den Haag. Painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag(1831 – 1915) and Sientje Mesdag‐van Houten (1834 – 1909), it has occupied the same enormous rotunda into which it was painted since 1881. It stands 14m high, and 120m in circumference. That’s a surface area of 1680 square metres. The world’s largest panorama was recently unveiled in Zhengzhou, China, measuring over 3500 square metres. It was designed digitally, and puts its viewers on a rotating platform in front of its enormous image. But the Mesdag painting was all done by hand; the main features were sketched onto a glass drum which was then illuminated from the centre of the room to project the outlines of buildings onto the canvas and accurately record the view of Scheveningen. As you can see in the photograph below, the Mesdag Panorama building is part of the illusion of continuous space created by the picture:

Visitors enter through a staircase below the central platform. A canopy restricts their view of the roof, and the floor surrounding the platform is covered in sand, driftwood, and other debris that is designed to conceal the gap between the two-dimensional image and the space in which the viewer is standing. The trick depends on hiding the frame: this is a painting with no visible edges, and you can’t approach the canvas to inspect the brush-strokes (there’s also the modern addition of piped-in sound effects), so you are asked to view it as if you were really standing on the shore at Scheveningen, the Hague’s most popular beach resort.

It’s a superb experience, an exciting reconstruction of an earlier form of screen entertainment. I never like to force those comparisons with 3D and Imax etc. (though I have done so, and they’re there if you want to make them), because panorama existed on its own terms with its own conventions of visual spectacle, but it’s also worth considering the longer, broader histories of screen media if you want to be a well-informed, critical consumer of, or preferably participant in, today’s visual culture.

Picture of the Week #70: Krassimir Terziev’s Double King Kong

These two paintings come from Bulgarian artist Krassimir Terziev‘s ‘Missing Scenes’ series. His work often reconsiders and appropriates the history of cinema, as in Double King Kong (2007), which collapses the temporal gap between Kong’s 1933 and 1976 imaginings, to show the big ape doomed to repeat the same tragic ending against the backdrop of an indifferent city. The Fall of King Kong (2007, below) is, hopefully, self-explanatory and poignant:

Picture of the Week #66: John Stezaker

John Stezaker’s collages of postcards and studio portraits and film stills are eye-catching to say the least. Apt, but imperfect, imprecise but resonant matches are the hallmarks of these pairings of pictures that fit together uneasily. Like bad photo-fits and good art, they distort the familiar and frame the strange. Old publicity photographs, intended as guarantors of a star’s identity and accessible public image, provide much of his raw material, and he effortlessly transfigures them from something sweet and composed into something surreal and fragmented.

[Click on a thumbnail to view larger images, or see slideshow below.]

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Painting On Film: A (Mis)Understanding of the Abstract

[This a guest post by one of my undergraduate students, Olly Beaton. There will be several more to come this week. The assignment was to produce screening notes to accompany a small collection of films connected by one of the topics from the module. Comments and feedback below would be most welcome.]

One of the emerging experimental techniques of avant-garde films of the postwar period involved directors etching directly onto film rather than using a camera. This concept was heavily influenced by the rise of abstract expressionism in western art, notably through artists such as Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky. Their paintings often offered no clear representation of anything, and demanded that spectators searched the images to find their own meanings. Likewise, these films neither followed a narrative structure, nor contained any characters, and often lasted less than a minute. Through analysing Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (1949), Stan Brakhage’s Rage Net (1988) and Brakhage’s Eye Myth (1967), we can begin to appreciate the purpose of such films, even if it will prove impossible to draw any conclusive understanding of them.

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Picture of the Week #50: Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theatres

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This week I have some very beautiful photographs for you. Hiroshi Sugimoto shot these images of American (movie) theatres with a long exposure, capturing entire films in a single frame, reducing movement to stasis and complicating the usual distinctions between still photography (instant) and film (continuous). Here’s how he describes the germ of the idea:

I’m a habitual self-interlocutor. Around the time I started photographing at the Natural History Museum, one evening I had a near-hallucinatory vision. The question-and-answer session that led up to this vision went something like this: Suppose you shoot a whole movie in a single frame? And the answer: You get a shining screen. Immediately I sprang into action, experimenting toward realizing this vision. Dressed up as a tourist, I walked into a cheap cinema in the East Village with a large-format camera. As soon as the movie started, I fixed the shutter at a wide-open aperture, and two hours later when the movie finished, I clicked the shutter closed. That evening, I developed the film, and the vision exploded behind my eyes.

Of course, you can’t see which film is which – there is only a celestial glow emanating from the screen. It’s a wonderfully romantic vision of the cinemagoing experience as a trascendence of our quotidian timeframe (and don’t you wish all cinemas looked like these?. See more of Sugimoto’s spectacular photographs at his website.

Picture of the Week #49: “But What I Really Want to Do is Paint…”

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A while ago I posted some paintings by film directors. To cut a(n already not very) long story short, here are some more. See if you can guess who painted the the pictures in this post without looking at the captions. Match the pictures to the directors who created them: Alfred Hitchcock, Satyajit Ray, Jan Svankmajer, Peter Greenaway, Dennis Hopper, Jean Cocteau, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, John Huston, Josef von Sternberg, Mike Figgis and Sergei Eisenstein. Some are more obvious than others.

These are selections taken from Karl French, Art by Film Directors (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2004)