70s Iranian Cine Film

Below are blog updates from a 2013 sound-art residency that took place at no.w.here, an artist-run space for artist working with cine film.

"The residency began with an open call for home made films from Iran in the 1970s and will end with an installation on projector of my own film work including adapted and re-purposed home movies from Iran.

Sponsored by Sound and Music, my time at no.w.here was spent learning how to shoot and hand develop 16mm and 8mm cine film. My cine-audio project is based on ideas of Iran-UK-USA relations in the 1970s, similarities between them in the analogue age and tensions caused by oil exports from one to another. The installation which will take shape for exhibition in Summer 2013.

This picture is one I took of the hand-cranked cameras we've been using, a Bolex, that takes 16mm film. I can hardly watch one classic film anymore (last weekend it was 400 Coups by Truffaut for example) without wondering which camera it was shot on, how they managed it, how long it took to get the film so right.

no.w.here is a not for profit artist-run organization in Shoreditch, combining film production alongside critical dialogue about contemporary image making. Their amazingly stocked studios allow for experimentation with all manner of cine processing such as optical printing. no.w.here's bespoke film equipment is not available anywhere else in the UK.

 September 2013

We scheduled a peer to peer to review screening at no.w.here for invitees this month. They were mainly established artists, producers and film makers. The film has become an installation for projector, hand held projector and reel to reel tape machine. It was surprising how useful and insightful the process was.

August 25th

Experiments with burning, melting and crude oil. Not to mention reproduction and even sourcing 16mm positive film.


Thurs August 1st

Extracting audio, experimenting with projection techniques. It's haunting to hear voices where for so long there have been none, just impressions of light and shade on film moving across the celluloid. 

Thurs 13th June 2013

During WWII kids collected iron for the "Noisy But Useful" campaign
Currently researching analogue, everyday sounds. Most of them are mechanical, bar the sound of people selling their wares. Amazingly in my area, a man comes around on Sundays with a cart and horse and calls out from street to street for people to bring out their old iron to him. I ran out and took a photo of the cart and gave him some stuff I'd been storing for him since last time he passed. The horse was immense and had long hair over its hooves, and the sound of his voice and the horses metal shoes rung from wall to wall of the houses, and morphed as it moved into nearby streets. He is competing with two men who also pass by on the odd Sunday, but they drive a van, and through the open window one of the hangs his arm out ringing an old bell with a wooden handle. They are perfect sounds for a Sunday.

Tues 16th April 2013

 After weeks of capturing frame by frame we're finally ready to begin printing the captured images. And we also have sound! Revealed here are a puppet show with distinctly Iranian puppets, while I won't be using these images in the final piece, they are captivating to see. The castrato voice of the puppeteer is reminiscent of early Greek theatre, beginning as it did in the streets of ancient Greece as parodies with which the populace made light of the evils of their own governing bodies. As Colette Hemingway says in her thematic essay "Theater in Ancient Greece" (1) : "Unlike the Greek tragedy, the comic performances produced in Athens during the fifth century B.C., the so-called Old Comedy, ridiculed mythology and prominent members of Athenian society."

Pictured here are the hand-turned reels for rewinding tape backwards and forwards on. With this, and the feeling around in the complete blackness of the dark room to roll film onto cartridges, progression is in real time, there's no drag and drop here.

Another process I've been experimenting with is augmenting the film by projecting onto meaningful objects. Here I'm playing with the textured surface of the very Bolex the images are being captured on in a self-reflexive gesture, and below other people's memories move across an empty film can, enhancing the already sepia tone that shrouds the colour images. The animism offered by this method of projection is at once oblique and appealing, for the details we lose in the rough surface, others are suggested. Cracking, buckling and bubbling is something I associate with old, decayed film. There is also a sense of seeing through the camera in another fashion, no longer the singular realm of the camera-person, the viewing of a film on a camera's body case can be collective, and as JJ Charlesworth write of artist Laura White in "Seeing Through Objects" (2), a sculpture is created when film is projected onto any object, the two become combined and are reframed as one.
"There is a telling correspondence between the objects used and the subject matter of the projection."

(1) Colette Hemingway, published in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000

(2) http://www.laura-white.co.uk/publications/paper/

Tues 9th April 2013

Experimenting with oil and liquid on film in preparation for the sequence with crude oil being applied directly to sections of film. The was filmed using a rostrum camera, and these are digital reshoots of the printed images on projector.

Friday 29th March 2013

Footage of the Olympics in Iran has left us spellbound! The 7th Asian Games were held from September 1, 1974

A short report on this new development in my project features here.

The burning process takes inspiration from both the oil fields in Iran, and the techniques of Brakhage. Celluloid, the thermoplastic with which I'm working is a matter derived from petrochemicals and famous for being highly flammable. Part of the process to derive the chemicals is called Fluid catalytic cracking, which is done at crude oil's boiling point of 340°C in reactors and regenerators. The mixture of oil vapors and the catalyst used to extract the chemicals enters the reactor at a temperature of about 535 °C, and very high pressure. AFter that the coke that is created is burned off in the regenerator at a mind blowing 715 °C. It's as if we were creating the centre of the earth's core on it's crust.

Stan Brakhage’s “Love Song” (2001)
Instead of Brackage's moth wings I am using silhouettes of 19070s designs on acetate. Acetate has the same nitrate composition as film and was used in virtually all major motion pictures prior to 1952, now all motion picture camera negatives are shot on acetate film. Here is a quote about acetate from wikipedia obviously written by another pyro-cine enthusiast: "Acetate film does not burn under intense heat, but rather melts, causing a bubbling burn-out effect - this can be seen simulated in films such as Persona (1966) or Velvet Goldmine, or, if one is unlucky, in real life during a film screening when a frame becomes stuck in the projector's film gate."
I've not taken these films as inspiration, being a sound artist I was moved by Bill Morrison's film Decasia to explore the idea of the passing of time, the demise of past societies and the decay of film, and how sound can both illustrate and confuse these themes.
Nitrocellulose film on a light box, showing deterioration

7th March 2013

This image is both wonderful and poignant to me. The anonymous figure, visibly carefree here on the beach in Iran, is enjoying a fleeting moment before the motorcycle she is on shoots off down the beach.
Yet already around 11,000 daylights have passed since then, and that day is dead, preserved only in static, trapped objects and wavering memories.  Not only the moment is gone, but surely the woman as she was in the picture too, for as we grow old we change and lose, as a snake does its old skin, our previous selves.


20th Feb 2013

After months of watching and learning I've started shooting. The poetics and personal turnover of what I'm doing never fails to affect me. I am essentially magpie-ing other people's memories, from a period lost to us all in terms of its physicality, ideology and space. See here the image of an Iranian rose garden as seen through the glass prism (critical gate focuser), made of ground glass. A reflection of a reflection of light onto film.


18th Nov 2012

As part of my residency I've learned how to transfer negative to positive film reels... in the dark.

 The noise from the Contact Printer is deafening. Currently in the UK, due to the last existing space in Soho closing down in the face of digital domination (! sounds like a conspiracy!), there is no way of copying colour film at perfect colour quality levels. But the contact printer will copy colour film and imbue the new reel with a yellowish, possibly sepia tone. For my project I'll be copying 1970s home movies so that I can keep a version to work on. Better get some ear plugs.

Below is my short film of the viewfinder in the Contact Printer, where a ghostly figure appears head and shoulders for a brief moment. By chance my phone seemed to record it's own glitch, so that there are pixels missing from certain frames. What an interesting juxtaposition of two forms, each with their own merits and drawbacks.

 As usual with all this cine-film machinery, the viewfinders are grainy, hard to focus on and only a means to estimation. It's a voyage of discovery, simply processing, nothing as exact as digital.


18th Oct. 2012

I begin an exciting Embedded sound and film residency at no.w.here studios this week.

Sponsored by the music and sound monolith Sound and Music, I'm currently learning how to shoot and hand develop 16mm and 8mm cine film. This is in preparation for my own cine-audio project based on ideas of 1970s Iran-UK relations, which will take shape for exhibition in February 2013.

So Ive been filming suing the Bolex, in 16mm film which needs the beautifully designed light meter (left) in order to shoot at the right exposure. I love this light meter, if only all design could be as lush, stylish and friendly!

The Bolex below took me by chance into a trimmings shop across the road. After passing the art-deco styled reception I got through to the bowels of the shop, where the shopkeeper told me that we were standing in the first cinema in the UK to screen a Charlie Chaplin film. Find! So far I've filmed chickens being blow-torched, men's hair cut at open barbers, kids running around poles and inside a shambolically retro laundrette where I perchance found a Bolex enthusiast.

no.w.here is a not for profit artist-run organization in Bethnal Green combining film production alongside critical dialogue about contemporary image making. Their amazingly stocked studios allow for experimentation with all manner of cine processing such as optical printing. no.w.here's bespoke film equipment is not available anywhere else in the UK."