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  • Writer's pictureJohanne Chagnon


Updated: Jul 25, 2022

As an interdisciplinary artist, I am particularly interested in how other disciplines can be integrated into an experimental cinema or video art. More precisely how photography, drawing, painting, dance, and writing can find their place in an amalgamated manner. A fusion that is only possible within the moving image and not elsewhere. In this post, I will focus on the contribution of photography (or still images) to film experimentation.

Experiments with the frame

There are many fascinating examples of these experiments that require impressive fastidious and patient work. Since I have to begin somewhere, I will pull the thread starting with this recently seen example, “The Yellow Ghost” (2012, 3: 30, 16mm) by Quebecer Guillaume Vallée. He describes his work as a cinema without a camera. He is interested in the materiality of celluloid, treating it chemically, painting, and engraving it. He also modifies VHS tapes. For “The Yellow Ghost”, he used 24 photograms of a scene from a documentary on the Roman Empire where we see a man on horseback walking away. Obsessed with a childhood nightmare, Vallée seems to have found in this documentary the image that corresponded to his nocturnal terror. He peeled off the emulsion of those photograms that he glued on a transparent film strip. Then he rephotographed it with different light sources, including multiple flashlight exposures (indeed a very useful object at night !).

All the resulting images are edited in a stroboscopic way, supported by the music of Eric Gingras. The haunting vision reappears throughout the video but is buried under its various manipulations, as if under layers of time. The fast pace of «The Yellow Ghost» gives the impression that the artist wanted frantically to get rid of his obsession, to exorcise it, but the disturbing vision persists, stuck to the depths of memory. A bit like a blurry dream that we barely remember except for a recurring image.

Other filmmakers are also interested in experimentation based on the frame: the most basic cinematic unit. Japanese Takashi Ito provides a special demonstration with «Box» (1982, 8 minutes, 16mm), consisting basically of sequences of a cloudy sky and an urban exterior. The artist captured these images frame by frame and fixed them on the sides of a virtual cube that rotates on itself. It uses a variety of fast alternations: the «box» changes dimension, moves in the frame, goes upside down, reduces to a rectangle, is tinted yellow, and ends by being flattened. The photos are constantly replaced on the sides of the cubic form. A circular public space surrounded by buildings was filmed 360 degrees so that the hectic editing takes us around in a dizzying way. It is an odd visual experience to see this circular movement displayed on a rotating square. Ito enhances his formal concerns to the point where he incorporates the forward traveling of a building wall (a square) in the moving box. This vision of a three-dimensionality flattened on a geometric shape floating in the void creates an impossible movement that can only exist in a cinematographic medium.

Frenchman Patrice Kirchhofer has always worked with still images. In «Sensitométrie III» (1976, 12: 15, 16mm), he transferred the slides he took of a man walking up and down the same staircase, seen from behind and from profile. The film decomposes and then recomposes the scene with only a few key images whose duration varies. Kirchhofer manages to create a hypnotizing effect from a simple and repeated action. He experiments with all possible rhythms of editing, playing with the opposition of positive and negative and the vacillation caused by the superimposition of images. Sometimes he dwells longer on details as if he was exploring a moment of life in depth. Supported by a fast-paced soundtrack, this vision of a silhouette turned ghostly has a somewhat distressing impact. Kirchhofer is interested in filmmaking as an art of movement but a discontinuous and erratic movement. As if he deleted frames during editing, producing an even more anguishing effect than with a continuous film.

Muybridge's return in 2022

«3210» is a music video made for the rapper Jeshi by the English Will Dohrn (2022, 3: 17). Dohrn uses photography in a different way than in the previous examples. «3210» is an impressive tour de force that mixes live-action with thousands of color-printed unprocessed photographs. The camera follows the rapper as he takes the viewers on a guided tour of his East London neighborhood. Paths of juxtaposed photos on fences, sidewalks, or on a spinning bicycle wheel are present in all shots. This achievement is inspired by Muybridge's experiments with the zoopraxiscope invented in the late 1800s. A rotating disc revolves around a series of photographs in front of the eye at a certain speed and animates the images, designing the first-ever motion picture. Dohrn thus reintroduces an old technique, the precursor of cinema, within an actual production. In «3210», the photos become animated and often echo the current video sequence in which they appear. The circle is closed: the camera captures a series of still images that recreate motion – the very principle of filmmaking.


«The Yellow Ghost» of Guillaume Vallée :

«Box » de Takashi Ito:

A clip from «Sensitometrie III» de Patrice Kirchhofer :

«3210» de Will Dohrn (pour Jeshi):


About the Author:

For more than thirty years, Johanne Chagnon has adopted a diversified artistic practice that calls on several mediums, in addition to exploring various forms of distribution and various types of presentation venues, often unconventional. More recently, she has turned to experimental video in which she brings together writing, installation and performance to illustrate her symbolic universes. She has been involved for over 15 years in the art magazine ESSE as coordinator and editor. From 2000 to 2017, she also developed the LEVIER and ROUAGE programs of the Engrenage Noir organization, which works to support community action art. She has published a monograph, “Naviguer malgré tout” [Navigating despite everything], retracing her practice from 1986 to 2015.

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