In 1929 a Stuttgart exhibiton – Film und Foto – attempted for the first time to explore the shifting and intertwined relationships between photography and cinema. Eighty years on that same curatorial motive remains compelling: this year’s Format festival takes as its theme Photocinema and undertakes to suggest and demonstrate many of the points of contact between the two mediums, including the influence that each has exerted on the other; photographic and filmic stillness; photographers on screen; photographs in film; and photographers as filmmakers.
Cindy Sherman Untitled © The Artist & Metro Pictures
Curator Louise Clements spoke about the rationale of Photocinema. ‘What we wanted to do with this festival is to have it be a place where people could come and see work by artists that they hadn’t seen before; or see work – which they hadn’t seen exhibited before – by people that they know.’
‘So two thirds of the Festival is comprised of an open submission section called Exposure in which people were invited to respond to the Photocinema theme. We had hundreds of applications from all over the world – Cuba, Singapore, all across the UK, America, all over Europe, Russia and the Middle East as well. And there is a second section, Focus, in which I invited photographers to take part – and which includes work by artists like Cindy Sherman, William Eggleston, Gregory Crewdson and Hannah Starkey -an international range of artists who have more or less established careers – alongside incredible new emerging artists like Muge and Zhang Xiao – two photographers working in China that I found on Flickr.’
© Zhang Xiao
In addition the Festival surveys a selection of the web-based photo essays produced as part of the Magnum in Motion project; and displays bodies of work by such photography collectives as Documentography, Latitude and Brazil’s Cia de Foto. As Clements explains, given the wealth and range of material on show it is perhaps not surprising that generalisations about the relationships between photography and cinema remain elusive.
‘There are no conclusions – but we didn’t set out to find any. What we wanted to find was something that is really broad and rich; and I think the most interesting thing is the diversity and range. There’s everything here from moving image pieces to single photographic works, through to films. Medium aside, everyone has a really diverse way of approaching content – they may use a similar production method but that content is massively different.’
‘The theme works because it is broad and specific at the same time. Also, we were just really excited by the dynamism and the conflict between photography and the moving image; and the fascinating way that the filmic, the cinematic, film stills, stilled film, and so on all worked together. So the Festival has a coherence despite the huge diversity of approaches that the artists have.’
© Hannah Starkey Hotel La Solitude, 2001
‘So in Hannah Starkey’s pictures, for example, the delivery of the images has an overtly cinematic feel to it. She is clearly influenced by films – not specific directors necessarily - but a whole culmination that really feeds into her work, and the staging of that work in a filmic manner. There is a sense of structured narrative in the photographs, which we were keen to exhibit as a way of interpreting the theme in a less complicated – or less controlled and orchestrated – manner than, say, Gregory Crewdson.’
© William Eggleston Untitled. From the series Fourteen Pictures, 1980
‘Or you could look at actual cinema and another whole range of influences: there’s David Lynch and his use of this still shot or the freeze frame. Or look at the styling of certain situations and locations: for example, William Eggleston and his influence on Wim Wenders, especially in Paris, Texas. Indeed, look at Wim Wenders’ own photography in relation to his films . He’s continually making images. His films often start from the sense of a place that he finds in a particular location; and then a film might spring from an image that he’s made of that place. Like Paris, Texas where he took a photograph and then created a narrative from that starting point.’
One reason why so many contemporary photographers, filmmakers and artists find the area between photography and film such fertile terrain is the blurring of traditional boundaries that has resulted from digitalisation.
© Veronika Spierenburg
Clements explains, ‘One way in which those boundaries are much more blurred now is through the dissemination of film – and there’s a whole range of artists whose work is related to developments in that area. For instance, artist Veronica Spierenburg has visited China often, and on one occasion bought a really bad quality DVD from somebody selling them on the street. She saw the opportunity to use that; and then cracked into the film and took still images from it as they were decaying digitally and pixellating. She then turned them into photographs to be displayed. So you can investigate that whole process – and the social and political implications of how she got her hands on that source material – and see that it all reults from digital technology and the dissemination of popular film.’
Further, as professional photojournalists are increasingly aware, in recent years the computer screen has radically compressed the distance that previously separated consumption of still or moving images. The ‘film und foto’ theme may not be new but – with traditional forms of media apparently imperilled – it appears particularly timely.
Format International Photography Festival presents Photocinema. March 6 – April 5, Derby
Full listing : http://www.formatfestival.com/