Thursday, 19 April 2012

Emmaalouise Smith

From The Pictures #5

In his excellent article 'Anywhere but the Home: The Promiscuous Afterlife of Super 8', Exploding Cinema's Peter Thomas argues that the adoption of Super 8 by successive generations of filmmakers "cannot be rolled up as simple nostalgia or dead technology fetishism." The article was reproduced in the first issue of My Obsolete Future, a zine produced and edited by Emmaalouise Smith to accompany her mayday screening programme last year at The Shoreditch. It's easy to see why she found a resonance with Thomas' contention - her films validate it entirely.

Working almost exclusively on film, Emmaalouise's shorts are hand crafted - self exposed, processed and cut alone in dark rooms and on editing desks. She fashions her images and sequences from the idiosyncracies and anomolies that the medium throws up: hair, overexposures, black frames, scratches, so that we are aware when watching her work that this is film as film, a self contained object, a capsule. But it is not nostalgia, the past nor longing for it. Instead the grain and skipped frames come from a hazy present, midnight conversations and daydreams shone through the projector gate.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon opens with a manifesto effecting that there are experiments but no mistakes. The film has a historic air in its depiction of a very Victorian pastime and grainy monochrome tones but the period feel is offset by a pop soundtrack and hectic editing of the image and the elements that comprise it. Shadows swell and bathe the frame, unfocussed lights dance across the séancers as they place their skinny hands in a circle. The film is contemporary London gothic, creepy and immediate.

Emmaalouise's films are interested in bringing out texture, both using the physical film (employed particularly well in her collaged Brakhage-esque stage projections for Kate Nash, appropriately titled It Looks Like...) and in the images recorded onto it. The Midnight Pen Pal opens on a dimly lit room where a woman is using a typewriter. She walks ot her kitchen in half-light, her shadow moving across the textured wallpaper and onto the flat white lino. The sound of the typewriter mixes with an ambient synthesizer and a faint echoed voice reading, perhaps from the letter we're seeing composed. Another woman is shown, writing in a notebook. The camera moves towards a front door basking in early hours shadow, later revealed from the outside to be a striking cerulean blue. The paint strokes are almost touchable. The film is a psychodrama, full of hints at connections between the women that inhabit it and the images of communication between them. The camera finds the ephemera of their lives - pink cigarettes, plastic telephones, shoes. There are echoes of Vivienne Dick and, in these objects and affections, a sense of make-believe, of dressing up to assume roles and identities. The past is recalled but remains past, transformed into new expressions.

As well as producing films herself, Emmaalouise is also a curator, having incisively programmed the monthly Short Film Sessions at Rich Mix last year and launching the less regular My Obsolete Future - "a film concept which re-introduces long lost aesthetics as well as welcoming the future of DIY ethics" - a perfect summation of Emmaalouise's own work.

THE PICTURES: You work almost exclusively with analogue materials and media. What do you prefer over more modern techniques? Could you describe your production process?

EMMAALOUISE SMITH: I think a lot of people forget that modern techniques aren't really techniques in themselves - we wouldn't have the majority of the technology we have nowadays if it wasn't for the traditional approach and obsessive development of classic film and photography, and I think modern-day/everyday are really lacking in any speciality and emotion when it comes to visual mediums - especially with the mass-produced 'look' both amateurs and professionals seem to strive for... it's so easy for people to pay a couple of quid and get a 'vintage' iphone app, or to to use Photoshop. Colleges and Unis love Photoshop because it gives them something to teach, you can't teach kids how to take good photographs, but you can teach them about Photoshop. I've been there, I've learnt Photoshop, and almost been brainwashed with the 'skills' they say every photographer should have. But looking back, at any photo I've taken in the past where digital manipulation has been involved - and I don't like it - it's not me and it's not what I was trying to do when taking the photograph. I guess Photoshop is for people that have always wished they could draw.

I don't want to be one of these really dismissive people that will completely swear by either film or digital, I think I've been that person before and it's not healthy in a creative way - you end up too angry, argumentative and in rants most of the time... I can 'work' digital and see the ease that some people would enjoy, but for me now, I wouldn't choose anything less than film - both moving image or stills. I work alone most of the time, and in the dark. With the types of equipment I use (or want to learn to use) I often end up working a complete bodge job to get the look I want. Working with film is one thing, but I'm completely fascinated in making things completely by hand (mainly because I find it hard to pass my work over to someone else to finish or rework). I much prefer to see something from start-to-finish and know that it's mine. I work with a lot of Super 8mm equipment, I hand-process my own rushes and telecine my own footage on a 70s toy projector (because I can completely control the finish) or I work with a man in East London who also spends a lot of time in the dark. I've specialised in 16mm film, and love the history behind the stock - particularly old Bolex films and European cinematography. I've recently started working in a colour stills darkroom, and again, seem to be working against-the-clock to develop my own style with it, before paper becomes too hard to come by, but overall I just work at a constant rate of personal experimentation - a lot of people that want to be artists these days want everything given to them on a plate, and it's those people that never get anything done... I'll spend a week trying to order some rare camera batteries just to use a particular camera I've got my hands on, or spend hours hand-drawing on film stock for my own amusement, and a lot of my work will never be seen by anyone's eyes apart from mine, but I'm not going to stop.

TP: A lot of your work centres around issues of idenitity, particularly self-identity, when you yourself feature in the films, or when there are monologues or external music on the soundtrack. Would that be correct to say? Is that a conscious thing, or is it more an organic thing coming from your process?

ELS: It would be correct, and I am quite aware of it, but when I look back on my work I see it as more of a scrap-book or diary into the past few years, and I don't think it's either deliberate or indeliberate, because I don't particularly like my image being recorded in a pretentious way, I just think I can learn a lot about observation and image capture if I can experiment with myself or my 'image' on a particular day - and I know how to look into a lens as well as staring down the barrel myself. It's like when writers say 'write about what you know'... Another reason is because it's sometimes very hard to get things done when relying on other people, or being let down by people with no lasting motivation. I love collaborating, and have found people (although very few) that I can instantly 'click' with to make something 'work' and I really enjoy the strictness of working together with someone. But I'm completely happy to write, direct, shoot, model, edit, record sound and produce if I need to...and then face the decision of how to write my name in the credits when it comes to it...

TP: What is your favourite moment (or moments) from your films?

ELS: For me, there are actually very few. When enjoyment comes along it's the most amazing feeling, but most of the time I'm completely terrified, whether on a very miniscule personal scale or on a larger platform... I try not to let it get in the way and rarely show it, but someone once said a similar thing to me that completely made sense, the wanted to be a cinematographer (and were probably a lot closer than they thought) but they would always say they were scared of 'the camera', and I think it's true of a lot of great artists - there's definitely a difference between pretending to be cocky and actually being an idiot. There are good moments though, on a rare occasion when I can honestly say I'm completely happy with the result of a film or photograph, or at least happy with what I've learnt, it's mostly just a very short term feeling (until you sit down and look back at what you've done and nostalgia kicks in) because the next day you'll probably be working on something completely new and starting the cycle again...

TP: Why did you approach Rich Mix to run the Short Film Sessions, and how have you found curating a film night?

ELS: Rich Mix actually approached me at the beginning of the summer last year, I had some ties witht he place for some work I was trying to apply for, but the Short Film Sessions were really just given to me as 'a free monthly film night in the new bar,' that I had the chance to transform. I was lucky to mainly be given the freedom to do what I wanted - again on my own, but in quite a professional space, but it was so much hard work looking at film from the curator's point of view as well as the maker's. I've stopped for the summer months to finish off some work I did for the East End Film Festival, as well as tie up some loose ends with some of my own work (including some new pieces!) but I did really enjoy the work I put in for the sessions and met a lot of film-makers I would never have had the chance to meet, including a very talented friend, Miss Ellen Rogers. And I was really lucky to be a bit cheeky and get in contact with some of my favourite influences, including Stefanie Schneider, Tony Hill and the really exciting premiere I programmed for Tim Walker.

TP: What are you working on next? And where do you hope things will head?

ELS: I'm getting a lot better, but I find it quite hard to go from start to finish with a project in a broadcastable sense. I experiment with so many ideas and techniques that I often happen to turn into very mixed medium pieces which can work out, but at the same time I'm trying my hardest to work on one project at a time, as opposed to 3 or 4... I love visual scrapbooking, cine-collage and archiving so I always have lots of little ideas that I'll develop into short films or stills projects; at the moment I'm working on another audio/visual project with musicians Goodnight And I Wish*, a personal narrative film about an old lady with lucid dreams of her past, and a short film about a magical fish that lives in my sink. I'mm getting quite a good response from entering films into festivals and screenings, particularly my shorts The Midnight Pen-pal and Who Would Have Guessed? and festivals have always been a good step into the future for me. I'd relaly like to begin to work in more of a broadcastable and exhibitive sense. I'm very excited about a nerly finished set of colour prints and short, starring Princess Julia, and shot in Dungeness, which I'd like to exhibit in the next few months. I just want to make films, and make the films I want to make, I'd be really unhappy working as a focus puller for many years to come, to then regret working as somebody else's eyes...

No comments:

Post a Comment