Can cinematography exist without fragmentation?
What would happen if we opened its core frame-by-frame system?
THE GESTURE OF OPENING | 2019 | 2021
Photographic and cinematographic techniques have an ancestral relationship with fluidity in particular with lights and waters. Over the process of evolution, humans and non-humans have developed a plurality of techniques, logics and gestures to interact with these natural agents. My intuition is that within this enormous repertoire of techniques, the present era seems to hold fragmentation as the dominant logic. So what can we learn from studying the mechanisms of fragmentation at work within those techniques? More precisely, what can the processes of fragmentation in photo-cinematographic techniques teach us about human–nonhuman relationships?
The Gesture of Opening is a cinematographic research exploring the potential of continuous exposure to generate visual experiences of fluidity and continuity. It was developed during the Master program Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam between 2018 and 2020. It resulted in a series of photographic and cinematographic works, accompanied by an exploratory written thesis. In 2019, I released the first short-film based on the method developed during the research. Abiding (2019) was selected as part of the Eye On Art 2019 program by the Eye Film Museum. It was subsequently awarded and screened in several film festivals. In 2021, I created four new films, for which I improved the digitization and animation process. One of those animations was used for the experimental documentary Prison with Songbirds (2022) directed by Ewan Macbeth. The three other films will be released as a triptych installation in 2022 .
The research starts from the assumption that fragmentation is the dominant logic of light-based imaging technologies. Rooted in the technical context of analogue photo-cinematography, the aim is to critically explore this dominance by questioning the internal mechanisms of cameras. I believe that by modifying such mechanisms it is possible to touch upon the gestures that define our interaction with the world. Perhaps this could help transform today’s problematic human-environment affective relationships. I chose to use the notion of opening as the guiding principle of the project. This was further motivated by my interest in bridging the concept of "open machine" developed by the philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon with the concept of "freedom" discussed by the philosopher Vilém Flusser.
For reasons of feasibility, my experiments focused on the shutter mechanism of common 35mm SLR cameras, such as the Minolta SRT101. I opened the camera and dismantled the shutter and the intermittent mechanism. This negated the fragmentation of the light flow in the act of exposure and a continuous exposure relationship was achieved. In turn, the continuity of the light flow offers a different technical and gestural framework for constructing the images and conceptualising new forms of mediations between the operator and the milieu.
“ When we don’t use a shutter in a camera programmed with one, we play with the conventions of exposure and representation based on 19th century laws of optics and chemistry among others. We play against some of the pre-established rules, narratives and discourses mediated through programs. I argue that by removing the shutter we can remove the part that allows these programs to function automatically. More precisely, we avoid the photographic process to operate without human mediation. Therefore, limiting automaticity in my practice can be first understood as a way to regain control on exposure and representation, which I considered fundamental processes of interaction with the world. In that sense, limiting automaticity might increase the mediation of intentions. Furthermore, by removing the shutter the discontinuous character of single exposure vanishes. If exposure becomes a continuous event then it might be possible to reinvest the undermined intentional, sensory, and bodily dimensions."
Extract from The Gesture of Opening | Master Thesis | 2020
“ The cameras I use possess a film advancing and rewinding mechanism which is not motor driven. I modify or disengage the mechanism to allow for the constant winding motion which is necessary for the continuous exposure. While most strip-photography techniques use a motor-driven film mechanism to achieve a constancy of speed, I prefer to manually move the film in front of the aperture by rotating the lever connected to the axis of the film reel. I use both hands to manipulate the camera. My left hand usually holds and directs the camera. My right hand operates the reel. The manual aspect of the practice is the bridge I use to go beyond intentions toward the performative and the gestural characterization of the process.”
Extract from The Gesture of Opening | Master Thesis | 2020
“ Without shutter the control of exposure is transferred mainly to the film’s velocity and this characterizes in turn the process of exposure. The depiction depends on the relation between the film’s velocity and the subject’s velocity. Therefore, the manual dynamic of the gesture qualifies both the depiction and the exposure; the image is that relation. I suggest that this set of relations is embodied in the making of the photograph. In that sense, the modes of embodiment and the photographic modes are interdependent and performative. Embodiment, intentions and hands form a set of parameters which leads to a gestural approach of the practice. Increasing the manual dimension of my practice is motivated by my will to reinsert the body as a key element in the construction of the image. Precisely, I refer here to the notion of touch. Touching the camera to apprehend the construction of the image. Touching as a mode of knowing and a mode of transforming. It is gestures that enacts this modality of interaction with the world. Perhaps, it is possible to advance the hypothesis that the manuality of the practice participates in a gestural understanding of the world through the manufacture of images. ”
Ugo Petronin “The Gesture of Opening” 2020