I have been spending the last week or so creating film stills. I have a large archive of film negatives, some thousands, I have never considered counting them, but I have considered using them.
I had intended to find a way to start my MA course with them, I had envisaged that they would become a way into further ideas about memory. I had always thought I had a good memory for most of the negatives I’ve made, where they made and why etc. However some are beginning to test my recollective capabilities. That is surely to do with my memory failing, the memory of the place/person/situation or that the negative has remained fixed whilst my memory has moved on. Both are possible.
This idea about cutting negatives has been in the background for more than a year, and I always new that to cross the line and dismember a frame was going to be hard. Initially I started with negatives that I thought I could do without under exposed, over exposed – although not out of focus as I have had in mind that they might be very useful. I soon decided that was shirking the purpose, I need to work on negatives that I could see were representative of a practice that comprehended process above all. Fully rendered frames, sharp in focus – probably F18 or F22, that would require little corrective effort in the dark room to make a ‘beautiful print’. I had to set about destroying the archive. The first one I did after that decision was a straight diagonal across the neg’, to see how it would look with an absence.
My next move was to use a scalpel and scissors and not in a straight line. Whilst the scissors made the process of cutting outline slightly more precise, the scalpel had greater significance, it slipped, it overran and presented an incision that I feel currently, more visceral.
Up until this point I had been cutting Medium Format negatives, but I wanted to start working with the ‘family archive’, that other large store of imagery from the family carrier bag of photographs. What I have worked on until now – contact sheets below – are mainly 6X6 monochrome cut neg’s and whole single frame 35mm colour neg’s. I have sliced one or two 35 mm neg’s but am mainly holding onto the full frame.
The process is to find a MF frame, cut it and pair it with a 35mm colour neg’ and scan the result. This means that I have to scan as a colour neg’ which places a colour cast on the MF neg’. I quite like that arbitrary cast, it is another variable to throw into the mix. I have tried to rework the scan to revert the monochrome negs, but I’m not overly connecting to that – it seems an unnecessary artifice.
In the background to all this is the knowledge that my father destroyed our family archive – and the destruction of the negative via cutting is still a purposeful act that seems to echo what my father did. This may pass.
I have hardly touched the surface of the MF archive, and haven’t started on the 35mm black and white archive at all – by far the largest by volume. The colour neg’s from the family archive represent a direct connection to my past, to my memory and it’s interesting to note that that memory is slipping and sliding. I currently using MF neg’s to provide a frame, from which to hang the familial image in/under/above.
My plan now is to regard these images – I am away for a couple of days and may have the opportunity to consider them – and then see if I can pull together a narrative thread. They are literally film stills, maybe there is a film there.
Contacts sheets below: