Besos protoplásmicos

Cut Day 19 1editc2

As memory is re-called it is re-made. Neural pathways construct and chart their way through the vastness of the neural network like cartographers in a new (to them) land. The time taken is measurable and noticeable, at its fastest speeds of 180 miles per hour, or as slow as 2 miles per hour, slower than walking pace. The synaptic embrace by neurotransmitters that attend one another without actually touching has been defined, by Santiago Ramón y Cajal – the founder of modern neuroscience – as a “besos protoplásmicos”, a photoplasmic kiss. A discharge emanates at the collision of a “kiss”, something transfers between the two neurons, be it chemical or electrical – either is possible – and is the elemental component of memory. The synapse – from the Greek sunáptō to clasp – is the creation of the uncoupled union of two neurons in a memorial pathway buried in 100,000,000,000,000,000 neurons, amongst other synaptic events, to form a memory.

That intercourse between two neurons is plastic and occurs across an infinitesimal space called the synaptic cleft, the substance transferred at any junction varies enormously and shapes how the memory is reformed. As two neurons enjoin their form also transforms during their union, they may either temporarily increase in size or wither. The neurotransmitter discharge may also be large or small, like that feeling of touching but not touching, the electric charge between two bodies reacting with each other sub consciously.

The track of synpases may also proliferate or decay, meaning that memory will need to find a novel way to respond to the conscious desire of remembering. Or even the sub-conscious desire.


My submission for Assignment Two is here:

Accompanying text:

John Umney – student number 519133 Moving Image

Assignment Two:

The assignment two video is here:

Since our last tutorial (post Assignment One), I have spent a lot of time considering what are the expectations around this course, and of course my objectives.

At that tutorial you suggested that I consider this study phase as I would have if I was undergoing a Masters course, and I shall come back to that later, but I realised that for the course to work for me I would need to change my expectations. After completing the BA I had found myself missing ‘study’ – exploring a subject to find out better how I comprehended things about something. I have always relished this kind of challenge, however I have found it very difficult to overcome my reactions to the course material, to find ways to navigate the assignment descriptions to make work that both fits the course – in whatever way I could muster it – and which serves to continue my train of thought coming out of the BA.

My first thought for this assignment was to ‘make a film’. I found a script, re-wrote it from a single person narrative to a two-hander, rehearsed the players, set up the filming, learned a few new skills (at least experienced the level of learning needed to be more proficient at ‘making a film’). Filmed it, edited it and, pleased that it fitted my original ideas to a large extent, found that it was still largely following the assignment brief too strictly. The video can be seen here:– the password required is John276778.

I feel confident that I could carry on, developing the skill sets to make more and more proficient ‘films’. The video above deals with the notion of memory, but I found it shallow and un-subtle.

My reflections on this are, again, on the blog here: As might be seen, I was very close to discontinuing the course – I am not yet fully convinced I will carry on.

I went to a Family Ties event in early June called “The Transnational Familyafter which I madeanother short video:  which veers much closer to how I saw my work developing.

After I had interviewed with the MA course leader at Birmingham I felt I wanted to work with my archive (I have thousands of pre-BA negatives, from colour family to MF monochrome) and I felt that they would allow me to continue my research into memory – my family archive was destroyed by my father, and whilst I know this is in my mind I want to try and disassociate that fact, both in the emotional sense and that I only have about ten photographs of me until I reached adulthood.

My idea for assignment two was to investigate some of my theories around memory. I would cut negatives and make new memories by combining negatives on a scanner (I have a medium format scanner). My thoughts around this are on my blog here:’m not sure I knew that I was about to create assignment two, but after I realised that the work that I was making were indeed ‘film stills’, it became a clear idea to pull these together into a narrative that describes how I understand memory works.

The assignment two video is here: the password is – redpen – . It is perhaps shorter than requested, but I do think it represents a tangible thread for moving forward.

As described in the blog post my process was to curate from the 6X6 negative archive, images that express something about me of the time, something about the adherence to craft technique, of seeking to master form and aesthetics as a form of self-validation – all of this wraps into the notion of memory. The process of ‘cutting’ became clearer when I abandoned the ‘safe’ process – that of working on neg’s that were of “poorer quality” – and focussed on neg’s that exemplified what I thought at the time was close to that which I had set out to achieve i.e. a full range of tones, compositional construction, sharp focus across the neg’ etc. etc.

After I had those cut negatives I edited from our family album negatives that struck me emotionally, singling them out, and starting matching them with the ‘cut’ MF neg’s. At this stage I didn’t have a narrative structure for the work, all the work was an emotional response.

I then decided to “remember”.

I wanted to include another layer to the work, that of text. I focussed on a period before I became an adult – and now I can see how this echoes with the lack of a family album of the period, and I began the process of remembering from that time. After writing these remembrances down I recorded them and in a un-structured way I edited the images in a sequence together with the audio. I had considered adding them as written texts to the video, but I felt the sound of my voice made it appear more equitable with the imagery. I feel strongly that the written word has a greater agency.

What I particularly like is the blackness of both the beginning and the end, perhaps particularly the end as it doesn’t make things clear that the video has completed. I have deliberately sequenced sound and vision to not coincide, I am particularly interested in the dissonance that evokes, the tension between allowing ‘nothing’ on the screen and whether something is going to happen. Viewing the video on a larger screen amplifies the cutting of the negatives, which I am pleased about.







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:






Family Album

I’m not sure that this is the right place for this, however it is work that occupies me and is around the themes that concern me.

I have made a first attempt at a family album and intend to show the physical piece this week at a study visit to the Martin Parr Foundation to view David Hurn’s “Swaps”. The ‘Swaps’ show is a disparate set of photographs where the only common thread, seemingly, is that he (Hurn) like’s them. Hurn has collected these images from other photographers, mainly men, as Magnum has been, largely, an old boys club. So perhaps the idea of an album kind of sync’s with the notion of Hurn, in that it describes the author. Hurn collects images that describes himself – the accompanying video for the study visit explicitly provides that narrative – and this album is something that is descriptive as well.

More on this subject as and when I continue.


This came as an idea after attending a research seminar at the University of Coventry yesterday under the auspices of the Family Ties Network, with whom I now appear to be affiliated.

The notional framework for the event was “The Transnational Family” and much of the presentation from the various speakers was around “family albums”. I don’t plan to detail the various speakers works – nor my responses to them, as it was the ideas that sprang from discussions and chats at the seminar that have fuelled some inspirations, not least the video above.

The still image has been with me since I first collected it from a friend from their family album, my father destroyed our family album decades ago, and I am in the process of constructing a family album in the absence of any contemporaneous familial photographs. And of course they become fictive constructions clawed from my memory. If I am to take this an idea any further in this course I will have to find more ways to express any feelings about memory.

Doris video

I suppose it happens to most people on a course at some stage, the “what the heck am I doing this course for?” kind of moment. Perhaps more usually a significantly further distance travelled than I have achieved at this point.

I’m fairly sure at this stage that I’m not backing away from the course, more wondering how to make the course make sense for me. My tutor, on my first post-assignment tutorial, calibrated how I should approach the course, reminding me that I have already graduated and this is therefore, to some extent, a post graduate course and that, as agreed I should take much more control of the assignment briefs to develop my voice.  And so I made some decisions…

I decided to reign-in the technical frivolities in place of trying to get the formal technicalities – as much as I am in control of them at this stage – to serve what I hoped would be the narrative. I selected a text and re-wrote it to “embroider” the visual from a single actor, first person narrative on the notion of memory, to a “two-hander” reflective. The presentation would be largely a simple fixed camera position, deflecting the viewer’s attention away from the presentation (and it’s limitations) and more directly on the narrative. I didn’t seek to explain who the actors were, nor their relationship to each-other. I constructed my first film script after finding out what I imagine a lot of film scripts look like – a helpful set of course notes provided direction to that end. I planned the shots, planned the time of day, recruited the players, shot plenty of footage, safety footage and rehearsed the players. I made an edit and it did largely what I had hoped it would do.

Upon completing the edit I showed it to a couple of people and asked for critique. And it was that feedback which has made me consider what I am doing, or perhaps what I am not doing that I should consider doing in a different way.

I found plenty of justifications for my decision making, perhaps largely because the decisions I made were for certain reasons and the video seems to have largely justified those decisions. That’s not to say that the formal qualities of the video are anything but still rather stilted – clearly there is a long way to go before my skill set with video can be described as competent. However that’s not really my concern at this stage – if it were I would not be concerned.

The feedback from one student brought me rather abruptly to recognize that, just as my tutor described, I have an opportunity to develop my practice, experiment with my voice and I am, despite some improving technical and formal qualities, not doing so.

Fellow student Sarah-Jane Field suggested I look at Maya Deren’s work and looking at it I can see much of what I think my work might develop to (into). There is a lot, of course, I need to develop in core skills, the formalities of the medium, but I also need to try and free myself from self-imposed limitations – whether they are psychologically imposed or otherwise – to create work that better describes how I can describe how I feel about what it is I want to make work about.

This latest video therefore will not be developed any further, it has served as a milestone from a very short journey so far, and hopefully it will signpost more clearly the way to go.

Please contact me if you would like to view the video and I will send you a password.

Doris prep’





The time taken to consider work undertaken, make more work and then plan is a culture shock in this course. As a photography student, as an artist, as an enthusiast for the medium I could pick up my camera and add to the work. Maybe this was a limitation, this seeming casualness for making work; maybe it was core component of the medium that allowed it to be so, nevertheless the structural difference is one that I need to come to terms with. The availability of people who are prepared to give their time to my projects has to be the limiting factor as, conceptually, their absence in a work about memory is not something that I can construct a narrative around just yet – although seeds around that notion are beginning to grow.

I have made an agreement to start videoing in a couple of days. The three players involved and I met yesterday to discuss the script and ‘run-through’ the lines – motivations etc. – are still keen to make this happen. I did a couple of test shots, worked out how I think I will frame the scenes, angles etc. I am trying to follow my script at this stage, although recognizing that on the day I may need to improvise. Costumes were discussed and agreed as well as props. I have had to ask for a model release for one of the characters – the other two have already signed on for me in the past.

I now need to think about shooting sequences in a practical sense, continuity issues. The location has been chosen such that the afternoon there is no direct sunlight on the scene. The light therefore (hopefully) should be quite soft, it certainly was when I made the test shots, and should remain consistent for a couple of hours. I only have one scene (non-speaking contextual) outside, so I am hopeful.

On the copyright issue, I have contacted the original work’s author – still awaiting a response – but if nothing is forthcoming I may have to make the video ‘private’, which I am loathe to do as I think the wider the audience the more likely I am to receive a response, so I much prefer to be as public as possible.