Experiments with analogue film

Lorna Collins, Touché, DVD of 16mm film, 2 min 54 sec.

I have never used 16mm (or any kind of analogue or digital) film before, so this work began as an experimental pilot project. Working with a new medium enabled me to have a fresh, intuitive approach with the tools and materials I was using. As a consequence, my method of making became an alert process of trial and error, learning as I went, which must have influenced the final aesthetic on the film. In this way I was directly interacting with the materiality of the medium. I ‘felt my way’ across the 100 feet of film negative, whilst I was painting it, and continued this new relation of intimate proximity when I put the film on the Steenbeck and on the projector. I felt instantly connected to the technology I was using. 

This connection then initiated a hypercomplex, nonlinear relation between myself, the materials, and the final outcome. Since my process of painting the film was not consciously mapped (I had no plan for what it would actually look like, only what it might mean) and I had such an intimate relation with my materials and the technology, this enabled a chute for elements from my unconscious mind and deeper self to emerge (without me necessarily intending them to). As I wrote in my journal (responding to my process of making, showing and viewing the film): 

The film breathes, as I breathe, we breathe together.

I was initially influenced by looking at the history of painted film. I looked at the Futurists, Len Lye and Norman Mclaren, and I was particularly enamoured with the techniques and effects obtained by Stan Brakhage (with his toxic inks). Other artists who inspired me were Emma Hart (‘Skin Film’) and Jan Svankmajer. These artists set the context of my own practice and helped me to visualize the kind of (ontological and tactile) effect I wished to create. 

After participating in a course on making analogue films using natural substances at ‘’, in London, I decided to paint a reel of 100 feet of 16mm film, using berry juice, iodine, mud, food dye, egg yolk, with smudges of PVA glue and bleach. This was an intuitive, organic process. There were practical problems of utilising this medium, which influenced my decision-making process and the final effect of the film. The paint on the reel began to disintegrate as the natural materials went sour, and lost their colour. It was hard to source a projector because I was told that these materials could break one. Playing the film on the Steenbeck was precarious because the film crunched and crackled as it went through the machine. It sounded as though it was going to break. Then I had problems sourcing (and then repairing) a projector. When I had eventually set this up, bits of the film got stuck and snapped off in the projector. The film was projected vertically rather than horizontally (as it had been in the Steenbeck), which transduced the film’s vicarious effect into new dimensions which were even harder to perceive and process. All these factors added to the precarious nature of the film, increasing the intimate connection I had with it.

Watching the film on the Steenbeck was a ‘mesmerising’ and ‘disturbing’ experience.[1] The film shocked me. This was because amidst the radiant organic development of flickering colours, their cyclical, eternal return of becoming in and as time, I saw my own visions of the world. My film is like a mirror. It is an auto-ethnographic, poiêtic expression of my own hallucinatory visions, rather than an ontological exercise that reveals something fundamental about how the human exists in time, via touch (my original intention). Yet this is not simply an arbitrary moving image, but expresses an intimate sense of how I see the world and exist in time. This is, as John Law writes in After Method: Mess in Social Science Research, a ‘kaleidoscopic vision of the world’, which scores a trace (my trace) and enacts the performativity of a complex present, in which identity is fragile, fractional and imaginative.[2]

Watching the film then informed and inflected my practice because of the way that it touches an edge, my edge. My artwork spoke to me about my own personal experiences and perceptions. This was not a new discovery, or an epistemological proposition, but rather an immediate empathic self-connection. Viewing this proximity made me want to retreat from the film, slow it down and step away from the highly sensitive visions that it was showing me. This is why I decided to take and print still images of single frames. I blew up these images and printed them digitally. Seeing single, still frames was much easier to deal with than the churning, burning and relentless fragmentation of the moving image on the Steenbeck or the projector. I was then able to pause and reflect on what was happening in the film, and why it had affected me so much. Making the still images enabled me return to the film somewhat safer and more confident that it could be contained and controlled. 

At the end of my project, I am now trying to develop a deeper self-awareness of what my work means and how this meaning has been formed. I want this commentary to carry out Carter’s notion of ‘material thinking’, by utilising written exegesis as an agent to produce knowledge, subsequent to and drawing from my own creative production (Carter 2004). There are shortfalls in Carter’s work, since it seeks to make or manufacture meaning (rather than recognizing it, accidentally, as I did in my work), but it still helps me begin the task of conceptualising what happens in my artwork.[3]

My own method of making and the final outcome developed from the particularly intimate, somewhat maternal relationship that I had with the materials and technology I was using. When I unreeled 100 feet of film along the floor of my studio, and copiously painted onto it, and then projected the final product, it was like bringing forth or giving birth to my own offspring. The process of crafting that resulted from this rapport developed into what John Law calls a ‘method-assemblage’. This notion helps me interpret my artwork, since it incorporates the intertwining – or assembling – of relations, materials and technologies that come together to create art and enact the world. My creative process is a method-assemblage because the artwork I make does not depict or represent reality, but participates in the enactment of reality.[4] This is in fact a ‘method-in-practice’, which is a craftsmanship of performativity that enacts and manifests a world. Law’s ideas about method, craft, and practice show me how my film acts as a creative agent, which enacts or realises my own visions.[5] Thus, reading Law alters my decision-making process because it helps me grasp the method that resonates with meaning in my work, and then come to terms with what I have made.

Manipulating and changing materials, when I painted the film, projected it, and made prints from it, resulted in an effect which, in retrospect, I found transformational on a personal level. This is because it enabled me to recognise my own psychic processes: I saw an image of the unconscious workings of my mind. Such an intimate experience was revelatory since being able to see something so deeply resonant and intimate opened new perceptions and understanding.[6]

To find a way to contain my impassioned connection with the contents of my film, I engage with Ehrenzweig’s psychoanalytic supposition of The Hidden Order of Art. This work helps me understand how the imagination can stir and eventuate a psychic transmission of deep, essential form. By searching for a hidden order in my film’s chaotic imagery, I can begin to analyse its (accidental) meaning. Ehrenzweig says that ‘“Accident” is a relative term’.[7] The affect of my film may seem accidental, since it was unintended, but what is actually at play is a deeper connection with my unconscious. This occurs because of my relationship with the medium I am using: ‘Something like a true conversation takes place between the artist and his own work. The medium, by frustrating the artist’s purely conscious intentions, allows him to contact more submerged parts of his own personality and draw them up for conscious contemplation’.[8]

Focusing on the material processes and technology of the medium contributes towards developing an understanding of the powerful meaning that is expressed in my work. There is a mutual collaboration and corroboration in the form of material thinking that occurs between myself, the machinic technology, and the organic materials I am using.[9] The process of handling materials is so important because this plays a vital role in the effect of my film. As a beginner, with no previous experience of using this medium, when I made this work I engaged with intuition and a rapid process of bold experimentation. In this way, I opened and bared myself to the medium and materials, so together we could form a work that gushes with lush, raw and personal meaning.

The philosophy of technology informed my handling of materials during the creative process. It also helps me understand how and why the film has such an intimate self-reflexive power. This is because there is an inter-linkage between technology, art, being and truth, which is evident in my film. Looking through Heidegger’s work on technology shows why the film affects me and reveals so much. My film interprets the essence of technology, which is (Heidegger argues) not a mechanical instrument, but an artistic bringing-forth (or presencing, ‘poiesis’) that enables us to touch and preserve our contact with the world. In this way my film accords with Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology. In Heidegger, the idea of technê concerns our inter-relation with the unfolding process of reality, which is what Heidegger means when he talks about ‘Being’, and bringing forth something that testifies to this connection. Thus Being, the world, and technology are intimately interconnected. My film then shows me something fundamental about my own sense of Being, by picturing the moving process of how I perceive the world. The materials I used to create the film then act as conduits – or an alphabet – which translate, transmit and communicate this intimate perception. Watching the film enables me to unfold the process of reality and bring it forth (or translates it) to a wider context.

My film realises Heidegger’s interpretation of technology, as a way that ‘Being’ can reveal itself and be sustained. From this viewpoint, in my film, technology is defined as a dynamic way of being in the world.[10] In a similar way, my film engages with the materiality of the medium – and the technical features of the 16mm analogue film (the speed and sound of projection, the flickering lights, the transition of the reel) become a part of the liberating affect of the experience it provides when I watch it. This affect is poietic, and brings forward a direct moving sense that transcends the technology that enables it to happen and touches how I exist in time. This is what I recognise, and find so liberating.

It is as though the technê of the filmic process (its technology and my technique of making the film) thus offers me a ‘saving power’, which is provided by an artistic interpretation and utilisation of technology.[11] This idea of ‘saving power’ is the ameliorative value that is, as Heidegger puts it, the ‘restorative surmounting of the essence of technology’.[12] In this phrase Heidegger means to say that the poietic process of ‘bringing forth’ – which happens when I make the film – provides a ‘turning’ which is then an ‘event of appropriation’.[13] This event, Heidegger argues, brings forward a sense of alethêia or truth. I can recognise Heidegger’s analysis of the transition of truth and being of art, through technology, since these ideas occur and are opened in the performance of my film, when it expresses and touches a truth about my own being. This is what Law means when he presents the hypothesis that artworks have powers, as agents, or ‘enactments of the world’.[14] The method assemblage I enact in my film is performative: it does not represent or depict, but brings forth a direct, unnerving, fragile and sheer revelation.  

Taking still images of single frames from the film then translates its rapid and apparently ‘disturbing’ (but transformational) perspective into a format that is easier to grasp, process and – even – enjoy. Thus my final submission is a DVD with 3 short digital videos of my film (two from the Steenbeck, one from the projector), a CD with 50 stills from the film, and 10 mounted digital prints. I had tried to make analogue prints, but there was not time for me to master the depths of processing in the dark room, which I have never done before, and my experimentations were disappointing and unsuccessful. I chose to exclude the few dismal prints I made.

The process of self-discovery that was revealed through this project, and the technical skills I have learned about using these new mediums of analogue film, projection and photography, will inform my future practice. Seeing how sensitive ‘old’ technology is, and learning the basics of how to use it, will encourage me to develop my techniques and utilize them for future projects. In addition, three people have independently ordered sets of prints from the still images I made from my film. Thus I am able to utilize this project to develop and exhibit my œuvre, whilst expanding my reputation as an artist.

As a pilot project, this work has been a success, in that I have developed insights regarding my own embodied and durational situation, as I had hoped. The film and prints I have made touch me; I find them liberating and provocative. Touché, in fact. I still don’t know whether it is or is not possible to touch an experience of time, or whether time and touch can be mediated and illuminated by vision (as I set out to determine). But the unexpected, accidental visions that my work does show develop a self-reflexive knowledge that is powerful, transformational, and moving. This opens higher possibilities for me as an artist, because I have learned how to express myself in new mediums and formats, and because I have been able to translate and enact my visions accurately, which may one day enable me to finally be heard and understood.



Barrett and Bolt


Ehrenzweig 1967

Heidegger, M. (trans. W. Lovitt) 1971. ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (3-35) and ‘The Turning’ (36-49) in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.



Jan Svankmajer

Stan Brakhage

The Futurists

Len Lye 

Norman Mclaren, 

Emma Hart (‘Skin Film’)

Vicky Smith

James Holcombe

Paul Sharits (T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G)

[1] ‘Mesmerising’ and ‘disturbing’ are quotes from individuals who watched the film when I showed it in the ‘Silent Crit’, but they also summarise my own perception of it.

[2] Law 2004: 18, 65.

[3] Carter’s material thinking is a useful way of engaging with practice as an epistemological agent, but my artwork in itself cannot be fully explained or analysed using this approach.  This is because Carter depends on intention, whereby the artist makes their work in order for it to be interpreted and to produce subsequent knowledge as a consequence of both the process of making and the subsequent critical written exegesis. This is a linear methodology, which relies on expecting, making and fabricating meaning, rather than recognising or discovering that it is already there.

[4] Law 2004: 54, my emphasis.

[5] Law 2004: 65, my emphasis.

[6] This outcome exceeds the ‘self-similar structures’ and ‘braided relationship’ diagrams that define Sullivan’s work on transformative research, since the hypercomplex and nebulous fuzzy logic that seems to define my film won’t be contained or explained structurally. Sullivan talks about the ‘nonlinear and nonfoundational’ conditions for art practice, which are ‘capable of new, emergent possibilities’, producing transformative research, but he does not sufficiently explain how this actually happens (Sullivan 2010: 117).

[7] Ehrenzweig 1967: 57.

[8] Ehrenzweig 1967: 57.

[9] Bolt applies and develops Carter’s material thinking into ‘a particular responsiveness to or conjunction with the intelligence of materials and processes in practice. Material thinking is the magic of handling’ (Bolt 2006).

[10] Heidegger (trans. W. Lovitt) 1977: 10-13, 30-34.

[11] Heidegger (trans. W. Lovitt) 1977: 34.

[12] Heidegger (trans. W. Lovitt) 1977: 39.

[13] Ibid. p. 39

[14] Law 2004: 151, original emphasis.


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