This year’s Unilever Series commission is a film.
A vertical film - not in familiar 4:3 or 16:9, but in super-widescreen rotated 90 degrees. Projected on to a 13-metre-tall monolith in the far end of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, it glows, flickers and shimmers. Colours blink and flash across what looks like the back wall of the hall, waterfalls run backwards, and dreamlike collages and montages appear before you.
Tacita Dean’s FILM is made using analogue film-making techniques. All created within the camera, the frames of FILM are hand coloured, edits hand spliced and the work itself truly hand made. It’s a celebration of what film can do, pushing many of the “antique” techniques to new levels to produce the effects.
Dean always works with film as material, rather than using digital cameras. For her the tactile nature of film is key - the fact it must be physically cut and stuck together with tape to create edits or run through the camera multiple times to create montages and layers. There is always the element of chance in what is being made with film. A randomness that’s part of the medium and part of the process. With the rise of digital photography and digital editing, however, these laborious physical techniques are becoming unnecessary. Unlike traditional emulsion-based film, it’s easy to cut, fade, vignette, tint - you can infinitely adjust almost anything in a digital format. Whatever goes wrong you can “fix it in post”: clean it up in the edit. Digital saves you time and costs you less. There’s no film to spool and reload, no developing and printing, and you’re less likely to lose shots. You can shoot for unlimited periods, you never need to fit to a roll of film. It’s changeable, sendable, shareable and more reliable to project. Digital is usurping film-based film-making and film projection in almost all areas. Many young people may never have handled film at all, no matter how many photographs they’ve taken or videos they’ve uploaded to Facebook.
But in our rush to embrace the new, are we forgetting the craft skills of filmmaking? Can digital really do all that film can? Or is our attachment to physical objects clouding our vision, and is the pixel essentially the same as the grain?
I asked Tate’s film makers what they thought about shooting on film and digital. Kate Vogel, Producer and Lead on long format films says:
“With film, you become more aware of what you are shooting - due to its very nature you are limited, you can’t go on shooting indefinitely as you can with digital - you inevitably become more aware of the film that you are making during the filming process, which would be a shame to lose…”
Nick Aldridge, Producer of weekly video podcast Tate Shots says:
“Although film is an incredible medium, creating an image digital formats have never been able to replicate, due to the nature of TateShots (with it’s quick turnaround and small budget), film has never really been an option for me. I hope it doesn’t disappear completely as working with film leaves no room lazy filmmaking, it forces you to strive for perfection, but I do fear there won’t be a place for it in the modern world.”
What do you think?
Are we prioritising digital without analysing whether it is a good idea to discard the analogue?