This year's Unilever Series commission is a film.

Tate Debate Banner image

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 FILM 2011
Tacita Dean's FILM 2011 installed at Tate Modern.

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?



Sort of related to the themes of this post/installation, there is a VHS double screening of two Harmony Korine films this coming Sunday at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston, east London. To tie in with Trash Humpers being filmed and cut on videotape, both Gummo and Trash Humpers will be shown from video (the first VHS screening in London for TH). Unless anything goes drastically wrong, there will be a few TVs linked up to show the films on small portable screens at the same time too. More info here -

Ashley Morgan

Harsh? Maybe. But I'm comfortable standing by what I said.

Liz Garnett

I still use film for my art photography. I enjoy experimenting with techniques and like the surprise of not knowing what I am going to get until I have had the film processed.


fer gawdssake haven't you ever been to LA ? all anyone talks about is "the script, the script" because even there where they don't MEAN it they know that's what should mean something (bit like fine art the eh dudes)


Are we disgarding vinyl for CD's? or CD's for MP3's?

Ashley Morgan

In answer to the final question, "are we prioritising digital without analysing whether it is a good idea to discard the analogue" I think it's pretty clear that the general public are more than happy to discard analogue because they have been sold digital heavily over a number of years and fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

Artists (film makers, musicians, photographers and anyone else producing their own art), however... that's an entirely different matter.

Analogue is real. Digital is fake.

su fahy

Film records light in different ways and has a different material culture so let's keep film and embrace some synergy rather than this crude and somewhat commercially led polarised debate - photographers should be engineers of the imageination whatever black box they use be it digital or analogue.experimentation can be within both the film chip or the electronic chip.image memories are the idea not the technical- memorable images are the key in this debate whatever the tool and medium hence even cameraLess photography.


yup su, good ; there's more to life than chiaroscuro yum yum though that is ! Suppose the film "artists" think only beauty can convey truth ,it can be a dangerous authority though?

David Sanderson

Whilst I agree with what I think is the sentiment of your comment I think it's harsh to accuse digital, as a medium, of being fake. What about art, whether it is audio or visual art, that is created entirely in the digital realm? Is that fake?

Hans van der Kraan

Most probably it will be decided for us. Since 2009 the prof. cameramakers have not produced an analogue camera anymore, afaik. They can still do it on request, but they all aim for digital camera's.

We have seen the final demise of Kodachrome recently and when e.g. Kodak and Fuji decide that there is no real profit in making film material anymore, then it's ''schluss''.

Of course we could hope for something like the "Impossible Project".

BTW, I just love 9,5mm and I am studying the Biokam of 1898/1899 and would love to use it.

Cheers! Hans

Luxury Activist

The paradox is that the more access we have to cultural content thanks to the digital era the poorer the cultural lanscape become. 80% of total cultural views (movie, photos, songs, movies...) are done on 10% of the available content. So digital has its limits. Check this article here, talking about the Digital paradox. Kind regards, Jose

Blog cinema

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..i think photography needs quimics to be images are nice and digital world is quick and usefull..but the magic of photography is not is all the process, since the eye see until the quimichs create the image... regards violeta

James Clarke

I think that the requirement to carefully allocate the way in which you use a roll of film is very much in its favour, whether for still or moving images. Time = money and so forth.

Another boon of film is that it's really important to measure one's resource allocation and then, in turn, to really measure out one's quality of thought. Of course, we could note an equivalent with word processing in relation to hand writing a piece of work. Being able to cut, copy and paste a line, a paragraph and so forth is a lot easier than rewriting the equivalent on a sheet of paper.

That said, though, one of the joys of digital is that it has allowed for a wider access to the tools and means of production. Certainly, the world of community filmmaking that I started out in has been a great beneficiary of the 'new' technology.

A final though, thent: will those children born today actually call digital hardware and software'digital' ? Surely for them it's just the 'norm'. Thus, they wouldn't talk of going to buy a 'digital camera' but simply of going to buy a 'camera'.




well stilla. that's yer dirty bathwater alright. Would we have it any other way. There are horrors of human behaviour that are less easy to quaintly capture because not so readily SEEN. Some focus some high definition might be just the thing sometimes. Grime junk trash has it's punk kick sure,as Andy Warhol gave us large !