Preserving the hand-painted films of Margaret Tait

In this dissertation I discuss a small amount of the work of Margaret Tait. The Introduction offers a personal discussion on the profession of Archiving which I revisit in my conclusion. Section One provides a general overview of Margaret Tait’s life and influences. This brief biographical information serves as a background for the more substantial technical discussion in Section Two. Though I do enjoy Tait’s films and find her work compelling, I should emphasise that I am not concerned with providing a critique of Margaret Tait’s films nor a complete overview of her life and work. I deem that to be a quite different paper and one I am not interested in writing. My main purpose here is to trace the technical developments Tait made in her filmmaking and show how an understanding of her practices can help in the restoration and preservation of her films. I hope this paper also demonstrates that the biographical is inseparable from the technical and for the Archivist, these two approaches to Tait’s work are again inseparable from the ethical and philosophical dimensions of the idea of permanence.

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An Ecology of Images

A short film about memory, history and the role of archives. I made this for my MA in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia (UK) using 16mm and 8mm footage I shot during a trip across the USA (2000) and living in Japan (1998-2001). I was heavily influenced by the narrative style of Chris Marker’s film, ‘Sans Soleil’. More recently, I prefer the film silent, with the script read as a separate essay before or after viewing.

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An Ecology of Images (script for a film)

He wrote that he had spent years travelling so that he might forget.

In America, he told me he had shot over 4000 images across 5000 miles of the United States. He joked that everything there existed in order to end up in a photograph. He said he felt like the world was more available to him than it really was and he wanted to blame someone for such deceit.

Once, when I asked him why he made movies, he said that it was to show that this world is not the best of all possible worlds.  But in America, he felt like a tourist in other people’s reality and then eventually in his own.

He was now in Asia where he was writing from within a world of appearances: fragile, fleeting, revocable. He said he was recording the present and therefore inventing the past.

He wrote me that he was capturing images with his camera knowing he would never project them. After all, his entire world had become a projection of images.

He said that his photographs were not a record of the world but an evaluation of it.

He sent me images of landscapes, cities and a festival, asking what I understood from his experience.

He wrote that he had looked at the sea, and then, when walking away, he saw the memory of the sea. Later, he wrote how he wanted to distinguish between the memories he had taken from images and those memories whose only functions was to leave behind memories. He said that images of events years ago now seemed important only because they existed as images. Experience had been transformed into nostalgia, all of history was being leveled.

He wrote that he was becoming anesthetized by images. Moments he had never experienced seemed real after knowing them through photographs. But after repeated exposure to these images, experience became less real.

He thought the world had ceased to remember what reality once was. As our representations became increasingly banal, history was being re-written. Now, all that concerned him was to save certain images from their endless consumption.

He wrote that for him, forgetting was nothing more than a consumption of images. The new had replaced what was once unique, and memories were to him as history had become for others: an impossibility. In this world of appearances, he was certain that we do not remember, but rather we rewrite our memory much as we do history.

He had travelled there in order to lose remembering, but instead had lost forgetting. Left with an uncatalogued archive of images he called memories. Or were they memories he called images?

Walking the streets, he would note down the things he knew from direct experience and that which was independent of experience.

In New York, two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre and the television news announcer described the atrocity as seeming just like a movie. Rather than suggest that images possess qualities of reality, reality was now being attributed the qualities of images.

He knew that his images were pieces of evidence in an ongoing biography or history and each image implied that there would be others. Being in that world of appearances was never boring because photographing each event gave it importance.

In his last letter he argued that capitalism could only thrive on an irreverence of the present and a forgetting of the past. A proliferation of images served this task perfectly. The production and consumption of images was nothing less than a purchase of the world.

Now he realised he was living in a world where history was not the unfolding of events but rather the dumping of occurrences. History was nothing more than the past consumed; the present was nothing more than a banal representation. History was being turned into a tautology by images that acknowledge rather than explain. His only distinction between the real world and the world of appearances was that in the real world something is always happening and he did not know what was going to happen. On the other hand, the world of appearances had always happened and it will forever happen in that way.

Images were his only environment and he knew that a renewed history in which we are free to act is only possible if those images were conserved. This would mean an ecology, where images were recycled and put to new uses and new meanings found. With this new ecology the injuries of class, race and sex would be condemned. Social change would soon mean more than merely a change in images. Freedom would no longer be equated with the freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods. The reality of discrimination, violence, exploitation and ignorance would itself be consumed by rediscovered images and from them, new meanings found, a history rewritten, and each and every individual would understand for themselves.

“A people which is cut off from its past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This is why – and this is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue. [John Berger]”

Narrated by Jennifer Romero

Images by Joss Winn and Joanna Chung

Written by Joss Winn

Music by John Cage

The script for Ecology of Images contains quotations from the following sources:

Sans Soleil, Chris Marker, 1982

Ways of Seeing, John Berger, 1972

On Photography, Susan Sontag, 1977

Copyleft Joss Winn 2002.

Recovering my past: Amateur and avant-garde film

It occurred to me today that the work I did during my MA in Film Studies and Archiving (University of East Anglia 2001-2) might be of interest to someone of the Interweb. Here it is, retrieved from an almost forgotten folder on my hard drive. Let me know if you find it of any use.

My reason for undertaking the MA derived from my interest in amateur and avant-garde filmmaking. During 1998-2001, I lived in Japan and spent much of my spare time (and money), shooting Super 8mm and 16mm film (mainly landscapes and abstractions) and exhibiting international exchanges of European, North American and Japanese experimental film and video. I’ve never been interested in filmmaking as a career, but thought that working in film preservation and archiving would allow me to make a living out of a love for non-commercial filmmaking. With that in mind, here are the outputs of my MA.

Amateur Filmmaking During World War II

In my first paper for the MA, I discuss the dilemma of amateur filmmaking during war time, based on a study of original books and magazines from the 1930s and 1940s. In the second part of the paper, I draw heavily on my extended interviews with Dick Brandon, a soldier and amateur filmmaker during WWII. The paper lacks any critical theoretical method but offers a useful study of primary sources.

Amateur filmmaking during WWII

Site/Sight: Landscape and the Development of the Tourist’s Gaze in Early Travel Films

In my second paper for the MA, I discuss the development of amateur films within the context of early tourism. Specifically, I examine the broader development of commercial image making since the 18th c. and show how amateur travel films were simultaneously influenced by commercial, popular tourism and and its relationship with landscape painting and photography. I argue that “representationally, they add little to a notion of Englishness rooted in the landscape that wasn’t already well established and I am much more inclined to see them as commercial products which benefited from and contributed towards forms of economic and cultural consumerism.” I try to show how the production of amateur travel films was tied to the production of mass tourism, both of which are based on consumerism and the consumption of the immaterial. The paper draws on critical theory, secondary historical sources and my primary analysis of films held by the East Anglia Film Archive. Looking back at this paper now, I think that with the benefit of peer-review, this paper could be turned into a published journal article.

Site/Sight: Landscape and the Development of the Tourist’s Gaze in Early Travel Films

An Ecology of Images

Our end of year project was to make a short documentary which related in some way to the themes of archiving, preservation, conservation, etc. Some people made nice, straightforward documentaries about a given subject. I had a bunch of 16mm and 8mm footage that I shot during a trip across the USA (2000) and living in Japan (1998-2001) and used that to make a short film about history and memory.

I was heavily influenced by the narrative style of Chris Marker’s film, ‘Sans Soleil’ (my favourite film). The title is from Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’. I was reading John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ at the time, too…

The script is a blend of my own thinking at the time but also paraphrases Marker, Berger and Sontag considerably. The music uses bits and pieces by John Cage.

I was very proud of this when I finished it. Eight years on, I still quite like it.

Preserving the Hand Painted Films of Margaret Tait

In my dissertation, I discuss a small amount of the work of Margaret Tait. The Introduction offers a personal discussion on the profession of Archiving which I revisit in my conclusion. Section One provides a general overview of Margaret Tait’s life and influences. This brief biographical information serves as a background for the more substantial technical discussion in Section Two.

Though I do enjoy Tait’s films and find her work compelling, I should emphasise that I am not concerned with providing a critique of Margaret Tait’s films nor a complete overview of her life and work. I deem that to be a quite different paper and one I am not interested in writing. My main purpose here is to trace the technical developments Tait made in her filmmaking and show how an understanding of her practices can help in the restoration and preservation of her films. I hope this paper also demonstrates that the biographical is inseparable from the technical and for the Archivist, these two approaches to Tait’s work are again inseparable from the ethical and philosophical dimensions of the idea of permanence.

Preserving the Hand Painted Films of Margaret Tait