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Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach Britain 2016

Posted by keith1942 on June 10, 2016

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The film was produced by Sweet Sixteen films and funded by the BBC. It involved Loach’s regular collaborators producer Rebecca O’Brien and writer Paul Laverty. For a change Ken Loach appears in front of the camera rather than behind it. One strong features of the film is Ken’s explanations and comments, always interesting, often provocative. There are also a number of excerpts from a long interview with Tony Garnett, Ken’s collaborator and a major influence on the filmmaker. Garnett is given the space to talk at some length on Loach and his work and his comments are interesting and pertinent. Much of the film was shot during the filming of Ken’s new film, the winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, I, Daniel Blake. There is a certain amount of biography but the film’s main focus is the television and film work directed [and occasionally produced] by Loach. The coverage is fairly comprehensive, from Ken’s early days in BBC television to the recent series of films that have appeared almost annually in this century.

Whilst Ken Loach shoots his film chronologically, this study uses a varied time frame. There are also edits from filmed material like interviews to location footage. Some of this works well, as with the cut from the account of the suppression of Perdition to fog shrouded streets. However, some of it slightly puzzled me. Why do the team feature Ken’s early work as an theatre actor when we had reach the films of the late 1990s?

The film does address the controversial aspects of Ken’s films. There are extended discussions of a number of cause celebre’s. There is Cathy Come Home (1966) and, interestingly, there are excerpts from a television ‘balancing’ discussion chaired by Cliff Michelmore. There is discussion of Up the Junction and Nell Dunn is one of the interesting voices at this point. There are also features on the television films Rank and File and [particularly] The Big Flame (1969). One does get a sense of both the radicalism of these films and the controversy that they sparked. However, Days of Hope [equally important] is only treated briefly. There is also time spent on Ken’s early film work, especially Kes and Poor Cow. The problems in the early 1980s with television censorship over Questions of Leadership and Which Side are you On? get proper space. And it was refreshing to hear Melvyn Bragg owning up to the actual factors in the suppression of the latter, rather than the euphemisms that were trotted out at the time. There is a particular focus on the suppression of the stage production Perdition (1987) at the Royal Court. The abuse of the term anti-semitic at the time shows that not everything has changed over the intervening years. There is a well judged set of comments on this by Gabriel Byrne. Also welcome at this point in the film are several short clips of Jim Allen, such an important collaborator with Loach and a major writing voice for film and television of the period.

There are quite a lot of other voices in the film. There are only brief comments included from Rebecca O’Brien and Paul Laverty, without whom Ken’s recent output would not have appeared. At times some of these voices felt rather like the ‘talking heads’ found on television. There are some interviews with Loach’s family members, but they are cut with film extracts and do not get the attention they deserve. I felt that the television style was apparent in other ways, so that there is a tendency to have voices overlapping film extracts, but not always with any clear connection. And when we come to the chain of films, starting with Hidden Agenda in 1991, there is not the same depth of discussion. Some of the films sequences felt more like trailers than studies: this is true of the really important Land and Freedom (1995).

Land and Freedom

Land and Freedom

The latter relates to an omission in the film. Derek Malcolm appears briefly at one point and comments how Ken Loach enjoys a greater appreciation in continental Europe than in the UK. But this is not explored. There are several passages where the film includes footage of political events, such as the accession of Maggie Thatcher as Prime Minister. But there is not really an equivalent treatment of the European dimension, with the exception of the events in Paris in May 1968. Whilst Ken’s films are distinctly British there is also an important European dimension, witness that his major Cannes Awards have been for films with that focus.

We do see/hear a mention of the Czech ‘new wave’, when Chris Menges is interviewed. There are also clips from A Blonde in Love / Lásky jedné plavovlásky (1965). The distinctive style of this film is well versed as is the influence on Loach. He selected a clip from the above film as his contribution to the BBC’s celebration of the centenary year of 1995. However, there are other influences which are overlooked. Notable would be the influence of a long tradition for social realism and actuality filming in the British Film Industry. Apart from the documentary influence there are filmmaker like the Boulting Brothers or Alberto Cavalcanti in the 1940s and 1950s. These had an influence on British television. Garnett and Loach do comment on the ‘new wave’ in television in the 1960s, but there was much and varied experimentation at the BBC and at ITV in that decade. There is an interesting contrast to be drawn between Loach and  another filmmakers at the BBC [for a very short time]  Peter Watkins.

Equally this film is low on the form and style of Loach’s work. There is the reference to his working chronologically, and a number of actors/performers comment on his approach to their work. The film is scripted by Paul Laverty, though it is not clear how much his work has been changed. Certainly his screenplays allow for lengthy and often discursive sequences, where as this film is long on editing, montages and cross-cutting. And there is no mention of the emphasis that Loach places on the script, a point he has made in several earlier interviews. Then there are the cinematic techniques, the tendency to the long shot and the long take: the tendency to linger on a character or setting after the overt plot significance has passed.

In fact one oddity is that this film is shot in 2.39:1 [some screens will show 2.35:1]. No Loach film has used this ratio. His early films were in television’s 4:3, i.e. 1.37:1. Some of are in 1.66:1 and more recently in 1.85:1. A friend thought that the production picked 2.35:1 because it seemed more cinematic. This however, does not apply to the sequences from Loach ‘s own films. They are uniformly cropped. Sometimes this is more noticeable than others: heads only half seen and similar problems. There is one ironic moment when Garnett comments about some television footage and a grandiose ministerial room, which cannot be seen because the top of the frame is gone. Apart from the mistreatment of film footage this is a grave disservice to the many talented cinematographer who have worked with Ken Loach: Tony Imi, Chris Menges, Barry Ackroyd, to name only those who worked with him a on number of films. Roger Chapman’s cinematography for Versus:… is very good, with some striking shots at times, but the widescreen frame seems anomalous.

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This documentary is actually weak on the whole collaborative form of Loach’s filmmaking. The approach is to treat Ken as an ‘auteur’. I feel this is a misnomer. He is really a metteur en scène, though unfortunately that word has acquired a value judgement since its use by Cahier du cinéma. But it applies in the sense that whilst there are recognisable themes and a familiar style in his films, this develops out of the collaboration. Jim Allen and Paul Laverty in particular have an immense input through their writing. Tony Garnett was mentor, both in terms of drama and in terms of politics. And cinematographers, in particular Chris Menges, contributed to the style that has become a hall mark. There is little from Rebecca O’Brien, his long-time producer. We only see her in the footage of the production of I, Daniel Blake: and most of this looks more like a ‘making of…’ than contributing to a profile.

The BBFC have given the film a 12A with a note regarding ‘infrequent strong language’. My sensitivities may be weakened but all I noted was a final ‘bastards’ from Ken. Given the illegitimacy of the whole political class this seems to me an apt comment. Another slight oddity is a short interview with Alan Parker in which he seems to confuse The Wild One (1953) with Rebel Without a Cause (1955). You would have expected the filmmakers to give him a repeat take. And one publicity listing gave Robert Carlyle as ‘himself’ when he only appears in a clips from Riff Raff (19921) and Carla’s Song (1996).

 

Posted in British films, Documentary, Film Directors, UK filmmakers | Leave a Comment »

The Divide Britain 2015

Posted by keith1942 on April 22, 2016

Framing Keith

Framing Keith

This documentary was screened at the Hyde Park Picture House and followed by a Q&A with the director, Katherine Round. The film is ‘inspired’ by the best-selling The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009). There was an audience of around 200 for the event. This is probably partly due to the topicality of the central issue in the film: inequality. But also Katherine Round studied at Leeds University.

This is a powerful documentary with telling effects and arguments. But I felt that it also had severe limitations. To start with the virtues. The core of the film is the presentation of the part-stories and situations of seven people living in either the USA or UK.

Alden, a New York psychologist whose clients include Wall Street Bankers. He is affluent but works long hours and so has a diminished family life.

Leah is an Afro-American single mother in Virginia and she works in a Kentucky Fried Chicken diner.

Jen and her husband live in a gated’ community. They seem less affluent than their neighbours and appear isolated. Their income is unclear.

Janet and her husband ran a video store which failed. She now works for Al-Mart in Louisiana.

Rochelle is a care worker in Newcastle-on-Tyne. Her pay is low and her hours demanding. She has difficulty feeding and clothing her children.

Darren lives on an estate in Glasgow where poverty and unemployment are endemic. He has problems with addictions.

Keith is in a California Penitentiary. he fell foul of the ‘three strikes’ rule.

We meet and hear the seven several times and learn something of their situation and their lives. We also occasionally hear the interviewer Katherine Round. Alden and Jen seem somewhat dissatisfied with their lives. Leah is more buoyant about life and Janet is active in the union. Rochelle is hard-pressed to cope. Darren’s life is very problematic but he has some hopes. Whilst Keith, after seventeen years in jail, is extremely oppressed.

The interviews and film of these subjects is intercut with comments by professionals and academics. Among these we see and hear well known names such as the author Richard Wilkinson, Noam Chomsky and Ha-Joon Chang. There are clips of political leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and [briefly] Tony Blair at his most fatuous.

These are accompanied by archive films and television footage. They come from key years between 1979 [UK] and 1981 [USA] and the present. This is part of an argument regarding changes in the way these modern capitalist societies are organised, in particular the growing disparity between the bulk of the population and an extremely rich elite. The now familiar argument is made about how the elite, through their influence on political power, are able to not only defend but to aggrandize their share of the national cake.

The film is well shot by cinematographer Woody James. there are some excellent framing of subjects, especially Keith in the penitentiary. The editing by John Mister is extremely effective as it crosses time, the USA and the Atlantic. And the team of sound recordists have blended a variety of voices, noises and effects to good purpose, with much of the accompanying music offering a blues tone.

There were however for me serious limitation in this film. Katherine Round has worked on many documentaries for Television and I found the films’ form somewhat conventional. The film of and interviews with the subjects work very well, though the subjects do not get an equal amount of time. And the commentative voices do seem a little like ‘talking heads’. Noam Chomsky, for example, appears a couple of times with only one or two sentences: and he is not known for his brevity. Some of the illustrative material, like the adverts, feel like the visual spots in the news, filling space rather than informing. And the identification of voices or footage is not consistent. I thought that some film of the subjects could have been older footage, but this was not clear.

In terms of the inspiration by The Spirit Level, the film does not follow the book, which was very much a presentation of research. This is a more poetic vision. However, I think this approach does not present all of the book’s view. In the Q&A one audience member remarked on the absence from the film of the ‘top one percent’. Round suggested that all of the subjects were in some sense disadvantaged and therefore dissatisfied. I thought that was in the film but the sense of the oppressiveness of lives for the most exploited was much clearer. And the idea behind this ignores the way that economic impacts are more fundamental than psychological ones.

Part of the problem is that the film does not have a clear sense of class. There is a lack of economic data on the subjects. We learn that Alden gets 1500 dollars for treating clients, but we do not learn about the income of the others. In Jen’s case it is not clear where her family income comes from. Rochelle confesses to having to buy food and clothes on her credit card as she waits for payday. Leah and Janet have their own houses apparently, whilst Rochelle and Darren appear to live in council hosing. But otherwise we are left in the dark.

In fact the film spends more time on housing than income or wealth. There is more material on ‘gated communities’ than other aspects. This seems to relate to the role of ‘sub-prime mortgages’ in the 2008 crash. The geography of the film is problematic. We have widely scattered abodes across the USA: and the film does not really address the way that the different settings vary. Even more problematic is the cross-over between the USA and UK. I am not really sure I you compare the Southern USA with northern Britain. The settings are as varied as the class position of the subjects.

The analysis in the film is limited in other ways. The main argument concerns changes in the advanced capitalist economies since the 1980s. An argument that has moved centre stage since the 2008 crash. But there appears to be an unexpressed acceptance of the capitalist mode of production. A venture capitalist defends his ‘wealth making’ without challenge. Several speakers talk of how things have ‘got out of hand’. And a couple, including Chomsky, refer to the ‘unregulated market’ and that we no longer all ‘play by the same set of rules’. The anarchy of the market is at the centre of capitalism but the fundamental aspect of this mode of production is the commodity and the way that the value created in it by labour power is expropriated by the capitalist class. On the platform with Katherine Round was an equality campaigner [whose name I did not catch]. He referred to the minimum wage: a valid defensive tactic but not one that changes the fundamentals. There was no sense of the arguments by Marx and Engels that the basic mechanism of this society leads to expropriation and so inequality.

Moreover the historical view in the film is extremely limited. So it fails to draw any parallels with the 1929 crash and The Great Depression. One could tell seven stories from the 1930s that parallel those in The Divide and here we are again. [CBS documentary Meltdown: The Global Financial Collapse series draws the comparison]. And the realisation that it is a fundamental issue predates Marx and Engels. A hundred years earlier Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract, or Of the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique; 1762) that what was required was that

“no citizen is rich enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself.”

Even so the film is worth seeing, because there is not that much critical material around. It screens again at the Hyde Park on April 27th and it will screen at Picturehouse at the National Media Museum on May 31st.

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Capitalism: A Love Story USA 2009

Posted by keith1942 on January 21, 2016

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Written, directed and co-produced by Michael Moore. Now an established and famous voice on screen Moore tilts at his largest target yet. In fact, the title is somewhat grandiose: rather than deconstructing the contemporary mode of production, Moore is mainly concerned with the Financial Sector, especially the Banks. The film has all the familiar ingredients: the director’s caustic commentary and stunts, ordinary people coping in extraordinary situations, the revealing but till now unseen [or at least unnoticed] stories, background and leaks in the media. Regular fans may well experience a feeling of déjà vu. There is a hint of this in the closing comments by Moore himself, [over the end credits] as he pleads with his audience to join him in ‘action’. Reports of the film’s performance suggest this has not activated hordes of ordinary people. Yet, like some of his more vacuous fellow celebrities, Moore has winning charm. He also has a newsman’s nose for the scoop and the overlooked exposé. So, much of the film is absorbing, at times entertaining, and to a degree shocking.

Moore’s ‘capitalism’ does not start in the 13th century or with the rise of the Protestant Ethic. His villain is Ronald Reagan. Here Moore places the blame for deregulation, the rise of short-term profits, and the regressive changes in taxation. Certainty he provides ample evidence for the greed of the financial barons, and also for their myopic fall into chaos, ably abetted by Government Regulators. The most poignant sections are when Moore visits victims of this legalised robbery. As always, Moore can both facilitate the voice of the oppressed and exploited, and construct a powerful mosaic of anger at injustice and malfeasance. He also manages to find more reassuring groups who have organised resistance: a worker’s occupation in Chicago fighting for their wages: a community that rehouses an evicted family. So the audience are shown both the exploitation and the resistance.

But Moore’s virtues are partly undermined by his limitations. His films lack a full historical context and even more a rigorous analysis. The current crisis, which he examines, is only the latest in a cycle which goes back at least two centuries. And the majority of US citizens have suffered the expropriation of their surplus value since they arrived in the United States, either soon after birth or immediately on immigration. This matters since the direction that resistance takes will determine its success. One can find similar stories of both poverty and deprivation as well as of resistance and fight-back in the Great Depression. But eighty years on another remarkably similar financial bubble has wreaked havoc on the ordinary working people.

Like other liberals (for example, Naomi Klein) Franklin Delano Roosevelt appears to be one of Moore’s heroes. Near the end of his film Moore screens a long and (seemingly) forgotten newsreel by FDR calling for basic rights for ordinary people: rights that should include health care, a home, employment, pensions . . . As Moore points out these rights have never be legalised in the USA. The problem with this argument is that there have been existing rights in law, including those against arbitrary arrest, false imprisonment, secret surveillance, and torture. As in the UK the state has been able to tear up the paper on which such laws were written. Moore’s film also seems slightly opportunistic. His treatment of Barrack Obama is rather ambiguous, and he dwells once more on the joy that greeted Obama’s election rather than the policies since then. But Obama does not appear to be about to change that part of the capitalist system that is Moore’s target. In the film at one point the commentary refers to the coalition that pressurised Congress to agree to the Bailout of the Banks: despite the vocal opposition of a majority of the electorate. This included both the President and President-Elect, the aforesaid Obama. And the commentary also identifies a number of the latter’s advisers who earlier belonged to the most successful finance house, Goldman Sachs. As Balzac observed,

“behind every great fortune there is a great crime.”

Despite these limitations Moore’s new film is an entertaining two hours which also contains many nuggets of useful information. One is an interview with the chairperson of a Senate Committee charged with Oversight of the Banks, woefully confessing that she could not even force the banks to explain how they spent the monies received in the bailout. And of course there are his inimitable stunts. At the end of the film Moore unwinds a roll of police tape marked ‘crime scene’ round the Wall Street Financial buildings. That anti-social clique that controls the nation’s economy watches him from inside the buildings. They are clearly discomfited and embarrassed. Unfortunately I don’t feel that Michael Moore’s film will take us any farther. We need something more drastic. But we also need at least this level of assault on the equivalent nefarious activities in the UK.

 

Originally posted  on the film’s release.

Posted in Documentary, Political film, US films | Leave a Comment »

Amy, UK 2015.

Posted by keith1942 on July 18, 2015

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This documentary has been compiled by Asif Kapadia from ‘found footage’, found photographs, found audio including mobile phones, and runs for 128 minutes [possibly slightly over-long]. At times it is quite hard viewing, partly because of the grim downward spiral of its protagonist Amy Winehouse: but also because much of the amateur or video footage is extremely grainy and there are several sequences of rapid flash photography by the paparazzi. However, it is an extremely involving film and likely will grip audiences in the way that Kapadia’s earlier Senna (2010) succeeded.

Both films rely on the compiled visual and aural material. The editing by Chris King is impressive as is the work of the Sound Department supervised by Stephen Griffiths. There is no overarching commentary and the tapestry of image and sound works to provide a portrait. This has the feel of a subjective portrait, but by implication and counterpoint rather than by direct statement, the film does ‘point the finger’ at the situations and the people that fed into the singer’s tragic demise. Cumulatively the film builds up a strong case against the mainstream music industry, the media and what is known as the paparazzi. And the film emphasises these points with long, large close-ups of Amy, as she deteriorates physically and psychologically.

For me there is also a less emphasised irony in the film. For Amy Winehouse’s writing and singing appear strongest early in her career. The later songs, when she became a musical icon, did not seem to have the power and intensity of her first two albums. In fact, the film relies on much informal recording of her singing and performances. Her main output remains under copyright and presumably will surface in a biopic which is likely to be rather bland by comparison.

The film works more or less chronologically, with a few well-chosen flashbacks. It is more a biopic than a musical study. This means that the film does not really address Winehouse’s espousal of a particular strand in US Blues and Jazz singing, [represented by her idols Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan]. Other British singers with parallel vocal talent seem to me to have a distinctive UK take on blues and jazz: [Cleo Lane or Julie Driscoll would be good examples]. This seems to be to offer a interesting area of study. Of course, the trajectory presented in the film reminds one irresistibly of Billie Holiday, another wonderful singer fated by demonic muses.

 

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To the Commissioners of To the Editor of Amateur Photography

Posted by keith1942 on January 22, 2015

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The film in question was commissioned by the Hyde Park Picture House and the Pavilion Visual Arts Commissioning Organisation in Leeds. The film was premiered at the Hyde Park in November 2014. There have been a number of screenings since and on Saturday 10th January 2015 there was a screening followed by a discussion involving the filmmakers, the participants and audience members.

The film is a study of the first period of the Pavilion Art Project in the 1980s, using archive documents, photographs, interviews with women involved in the project at that time and filming carried out during the production. The Pavilion started out as a project around women’s photography but over the years, partly due to funding pressures, the project has changed and developed and it is now an art commissioning project. The original venue of the project was a disused one storey building in the Hyde Park, alongside the Leeds University campus. I remember it chiefly for interesting exhibitions in the 1980s, though there were also seminars and other events

The basic form of the film uses montage, which can probably be considered an avant-garde form. Re-watching it I noted more aspects and gained a clearer sense of the content. It struck me that the photographs are organised both around themes but also around tropes: the latter offering a sense of the practical work of the project. I noted that the photographs are accompanied by recorded sound whilst the archive documents [minutes, letters, leaflets, pamphlets,…) are accompanied by electronic music: the latter increases in complexity as the film develops. The interviews are separated in presentation between visual and sound: the latter plays as voice-overs alongside discrete footage. The participants discuss chosen photographs that are not necessarily seen at that point: but I realised that all of them do figure in the montages of photographs through the film. Whilst the contemporary footage seems all to be of or about the actual film production. I also noted that from the early interviews there are questions raised about the form of the production itself.

The overall form of the film seems to be a ‘work in progress’: in a sense that the film foregrounds its own construction. This is definitely a form that might be considered avant-garde or at least modernist in its approach. It also relates to the body of film that follows the use of montage as it was developed in the pioneer Soviet cinema: The Factory of Facts collective would seem to be an important influence, either directly or mediated through filmmakers who follow their practice.

This presentation was via a DCP version, slightly different from the premiere. Visually this made little difference: black and white and colour images in a 1.37:1 frame. However the soundtrack was also embedded on the digital folders, and I thought there was less variation within the auditorium than with the direct sound at the premier.

Gill Park outside an earlier commissioned event at the old Majestic Cinema.

Gill Park outside an earlier commissioned event at the old Majestic Cinema.

The discussion that followed was very full and very interesting. There was a panel of speakers at the front of the auditorium:

Gill Park the current Director of the Pavilion: Will Rose, Associate Producer of the film: Luke Fowler and Mark Fell, the filmmakers: Griselda Pollock and Diana Clark, founders member of the Pavilion: and Irene  Revell, who acted as a sort of chair. There were also couple of the participants from the film in the audience.

What follows are my notes on the discussion, which lasted for an hour and a half. So these are partial, and, of course, my interpretation is based on notes taken during the discussion.

Gill opened up explaining some of the rationale and emphasising the stance of the Pavilion, which includes addressing the problematic of images and of their reproduction.

Will talked about setting up the production, which grew out of conversations with the two filmmakers. Also he explained how the Pavilion set about raising the funding: and pointing out that the film meshed with the 30th anniversary of the Pavilion and the centenary of the Hyde Park Picture House.

Irene then moved to the two filmmakers, Mark Fell and Luke. Mark explained how they had approached the project and the three major strands in the film – photographs, archive material, interviews.

Luke explained that the archive material was important, though it was incomplete: Mark added, ‘stuff left behind’ rather than being systematically’ collected and collated, [the archive material is housed in Feminist Archive North in the Special Collections at Leeds University]. The photographs were found as a collection of negatives, with no known provenance. The selection of photos used in the film was made at different points by Mark, Luke, Will and Gill.

Irene raised the question that one contentious issue was gender. Some of the interviews question why the film was made by two men. This also led on to comments about the interviews and the use of discrete image and sound. Points made included that of the context for photographs, which can be thought of as ‘mute documents’. There was also the point of bringing in what is ‘outside the frame’ of any photograph.

It seems that the interviews all followed the same format, though they do seem rather different. Each interviewee was asked to select a single photograph from the collection. They were all given the same four questions. And the interview was recorded aurally and subsequently, with suggestions from the interviewee, they were filmed and these images accompanied the sound recording.

Mark emphasised that he and Luke were the ‘authors of the film’ and took that responsibility’. He added that authorship can ‘take many forms’. Irene asked about the title, which was partly improvised but also reflected the view of Amateur Photography as a ‘bastion of male hegemony’.

Image

Before we heard from other panel members there were some comments/questions from members of the audience.

One young woman raised the point of the non-synchronised sound and suggested that this made ‘problematic the voice of the subject’.

Luke responded that they wanted to get away from the dominance of ‘talking heads’. He and Mark talked about filming the interviews and creating the music for the film, which was improvised.

Another woman referred to the collection of photograph in the film and expressed the view that many of them deserved to be highlighted as particular images. Luke responded that they wanted to place less emphasis on their qualities as photographic images and treat them as interesting images.

Another woman bought up the occasional appearances of the filmmakers: and Luke responded that they thought there was a problem when ’producers were presented as anonymous’. He also made the point that they were not making documentaries in the form followed by Nick Broomfield.

Points was made that the film only partially explained how the Pavilion developed/

Griselda Pollock now contributed to the discussion. She made some comments about the formal structures in documentary. One aspect, going back to John Grierson, treated film as ‘someone goes and looks at someone else’. She contrasted this with the work of one of the photographers featured in the film, Sirkka-LiisaKonttinen.  She worked for seven years in an area in Newcastle-on-Tyne, building up relationships with mothers and children involved in dance classes. Her work was not just about recording but also about ‘changing access’, and using ‘informal photography’ she also raised questions about how the recorded interviews were treated – there was a slight dispute about what editing left out from the interviewees comments.

Dinah Clarke also now contributed. She talked about her days in the initial work to develop the Pavilion project. One aspect of the context was that these were the years when the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper was taking place. Thus a place like the park ‘or moor’ was not necessarily a safe place for women. She also talked about how funding issues changed the nature of the project. The Art Council was only prepared to fund what it regarded as ‘quality photography’: ‘informal photography’ was seen as ‘community work’ rather than ‘art work’. The emphasis on exhibitions in the early years of the project resulted from this emphasis.

Griselda added some points about her personal experience. She also commented on the use of the archive material. As a historian she felt they could have made the material ‘more vivid’: there was a sense in which they were merely illustrative rather than informative.

Sue Ball, in the audience, added to these. She also raised the distinction between authorship and ownership. She pointed out that one important aspect of the project took place in the dark room: both for them professional photographers and for the users. She thought that there was this aspect of the project’s own production process which the film omitted.

As the discussion came to an end people returned to points about the filmmakers being men: to the changes that had occurred in the project since the period the film covered: and a suggestion that the matter needed to be related to different views of the Pavilion in the different generations who were involved.
Irene thanked everyone and then event came to an end, after an hour and half for discussion. This was an extensive discussion, even so there was clearly more to be said and there were individual discussion taking place in the foyer and outside the cinema.

I asked a question at one point. After a woman made the point about how the photographs were treated I asked whether the filmmakers had thought about using some of the modern technologies to produce a version that audiences or viewers could construct themselves. Mark responded that he was not interested in ‘a viewer’s narrative’. I can understand this standpoint. The filmmakers have produced a version that critiques conventional treatments, but viewers might choose to follow just those conventional approaches.

However, some of the participants in the Pavilion in the period studied felt that the film did not sufficiently reflect the role of people in constructing images and their meanings: one comment added that the film should include the users of the project, often involved in informal photography. This is a recurring contradiction between authorship in films and participation. I remember that Jean Rouch, who was partly responsible for the renewed interest in the Factory of Facts and the writings of Dziga Vertov, included in his seminal Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un Eté, 1960) a sequence where the participants viewed and commented on an early cut of the film. This appears to have happened to a degree with Letter, but only with those being interviewed and their segment sin the film. It would be interesting to take this further with others of the participants in the project, including ordinary women who were users of the centre.

This is a consideration of the film and its relationship to the Pavilion rather than a specific criticism. I remain impressed by the film. Someone near the end commented that one function of the film was to ‘galvanize people to do more work’ on the Pavilion and its history. That would be good, though given the ‘privatisation’ of Universities, I think the Feminist Archive North collection is probably less accessible than in the past. Mark and Luke talked about the time and labour they had to spend on this.

Those interviewed for the film were:

Dinah Clark. Angela Kingston. Caroline Taylor. Griselda Pollock. Sirkka-LiisaKonttinen. Quinn. Rosy Martin. Sutapa Biswas. Al Garthwaite. Deborah Best. Jenifer Carter Ramson. Sue Ball. Maggie Murray.

TO THE EDITOR OF AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER
A Pavilion film by Mark Fell & Luke Fowler
Commissioned by Hyde Park Picture House & Pavilion
Kindly supported by: Arts Council England  Leeds City Council  Leeds Inspired
Hamilton Corporate Finance  Feminist Review Trust  Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society

Camera: Margaret Salmon
Second camera: Luke Fowler
Producer: Will Rose
Music: Mark Fell, Luke Fowler
Rostrum: Jo Dunn, Leeds Animation Workshop
Grading: Ben Mullen at Serious
Sound Mix: Iain Anderson at Savalas
Music mastering: Andreas [LUPO] Lubich at Calyx
Telecine colourist: Paul Dean at Cinelab
Lab: Cinelab London
Film stock: Kodak
Pavilion: Gill Park, Anna Reid, Will Rose, Linzi Stauvers, Miriam Thorpe

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Cathedrals of Culture, Denmark 2014.

Posted by keith1942 on November 30, 2014

The Salk Institute one of the impressive shots that recur in this film.

The Salk Institute one of the impressive shots that recur in this film.

This is a portmanteau documentary comprising six films that offer a study of a classic modern buildings.

If buildings could talk, what would they say about us?

This appears to be the brief given to the directors. What they have produced are six films that offer a portrait of a building and to a degree a study of the place of the human users within them. I found the films interesting but there was a lack of variety in the different works. The brief did seem to encourage a very similar approach even though the buildings are fairly different.

Some of them use a voice over that offers a possible impersonation of the ‘soul’ of the building. There seem to be only limited variations available for this approach. This also applied to the style – all the films rely to a degree on the moving camera, using a Steadicam. The cinematography though is frequently impressive. And the music in four of them also lacked variation. Several films used older archive footage. This was cropped to the 1.85:1 format of the film. This seems to be an unfortunate standard approach in contemporary documentary. It was less noticeable here because of the techniques employed – even so, given that architecture is about space, the cropping seemed misconstrued. The film was made for 3D but I saw it in a 2D digital version: it appears from IMDB that the project started as a sequence of short film for television. I am not sure how much difference the 2D format may make: the film was designed, at least in part, for the 3D format.

The ones I enjoyed most were art buildings – a concert hall and an opera house – the aspect of performance provided greater variation and the music was also more varied. The prison film was in some ways the most interesting, but I found the voice-over less than compelling.

The Berlin Philharmonic – directed and written by Wim Wenders [also Executive Producer for the whole film].                                                       This is the film I enjoyed most, perhaps because it was first and therefore had a sense of freshness. The film presented the modern concert hall built in the early 1960s in Berlin: close for a time to the separation wall erected by the DDR. The building is impressive and when built was a new style of concert auditorium. There were both rehearsals and performances. The film also used archive footage and interviews which provided variety and it took in the care and maintenance of the building. The theme was the relationship between architecture and culture: there were also comments relating the film to the social – less convincing.

The National Library of Russia – written and directed by Michael Glawogger.                                                                                                  This film took a rather different approach: a voice in Russian, which for the most of the film was replaced by dubbed English, read a selection of extracts from writers whose books are housed in the library. Meanwhile the camera prowled round the building from morning to dusk, picking out the staff and occasionally the users. The camera work was fine but I found the commentary rather uniform. This seemed to be the case for both the Russian and English voices: rather ironic. The range of authors whose work we heard seemed fairly varied and the unchanging tone of the reader really obscured this.

Halden Prison – written and directed by Michael Madsen.                       This modern and carefully designed prison was presented set in the snowy wastes of Norway. The film opened with a quotation from Michael Foucault where he drew the parallels between prisons and schools. Disappointingly the commentary did not really develop this angle. The film did show the situation and treatment of the prisoners, and there were some stark shots which offered an unsettlingly contrast between the consciously liberal regime and the fact of removal from society. The film did achieve a certain haunting ambience, but the commentary [spoken by the prison psychotherapist] was quite pat at times.

Salk Institute, San Diego – directed by Robert Redford, written by Anthony Lappé.                                                                                         This was one of only two films with discrete direction and writing and it had the most distinctive form among the films. Rather than a voice over commentary we had archive material interspersed with interviews of the workers at this prestigious scientific institution. The early part of the film presented the buildings, standing out in the somewhat desolate landscape. The archive material took us back to pioneering work of the founder and media responses at that time. The interviewees included two scientists and a maintenance worker. The archive material broke up the film of the building itself, though in the latter stages it did tend to the moving camera treatment seen in every one of these films.

The Oslo Opera House, written and directed by Margreth Oil.               This was the only film in which the writer/director also read out the commentary. The Opera House was an imposing building all in white. Olin commenced with shot which counterposed the celebrated structure with some of the derelict people and places found nearby. But the film failed to return to these. We still saw the familiar moving camera: and there were sequences of rehearsal for both opera and ballet. Some of the counterposing of shots suggested wry humour: something in short supply in the portmanteau film overall. And the film closed with some whimsical overlapping shots.

Céntre Pompidou, directed by Karim Ainouz and written by Deyan Sudjit.                                                                                                          This was the other film with discrete direction and writing. It also used the steadicam shots but these were more frequently cut to standing shots. We saw various aspects of the Céntre over a day, from dawn till late evening. There were performances, cinemas, concerts, exhibitions and a library. This is the only one of the buildings that I have actually visited, so I was intrigued to see parts that I recognised and parts that I had missed.

Overall I found the film somewhat repetitions: especially the recurring sequence shots and the personalised voice over. It held my interest and did provide a sense of the buildings. Not all the films provided a focus on the history of a building: something that I thought added interest. And in fact I had little sense of the Russian Library’s provenance.

One aspect that was almost completely absent was the economic. The closest we came was when Dr Salk, in an interview, replied to a question that the vaccine he developed ‘belonged to the people’.

As the film progressed I longed for a completely different and less reverent approach. I wondered what for example, we might have seen and heard if Jean-Luc Godard or in a different manner, John Akomfrah, had been included in the commission.

One moment I did enjoy was when I discovered that it appears possible to take a dog [not apparently accompanying a blind person] into the Céntre Pompidou – something the British ‘dog loving’ culture fails to allow.

 

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Finding Vivian Maier, USA 2014

Posted by keith1942 on August 11, 2014

finding vivian maier poster

This film was screened at the Hyde Park Picture House as part of a programme titled The Female Gaze. The screening accompanied an exhibition of the work of female photographers at the Village Bookstore and Gallery, ending with a Round Table Discussion, including ‘the effectiveness of the ‘female only’ curatorial approach. The screening at the Hyde Park was introduced by Helen Grant from the College of Art & Design: briefly as there was a large audience turnout and we started a little late. There was also a post-screen discussion, again unfortunately cut short by limitations of time.

Vivian Maier was a New Yorker, of French parentage, born 1926 and died 2009. She worked most of her adult life as Nanny with various families in New York and Chicago. However, she has achieved posthumous fame because of the quality of her photographic work, unknown and little seen in her lifetime. Essentially her work falls into ‘street photography’. It is now exhibited in prestige galleries, sells as relatively expensive artwork and is compared to the work of major male and female professional photographers.

Finding Vivian Maier is written and directed by John Maloof with Charlie Siskel. Maloof also narrates the film. In 2007 Maloof, a regular at auction houses and car boot sales, bought a box of negative film for $380. Maier was still alive at this point, but possibly unaware of the sale. The items were auctioned off to cover unpaid storage costs. Maloof’s trove included thousands of photographic negatives, undeveloped rolls of black and white and colour film, and Super 8 mm and 16mm films. In the course of the film we learn that for much of her work Maier’s favoured camera was a Rolleiflex. Some of her work was developed and printed and this seems to be true of most of the 8mm and 16mm film. She does not seem to have worked at processing and developing: though one throwaway line notes that she was not good at ‘printing up photographs’.

The structure of the film is important. It opens with a series of excerpts from interviews with the families for whom Maier worked as a Nanny. It reminded me faintly of the use of interviewees in Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981): that is another film where a conventional treatment dilutes the substance of the portrait.  Maloof then recounts how he started working through his archive and researching Maier. When he commenced posting some of her photographs on the Internet he realised that her work was both of professional standard and deemed to be of quality and value. This led to exhibitions of her work in galleries and the film includes brief comments on and comparisons of the quality of Maier’s photographs.

The middle section of the film is essentially an investigation of Maier’s personal life. The combination of employment as a children’s Nanny whilst producing work that is valued as art is intriguing. Moreover, Maier was an extremely private person, even secretive. This comes out in comments by the families and from Maloof’s researches. She sometimes changed the spelling of her name – Meyer rather than Maier. She would use the pseudonym Smith quite frequently. And her personal space in the homes of the families where she worked was inviolate for her. She was also an assiduous collector, of artefacts and newspapers. In some of her moves from one employment to another she took several trunks, and numerous cases and boxes. Maloof’s trove was enlarged when one family allowed him to pick through another storage facility of items left by Maier.

As the portrait develops the film emphasises the sense of Maier as a distinctive and unusual character – the work ‘eccentric’ pops up several times, and later in the film ‘crazy’. The emphasis is on the unravelling of the ‘mystery’ of Vivian Maier. This the film fails to do, but at one point interviewees speculate that there may have been abuse, either when she was a child or an adult. The reminiscences of her performance as a carer of children are actually varied, at times almost contradictory.

We do learn about several trips that she made in the 1950s and 1960s. There were at least two visits to her ancestral village in the Champsaur Valley in the French Alps. There are photographs both of family members and of the village and its surround. This is the only occasion of which there is a record of Maier photographic work be printed and displayed. In fact she arranged for some of the photographs to be printed up as post cards and entertained the idea of some of sort of commercial activity. The other trip was a world tour in which she visited Latin America, Europe and Asia. But we did not learn much about this.

Towards the end the film returns to the issue of the status of Maier’s photographic work. She has enjoyed major and popular exhibitions in a number of cities in the USA and Europe. Her prints are now collected, selling [we are told] for about $12,000. However, it is suggested that the major art institutions are still resisting including her in the canon of photographic work.

VM06

Following the film there was a short postscript, with some comments from Helen Clark and responses from the audience. I have to say that some of the contributions got rather lost in the auditorium and I was not always completely clear about the point being made.

Helen Clark returned to a question she posed before the screening, ‘who was finding Vivian Maier’? Her comments on the film pointed up that what we were presented with was John Maloof’s search: it was his story rather than Vivian’s. She added that she had two particular worries regarding the film that disturbed her. One was the financial. Maloof was now selling Vivian’s photograph, effectively making money out of her work. This was work for which she was never paid, and in fact she was still alive when Maloof began his enterprise, though he was unaware of that.

Her second concern was the sequences where respondents in the film suggested the possibility of Vivian being abused, presumably sexually, at some time in her life. The BBFC certified the film as 12A with the note ‘infrequent child abuse references‘. As Helen pointed out these comments were all speculation, there being no evidence. In fact in the film it provides a possible explanation for her behaviour which is seen as somewhat abnormal. Helen’s final point was on the way that the film represents Vivian and her work. She felt that this personalised her work in a way that was not the norm for studies of artists, and that this was to some degree explained by Vivian being an unmarried woman.

At this point we started to get people from the audience pitching in. Several disagreed with the points about Maloof’s exploitation of the archive, proposing that he bought it and he researched it and so the entitlement followed. Someone also commented how the film dramatised the ‘dream’ of people who frequent car boots sales, uncovering a treasure trove. I think there were also some disagreements with Helen’s comment on the representation of ‘an unmarried woman, though I did not catch all of this. Given the short space of time available I did not get a sense of how the audience overall responded to the argument. I suspect we heard from more vocal members, [I confess I chipped in]. But there was certainly a section that accepted the way that the film presented its subject.

I think there are serious problems with the presentation in the film. The structure that I described above certainly provides a dominating focus on Vivian Maier in terms of personality and as something of an ‘oddball’. In fact, the factors which have propelled her into the limelight, that have made her photographs valuable artefacts, and which enabled the funding of the film are all to do with her status as a photographer and artist. But the film spends relatively little time on the aesthetics of her photographic work. There are some brief comments at the beginning and again towards the end of the film, but these are outweighed by people’s memories of her person.

The film is weak not only on the aesthetics of her work but on the technicalities. The only cameras that are specifically mentioned are the Rolleiflex and a Kodak Brownie that belonged to her mother. But I reckoned those there ware three or four different cameras that she was using over her career. There was also very little about the production side of photography. There was the one comment regarding her weakness in printing. The sense is that she did not work at the developing side of photography: which given her low income throughout her life probably explained the unprocessed negatives and undeveloped film.

The film gives only a limited sense of Maier’s work. She clearly had a gift for composition and for catching the moment. There are photographs of the families for whom she worked and of the village from which her family hailed. But the bulk of her work is what is called street photography. She tended to take pictures in working class and deprived areas. The dominant feature of her work is people, but often with an equally strong sense of their environment. She is interested in the ordinary, the everyday, the dispossessed and those who are to degree outsiders.

One senses a strong feel of empathy for her subjects; there is no sense of condescension. At the same time there is also a strong sense of reflexivity. She is very fond of shots reflecting windows and mirrors, producing classic artist’s self-portraits. The photographs are also historical records and cultural artefacts. When positioned alongside her collection of cultural objects and newspaper stories she emerges as a chronicler of the times and of the urban spaces. The films we saw did not have the same qualities. They seem much more like home movies. Maier’s forte seems to have been in ‘capturing the moment’.

1953, New York, NY

It is worth adding that she was not only an unmarred woman but also economically working class – ‘in service’. There is a strong affinity between the content of her major photographic work and her class position. That can also be seen as a factor that has led to the film and certain institutions treating her as an exception rather than as a member a member of an artistic pantheon.

With praiseworthy consideration the BBC took the opportunity to re-screen on the same evening another film on this topic – Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures? transmitted in the BBC 1 Imagine series. This provides a welcome alternative treatment of the photographer. The emphasis is very much on her work and its aesthetic and social qualities. Partly because of what material the film could access the focus is on her activity in New York and Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. John Maloof declined to participate, as he was already involved in his own film. The BBC film uses other collections of her work. There are some familiar faces from the Maloof film, but also some new ones. The treatment of the bidding and buying up of Maier collections suggests a world of cut-throat competition with a whiff of the unseemly. It is worth noting that the prices paid at the auctions were probably a lot less than the thousands of dollars that Maier had probably spent over the years on storage.

The BBC film does provide a biography, but again of a different tyre and tone. The key researcher is photography lecturer, Pamela Bannof, who has carefully researched Maier and her life. It seems that Maier’s family lived on the margins like many of her subjects. Both her mother and grandmother were in service. Her photographic career seems to have taken off when she made her first visit to the Champsaur valley: she had lived there for a few years as a child and she had some sort of fluency in French. Later when she return to New York she started serious photographic activity – early shots are cityscapes but then she homes in are what became the major theme of her work – the urban environs and people on the margins.

The film fills out some of her personal and work life. And a rather different portrait emerges. The different language used offers a sense of this – ‘recluse’, ‘very private’, and ‘rootless’. There is her work as a Nanny in New York and later in Chicago; some families called her ‘Mary Poppins with a camera’.

Bannof and other photographers comment on examples of her work. There is a greater variety than in the Maloof film. Apart from the street photography and the self-portraits there are pictures that experiment and play with pattern and form. At times there are touches with a surreal quality. We saw some brief examples of her 8mm work, which here has more social content than the examples used by Maloof. And the children in her care also turn up as subjects. She has a fine sense of portraiture, but nearly always secured in an environment that adds to the character. The use of objects and pattern is noticeable in both her self-portraits and portraits taken on the streets.

We get some technical explanations on her photographic work, including of her favourite Rolleiflex camera: one that only used 12 exposure rolls. There is an example in a gallery of a whole roll of picture, as taken in sequence. One gets a sense of how she moved from work to leisure and from the suburbs to the city downtown. It seems that she did do some processing herself, but she had to do it in her room at her workplace. It is possible that the restrictions of this and her low income preventing her developing this side of her work. We hear from a staff member at one of the camera shops that she frequented for processing. Also from a manager at a Chicago cinema where she went ‘three of four times a month’ to watch movies.

Bannof argues that whilst Maier was self-taught as a photographer she consciously studied and developed her art. There is a short from 1952 of Salvador Dali outside MOMA: at the same time as an exhibition of ‘Five French Photographers’. Presumably Maier visited this: and it seems she visited Paris and the Louvre when she made her second visit to her home village.  We also get to see more of the photographs Maier took on her year-long trip, including India, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Malaysia. As Bannof comments, this is an epic piece of travelling for a single woman in the 1950s.

vivian-maier-self-portrait-16

Other snippets emerge. One of the adults once in her care recognises a picture that she took – of Maier. Presumably questions of provenance may begin to haunt collectors and archivists. At one point we are told that Maier prints fetch about $2,000: whilst original prints from her hand fetch about $8,000. Still a tidy sum.

The film also gives a sense of the changing nature of her photographic work. One comment is that as the 1960s pass there is a growing amount if urban detritus in the pictures, less of the earlier alternative patterns. This, it is suggested, reflects the changing and deteriorating conditions of her personal life: her later employment as a Nanny was in shorter term posts: finally she was a carer for an old, disabled person. It also may reflect the social crises of the 1960s; she apparently went downtime during the Chicago riots. These changes may well relate to her apparent loss of interest in actually displaying or marketing her work.

The Round-Table Discussion at the Village Gallery offered four female speakers, an exhibition of contemporary female photographers and a discussion. The audience was overwhelmingly female and I think was also totally white. The four speakers discussed the discourse of female photography from the angles of work, exhibition and curating. Helen Clark added some comments on ‘feminist theory’ and women in visual media. Overall it was more general that just the specific films on Vivian Maier. However, Pippa Oldfield from the Impressions Gallery noted other female photographers whose work only became public after their death. One example would be Lee Miller, some of whose work went unnoticed in her lifetime, and whose legacy has been established by her son. Questions and comments bought up some other issues. This included the recent phenomenon of the ‘selfie’: I was with Helen Clark that Maier’s self-portraits are much more in line with examples in classical art than the new Internet-style pics.

In terms of the overall programme it is worth considering again the key concept, ‘The female gaze’. Helen Clark has provided some comments on a flier and on a Website. She refers to discussions around ‘the Gaze’ and specifically mentions Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975). Mulvey’s article basically employs a psychoanalytical argument, “demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.” Mulvey sees women as ‘caught within the language of patriarchy’, effectively complicit in the treatment of female characters on screen. Mulvey’s treatment is rather different from another writer referred to, John Berger. However, Berger offers a materialist analysis of representations, including those of women (Ways of Seeing, 1972 – as was pointed out in the discussion it predates Mulvey’s work). Art, including cinema and photography, tends to work within the limits of the dominant social mores. Thus part of women’s subordination in class society includes being the object of male action. Thus the tendency, not total, for female characters to be objectified in art and the media. I think that it is not necessary to go into the complicated and linguistically obscure arguments offered by Mulvey: Berger’s analysis shows us how representations express and re-inforce class and gender relations.

In that sense Finding Vivian Maier is ideological. That is, it gives expression to the dominant values, and even prejudices, of US capitalist society. These are values and prejudices regarding women, unmarried women, women employed as Nanny’s, and women whose behaviour is outside the accepted norms. But the film is ideological in another sense, that it fails to address the underlying social relations. Maier’s position in society is determined by her class and gender, and indeed by the cultural factors consequent on these. And her story of non-recognition followed by her growing star status refracts the relationships of intellectuals and artists to that society. Pierre Bourdieu’s offers ideas about the class-based competencies and dispositions that operate in cultural and artistic discourses (Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, 1986).

One comment in the BBC film saw Maier as possessing qualities that distinguish the amateur from the professional’: clearly a reference to competencies and dispositions. And Bannof suggested one could see the influence of profressional phtographers [Diane Arbus] in her early work.

Maier clearly failed to fit within such ‘competencies and dispositions’ in her lifetime, which makes her work subversive. Now, through the assistance of people who appear to be familiar with the said competencies and dispositions, her work has accessed the photographic discourse. There are innumerable instances of female and working class artists who have been censured by such discourses. Posthumously, and to a degree benefiting from modern media like the Internet, Maier has been elevated into the discourse.

At the same time there has been a limited change in the use value of her work. From being undisplayed photographs and unprocessed photographs they have become art objects with a particular cachet. Even more remarkable though is the change in their exchange value. Maloof bought the box of film for $380 dollars. We are told that one print sells for between $2,000 and $12,000. Even allowing for the process of bringing them to market this is a large surplus. Presumably in her lifetime Maier’s labour as a Nanny resulted in pay that was less than its actual value, though this has not been calculated. Since her death her unpaid labour has produced expropriation on a substantial degree. One of the contradictions of the system is that the collectors, who bought her work at auctions, likely unbeknown to her, acquired the copyright and therefore the increasing exchange value.

Appropriation runs right through this herstory. It applies to Maier’s work as a Nanny, to her activity as a photographer: not just economic appropriation but social and cultural. However, appropriation also applies to the profession of which Maier technically never became a part. From their earliest developments, both photography and cinema have appropriated the images of ordinary people. Street photography goes back to Victorian times. Both Edison and Lumière relied on filming their workers, their customers and the ordinary citizens for their products. But these ‘performances’ are not considered labour with exchange value in the way that the professional performances are. Peoples unfamiliar with these new technologies often expressed the fear at their first encounter that these machines would ‘steal their souls’. This is not just in a religion sense, but that it created alternatives forms of themselves. Photography’s apparent realism and cinematography’s addition of motion represented people in a way that was distinct from earlier art forms such as painting, sculpture and ceramics. Models for painters are as a norm paid: few subjects of photographic portraits receive payment, except in the fashion industry.

Maier’s failure or even unwillingness to display most of her work subverted this process. This does not seem to have been a wilful act on her part: she dabbled in attempts to deploy the work. But it did follow up from her working outside the artistic dispositions that dominated both mediums. Her photographs are fine example of the modern medium. But they, and the life story that now accompanies them, present intriguing critical questions about the medium itself.

 

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