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I have just passed the 8 months mark! This is how long I have been going out every day in all weathers filming myself for ten minutes in an attempt to make a film exploring our desire to document our lives through film and capture time.
Today wasn’t pleasant, the rain was coming directly at the lense of the camera quite hard, which makes filming very difficult (lots of wiping). I woke up with a cold and the rain has been hitting me quite hard too. This is entirely self imposed and self inflicted (and publicly funded!) so I can’t really complain, but the most recent and brilliant episode from Radiolab felt particularly pertinant. You can listen to it here by following this link.
I imagined the 1950′s programme ‘Escape’ featured at the beggining of the show using my situation ‘You are an experimental film maker in self imposed exile making a film which means you can’t leave the most remote peninsular in Britian for more than a day . . .’ and this cheered me up.
I particularly liked the last peice about telephone freaking, although the point when Jo became Joybubbles was quite disturbing. The whole programme left me wondering whether this project is an attempt to escape modern society by staying on my remote peninsular or to confront the need to keep moving by staying in the same place.
Rhona Miller is my next door neighbour, she and her sister Isla run The Knoydart Pottery and Tearoom. It is a very special place to have here on Knoydart, like stepping into a cute french film. There is lots of bunting and pretty handmade things, not just pottery and cakes, but monkeys made from scrap fabric, bracelets from buttons and knitted things. I work on my own at home most of the time, writing proposals and workshop plans and editing films, so it feels like a vital service they provide. Good coffee, local news and friendly banter. They cheer me up on a bad day (teasing me about my messy hair, strange filmmaking habits and disastrous love life) and help to keep everything in perspective.
I asked Rhona to draw something that sums up activities in the winter months here in Knoydart, when it is cold dark and there are no visitors and she came back with this picture of me knitting. I learnt to knit not long after I arrived in Knoydart at the Knoydart Ladies Knitting Circle and for a while became obsessed. There is no TV reception here, so knitting is a good activity for the dark winter evenings (and you get jumpers out of it too). Me, Isla, and Rhona sometimes spend an evening together sitting by the fire playing scrabble and knitting. I find it quite therapeutic I like the idea of knitting as a metaphor for life. If you get caught up with the imperfections you’ll never finish anything and ultimately it is those very same mistakes it yours, but sometimes you just have to face the truth that it isn’t working, unravel the whole thing and start again, and (Isla thought of this one) if you use cheap wool no matter how well you knit you will always have a cheap jumper – unless you are really very clever.
Making this film is not unlike knitting. I can’t go back and do any of the days again and they can only be put together in sequence for the whole thing to work. I just have to accept that some days I do better than others – I am more present, the light works, the focus is there, and some days things are not so perfect. It rains and I look wet and miserable. By returning to the same spot again and again at the same time I sometimes feel like I am knitting time, creating a series of moments identical but not quite the same. See my Poem Doodle post . . .
PS. Still hoping someone will knit me a response to this film!
Art exists to tell the truth
about the human condition
today we are all isolated
we are lonely
lost without human contact
here by a remote Scottish loch
on the edge of Britain’s last wilderness,
a small, lone blonde film artist reminds us
This is what Fiona McCade had to say about Stay the Same in the Scotsman on Thursday 9th Feb. I am posting it here because although there is much I disagree with, I found it quite interesting as a response to the film and it got me thinking.
I particularly liked hearing about her “Fiona Through The Years Photos”. I agree with her that her pictures may not currently be of any artistic value, but the same was true of my old passport photos until I turned them into ID. It is also true of the old photos in the Back to the Future project (pictured left) which I posted a few months ago and of the footage I am currently collecting every day when I am filming. It is what you do with these pictures or moving images, the raw materials of a film, that gives them artistic value and makes them more or less interesting.
The question of how you quantify artistic value and what should be paid for publicly is a whole other issue, which I don’t have the answers for (and thankfully don’t have to). Fiona seems to suggest that the only value of importance is current popularity, but there is a difference between what is popular in the immediate and what will stand the test of time and have lasting value. My sense is that this is about depth of meaning and I hope this is what will distinguish Stay the Same from the photo every day trend and cats with bread on their heads. (Although I also believe you could probably make an interesting film using either as raw material and am always up for a challenge if anyone would like to commission me to do so!).
I would love to see Fiona’s Paris photos and wonder whether in the right hands, and with Fiona’s participation, they could be made into an interesting film.
If anyone has a collection of photos like Fiona’s please get in touch email@example.com
PS. Surely a hammer is only a hammer because it isn’t used for anything else?
“WHEN I was seven, I went to Paris for the first time and my mum took a photo of me standing in front of a fountain in the Tuileries Gardens. I don’t go to Paris as much as I’d like, but every time I’ve returned, I’ve got someone to take a photo of me in exactly the same place and same position, so I now have a cool little collection of Fiona Through The Ages, in all weathers, getting older and older. I was just wondering: would you like to buy this memento of me? How about I give you all the photos of me and you give me £10,000? No? Why not?
Don’t be so quick to turn up your noses. The British Film Institute and Creative Scotland have given £10,000 of your tax and lottery money to an artist called Sam Firth to spend on an art project which involves her going out every day at 8:30am and filming herself standing silently and still for ten minutes in exactly the same place – in front of a loch on the Knoydart peninsula. She’s going to do this for a year, then edit the footage into a 20-minute film to be called Stay The Same, although I doubt that she (or the Knoydart peninsula) will manage to stay even slightly the same every single day, given the weather up there.
If Creative Scotland wants this film to showcase Scotland, they should probably ask Sam to budge over a bit, because the stills I’ve seen are all about her head and not the spectacular scenery behind it. But pure art would have no such base motives. I spent time at university learning about what constitutes art, so to spare you the student debt, and for no charge whatsoever, here is what I learned. You know something is art when it’s no use for anything else. Ergo, Ms Firth is definitely an artist. She’s not a bad one, either. I’ve seen some of her other work and I enjoyed it. She made a great little film about her intestinal fauna.
The trouble is that this new project doesn’t have quite such an original premise, since there are an awful lot of us out there filming or photographing ourselves at regular intervals. I don’t want any artists to starve in garrets, but given the current financial situation, here’s a wild idea: maybe they could create their work and then sell it? Like artists used to?
I’m happy for Ms Firth to do her thing – even if I did have the idea first and it’s cost me a fortune in air fares – but wouldn’t it have been cheaper if she’d paid for the camera and the memory card herself, then us taxpayers could wait and see if we like what she comes up with?
My holiday snaps may not merit a payout from the public purse, but my artistic sensibilities are not dead. In fact, I’ve had a great idea.
Right now, there are millions of people online, actively searching for films and photos of cats wearing hats made of bread. “Cat breading” is HUGE. We will PAY to see cats in hats made of bread. Cat breading counts as real art because nothing on earth is more useless for any practical purpose than cats dressed up in baked goods. So I shall decorate my two cats with slices of finest multigrain and take hundreds of photos that all look practically the same. Cat after cat, with slices of bread around their heads.
If I edit together 365 photos of my breaded cats and make a film of them, I’ll be a proper artist. I know, it’s sacrilege to suggest that art should please the masses, but at least I’m not asking the masses to subsidise me unless they want to. Fortunately, I reckon there are millions of private patrons out there who are willing to pay for my work. For an outlay of £1.20 per loaf and some cans of Whiskas, I could make a tidy profit – and even more if I use discount thin-sliced white.”
Fiona McCade, The Scotsman
I received these pictures and text yesterday from Rick Rohde in South Africa. There is something compelling about Vytjie’s photographs, particularly as she has been taking them over many years and I would love to see more, particularly her self portraits. I’m also really interested in Rick’s project giving cameras to young people because of the work I do (see Mallaig film project and Kids with Cameras). Also watch Mark Cousin’s brilliant film The First Movie if you get chance, which I showed here last year.
“Sofia Klaaste’s photographs are the result of a project started in 1999, part of a long-term study into the socio-economic and environmental history of Paulshoek, a rural South African village of about one hundred households in the communal area of Leliefontein, Namaqualand.
In order to help get an insider’s view of the village (as well as to provide some entertainment to village youth), I gave disposable cameras to about a dozen young adults in Paulshoek who were asked to make a visual diary of their lives or to focus on whatever visual topic they found interesting. Sofia’s photos stood out for their freshness, sensitivity, composition and candid portrayal of village life. Known to most in the community simply as ‘Vytjie’, Sofia Klaaste was then only 16 years old, and trying desperately to find outlets for her feral imagination and vivacious nature.
Sofia is now a young woman. She left home in her late teens for a couple of years and explored the rougher side of life in the townships and squatter settlements of the Cape Flats. She returned to the village in 2003 suffering from ill health and since then has lived with her mother, stepfather and younger sister in a small shack on the edge of the village. During this time Sofia was supplied with numerous disposable cameras, several 35mm ‘instamatics’ and a high-resolution digital camera. Today, her collection of photographs consists of more than 1000 images. They record a decade of village life from the perspective of a young woman growing up in the ‘new’ South Africa and provide a poignant record of Sofia’s own passage into adulthood.
Sofia’s photographs portray a material and emotional world that is common to millions of South Africa’s rural poor. Her photographs are the product of an untutored and instinctual eye for colour, composition and subject matter. They convey insight into the personal resilience and imaginative potential of a young woman confronted by severely limited opportunities associated with rural poverty and personal hardship. Above all, they are a playful and personal record of a young South African’s vision of her world.”
Is this blog your sketchbook for the polished piece of art that will be your film? If so it should try to capture what we see more directly – lines and patterns and shapes, light and shade. Perhaps only allow contributions that are (at least partly) drawn, sketched or videoed? We’ll stop writing words and just get on with the real thing. More pictures less words please – Enough said…
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I’ve just finished writing this for the Flaneur Arts Blog who contacted me after reading the Telegraph article earlier this week . .
Stay the Same by Sam Firth
I currently live on the most remote peninsular in Britain and for the last eight months of my life I have gone to exactly the same spot each day on the shore of a sea loch surrounded by mountains at exactly the same time and filmed myself for my film Stay the Same. The light has changed as has the weather, the tides, the seasons and I have been changing too. The film documents this change whilst also hopefully making apparent the things we cannot. The frailty of the human body and continuos marching of time. I hope the film will do other things too, but I won’t know that until it is finished.
My filming routine, which means I cannot leave here for longer than a day, has shaped my life for this year and this is partly what the film documents. At times I have felt trapped, it is physical difficult to leave here (even when there are no storms and you don’t have to be back on the same beach in 24 hours time), to get away is either a boat ride or a two day walk across the mountains. When I first showed the test film someone suggested I looked trapped within the frame and I do think the film is partly an expression of being trapped. We are all trapped in different ways, by time, by routine, by our bodies.
The idea to film every day came out of a growing desire desire to hang on to each moment, to record and hold it. This came along with the realisation of the futility of trying to do this; like chasing snowflakes, each one you catch means you miss a thousand more.
But film and moving image are the closest we have to being able to capture time. The way digital images are recorded are different from memory, they exist without us. We can relive other peoples moments long gone and see them happening in real time. The young stay young as we get older; the technology may change but the experience of watching film doesn’t.
I wanted to capture a few minutes of experience each day, to try and be completely present while filming, aware of the camera and of my surroundings. I also want to show that at the same time trying to capture every moment on film is as futile. The process itself has had the effect of speeding up this year, making it one to be counted and got through; one month down eleven to go, nine, six, five, four, rather than lived and cherished. And the more moments I catch the more overwhelming they become, the less distinguishable from each other, each addition diminishing the last, taking up precious screen time. I have found in the process that even staying present for ten minutes each day isn’t always that easy.
It is this sense of being overwhelmed by individual moments like passing carriages on a train which your eyes can only follow one at time that I hope to express. Life is speeding up and I’m not sure whether it is just mine. But the more we hang on and try and stay off the inevitable, the faster it is going to seem.
Describing this with words seems inadequate to me, which is why I am making the film and spending so much time doing it. I started work on the project early in 2010 and won’t be finished until autumn 2012 at the earliest. I have had a sense from very the beginning of what it looks like and how it feels and that it feels important.
I’m sure that even if it comes out exactly how I imagine (which I kind of hope it doesn’t), not everyone will agree, but this isn’t a reason to stop trying.
I’ve been getting lots of messages and interest in the film since Monday and it may well reach a larger audience as a result of all the press coverage (increasing it’s value for the tax payers money even more, if you see it that way!), I hope so. I am going to write more about the project and day to day life as Britian’s most remote experimental film maker in the coming days, but in the meantime here are a few responses I have had from Radio 4 Listeners . . .
“I listened to an interview you gave for News at 6pm on Radio 4 tonight. What you said I found fascinating: As a young student of art in the 60′s I tried something similar, albeit less ambitious, in still photography – a self portrait photograph (four taken in a passport photo booth) every day for a year on my way to college (the work was soon destroyed after the images were stuck on to a board – a tutor said it was depressing to look at!)…”
“Just by way of support for your project – I think most people live and move at a fast pace today and staying still for any length of time is considered profligate. But like any journey at 100 miles per hour, life today deprives us of the close inspection that the world and the environment need to really appreciate it. I think your project in some way will, hopefully make people see that staying the same actually captures the wonderful, delicate and less noticeable changes that occur more slowly.”
“I was really interested to hear about your project on the radio last night. I think it is far more challenging than it sounds. When I look at the snow this morning and climb into my super insulated jacket to go outside, I know I wouldn’t want to swap places with you. Nor would I want the daily task of taking the video and keeping engaged with the camera.”
“I heard about your film Art project on the radio this evening. ‘Stay The Same’ I really like the concept and I can imagine how amazing it will be when you have put it all together, after your whole year of dedication to it. It must take some patience too , you are very inspiring.“
A few months ago I wrote about the range of reponses I was having to this project and invited people to submit a response artistic or otherwise see creating a living notebook. In one of the posts below is a lovely drawing by Mia who is aged 8. This was partly because I am working such isolation. I guess one has to be careful what one wishes for!
A journalist picked up on an article in my local paper The Westword asking for responses from local people and today The Telegraph and Scottish editions of the Daily Mail and The Sun printed stories about the film. Below are links to copies of the articles .
The nature of their response to this film came as a bit of a surprise and I want to thank everyone who has sent messages of support, The BFI and Creative Scotland as well as BBC Radio 4 for contacting me and doing a peice on the 6pm news today.
To get a better sense of my work here is my first film I.D.
This has been a wonderful opportunity for me to develop this piece and new ideas which hopefully one day will be in the cinema and I am incredibly greatful for the development funds I have received.
If you would like to write a response, submit a film or series of photographs for this website email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below on this blog post.