risk and attachment (adventures in analog)

Much of my photography over the past few months involved getting to grips with my new used medium format camera, a light meter and excursions into processing and moving analog to digital (assignment 1: Office at Night was the first project to use a film camera).

Last week I begun to process the film in the local community workshop space. It didn’t go to plan. These facebook posts are an account of risk, attachment and memory in my photography. The events have been really useful in helping me figure out where attachment lies in the images, what a processing flaw may also tell me then about ‘faulty memory’ and the truth claims within a photograph. There is also something in here about ephemerality of the images that I am interested in taking: I was figuring out the ease or lack thereof for restaging, retaking some of these images and realise that the easiest one to re-do involves a 12-months wait until the trees are about to burst again, and hoping that there will be sunny weather during that time.

Gesa Helms 12 May at 19:47 ·

I am discovering that processing my own films is a fairly high risk strategy. After closing the door behind myself and standing in the most complete darkness for the second time ever, and contemplating that well-known fear of the dark and its very temptation, I realise that I must not switch on the light. I also realise that I may not be able to load the film, one after the other, onto the spiral. What if the two films aren’t properly separated, what if my fingertips are greasy, what if I don’t seal the tub properly. I am working calmly until someone starts to knock: are you alright. Yes. Ten minutes later, another knock. Are you alright? Yes I am, and somehow the people outside the dark seem concerned. Maybe I ought not to be alright? The clip disappears. And why do I keep thinking that the film unrolls off the spiral rather than onto it? I had carefully chosen which films to process first: neither California nor Curtains in their entirety, so that if something were to go wrong, I wouldn’t lose all of the images. As I keep working I am thinking back to the images that remain hidden for the time being and that I am winding onto the spiral.

Once I finish I return to the workshop. Someone starts to talk to me, and he keeps talking all the time until I leave another 30+ minutes later. I take him to be the technician whom I haven’t met yet and he is to usher me along as I seem to not know what I am doing. He panics once the beautiful German machine that is to process C41 starts processing straightaway without heating up first, and I realise that there is an entirely new strand of risk coming in the way of images… he keeps talking and I am trying to assess whether this new risk means just a bit of extra time or the loss of four films. Remembering that my hands had been warm at some point, we eventually reconstruct that the chemistry was still so warm as it was freshly mixed for me that Yobo didn’t need further heat.
I learn a lot about the compact travel arrangements of photo agencies in the mid-1980s which would pack such a machine onto their photo assignments (the most compact film processing machine every produced); about the layout and aerial photography of Sennelager, and that this former British army camp is in fact near Paderborn (I heard the name so often when men would tell me that they were in Germany too, but never established where exactly it actually was).
In the end, I have nicely aftershaved four rolls of film drying and taking colour. They have images on them as I can see.

I walk back home through the park and it looks entirely different to the days when I hung out there just 2.5 weeks ago: no more shadow shapes and the skyline is completely different. Just as well that risk remained a statistic for today.

This latency thing is utterly fascinating. It intrigues me almost more than the images. It meshes with memory in a most curious manner.


Risk did manifest itself in more than statistic and I now have a set of what looks like seriously underdeveloped images. Curtains will have turned black, Thomas’s and my face will be absent against a dark sky, and shadows on the pavement in full sun a kind of apocalypse pre-told. It looks like a faulty temperature gauge, and my trust in Vorsprung durch Technik misplaced (or perhaps in its maintenance routine). One response may be to take photos I do not care about. But there will possibly be other responses too. Time is enforcing itself again and it will be Tuesday before the scanner will show me the actual nature of what befell my images. Just as well I didn’t load the remaining two rolls, then all curtains would have been blackened. And, hello, trusted snappy shit who haven’t scratched any of my negs before.
I do not want to take images that I don’t care about. But that means there’s this thing about attachment again.

Okay… dearest four film rolls… I guess he was NOT the technician, and it possibly wasn’t the temperature gauge but the excess water in the bottom of the tank. His instructions on when to close the valve and to run another cleaning cycle with a closed valve were opposite to the ones I was given 40 mins earlier by one whom I know to be a technician and which resonated with the instructions on the wall…

I remember thinking that some tech seems to have a lot of leeway, and how exciting that was. I think it may, but it also has effects (currently borne by myself as to working out whether ephemerality of images that I care for is really what I should be focusing on).

I may have experienced mansplaining and I mistook it. That hasn’t happened very often. But then, when I noticed he wasn’t interested that much in what I was contributing to what I thought was a conversation, I could have attended to that misreading a little more, but in any case: the valve was closed at that point and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the excess dilution of the developer.

There may be a performative story in here.


Der Grund (2) : another album

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 12.16.38

[again: click on the image to see the flipbook]

I did another sequence of photographs yesterday, and another short film. I was hiding the box under sheet and blanket and took two sequences of photographs. Towards the end of the second shooting I was beginning to try out more different compositions: standing on one leg, movement blur etc.

Overall, I was quickly beginning to realise that my making the images more professional also aestheticised them much more and moved them into abstract. I always wanted the feet on box to be quite formal, well lit and composed, but somehow wasn’t quite prepared to the abstraction that this would incur: the images have become art objects much more so than documents of a recording.

I spent last night and this morning editing them and trying out sequences: the pillow case/ covering the box theme is gone; I have sequenced the images so that they explore ‘standing’ and ‘leaning’, interspersed with some of the key images from my granddad’s photographs as well as the typologies. The middle sequences explores the disappearing in various forms.

I also inserted a different ending: not the military ‘family’ photograph but a response to it (which I had constructed as a refusal/ opposition, but placing them next to each other on the spread, I realise that it is also a 1:1 stand-in, probably even with the same hand gesture – on hips/ in pockets). I will sit with this for a couple of days and then continue.

In terms of the rich media components: they are absent in this: the gif’s playing with perception seems gimicky for the current state; the video sits better on its own aside to this… compositionally, at least).

Any thoughts or comments are very welcome!

— there is only little post-processing yet and in particular the hue and saturation need adjusting for the blankets and trousers; the warm reflector shade in a few of them is also an issue, so I may need to reshoot these.






Assignment priorities (c) print outs and cut outs

This is the last of three posts reflecting on the priorities for the assignment set. The first two considered the role of the moving image material and stills deriving from it; and the role of the box in the setup of the earlier stills.

The third major direction within my images revolved around the role of making print outs of the images, and manipulating these manually: to reposition and rephotograph and to draw over or cut out the feet, i.e. these images explicitly make a commentary on the materiality of the performance and feed these into the project as a statement on distance, attachment and my role as authoring this project.

This strand is the first time in which I bring some of my other media and interests into a lens-based project. I had been hoping that the graphite surface would create enough interest in its obscuring but also reflective capacity but wasn’t too convinced in the first iteration. What did however spark my interest was the rephotographing of these objects and shifting the perspective in the process:

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 17.14.08Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 17.14.21

I will create a few more print outs and also employ cutting out in these to then rephotograph. Ideas for this include:

  • a grid of the same image photographed straight on
  • angled shots like the top one
  • restage similar to the setup of the photographs for exercise 2_1
  • different light reflections on these
  • cutting out and looking through these


The digital erasure of my feet belongs into this category also; it contains a number of further possibilities: different surfaces (e.g. erasing onto the blanket); leaving a toe or similar in the image. L. also suggested the creation of a skin layer to overlay the blanket digitally and then to manipulate it (I can follow his process but have no clue how to achieve this, either within Ps or elsewhere, but I am very intrigued by its potential).

>> what does the difference in digital/analog do for the erasure/ covering?
>> what commentary on temporality does this different e.g. provide?


This leaves the following as tasks for completing the assignment:

  • re-shooting images in original setup (sheet plus wall) with box under blanket
  • creating print outs and cut outs of some of these and rephotographing them
  • exploring role of film stills with digital overlays (either as standalone in place/ addition to film in exercise 2_3 or as part of the assignment)

Assignment priorities (b) the box: covered/ uncovered

My absented feet_WIP1_P1100880

The box in the photos is fairly ugly. A solid object in its own right, it acts as a pedestal: to elevate myself so that my feet do not sink in and so that the feet are visible in the photographs. Neither I nor the people in my granddad’s photos were actually footless: of course they had feet, yet they are obscured and thus they appear to be floating, inadvertently, and as a viewer I may wonder what is the ground they are walking on.

More importantly, for my own performance, the box – while elevating my feet and myself – also made my stance far more unstable and in fact left me in danger of falling. This instability was accidentally discovered and seemed such fitting response that an earlier idea (of showing myself in different footwear and thus providing different stand-ins for the people footless in the photos) became secondary.

So far I explored the box in three sequences.

  1. visible
  2. obscured with different pillow covers, and
  3. hidden underneath the blanket.

— similar to the varied footwear, (b) the different pillow cases is becoming less of an interest. I initially sought them out to give a different sense of period pieces to the re-staged images. I have a sense that such temporal commentary unduly complicates the piece., possibly so much so that I wonder if the idea of ‘cover’ is up for being abandoned entirely. This will remove a number of images so far in the mock-up:

  • notably the gif that changes between two covers (spread 12, right hand side, in static form),
  • it also would make incomprehensible the image in which I cover my head (spread 16, right hand side), which is unfortunate, as I feel rather attached to this sideways commentary,
  • spread 15, left hand side remains valid as it explores a different version of the ground disappearing (the cover is a tool to facilitate the bleaching out of the box); this is currently a still but could also work as a gif.

In order to make up for these redundant photographs, I want to re-shoot a series where the box is covered as in the most recent version of the video: i.e., I am standing on top of the blanket on top of the box. The setup for this should ideally be a similar composition as the first shooting (brown sheet, transition mattress to wall constitutes a horizon line.


Assignment priorities (a) film still + overlay


Ordering through my various strands of what I consider an ‘extended typology’ of absent feet, I realise that the video excites me most in this process (but is also very different from the ’12 spreads of a book’). So, I have begun to survey the various ideas that constitute the typology and started to see if any of them can work as a standalone, and if so, what would I lose and gain in this process.

This is the first one:

(a) film still with overlaid background of actual family album image

One thing that works so well for me with the video is the fact that it has moved on quite a bit from the actual WWII photos in my granddad’s box: it has become something else: in medium, in register and tone, from the images that he took and which I, his granddaughter found. Doing so, I can preserve some integrity to the original body of work, to my family relationships, to ideas also to do with respect and secrecy. And, I am able to seek my place within that complex web of being a daughter in that particular family. All the while, also being free to talk about it, or not.

And, yet… does a memory, a resonance of that box belong into the film? If so, how?

In the video, the wall poster is only an aide to facilitate the orientation of the image: to add an element that registers different to the body that is moved sideways, and thus to add to the disorientation. The wall poster is obscure enough not to register as an object beyond that. And yet, I wanted to see if that wall poster could become part of the story more explicitly, and had started to print out an 2×4 A4 image from the box: of a woman with sunglasses smiling at the camera while six Luftwaffe soldiers invariably smile at her or at the camera. I kind of freaked after print 2 of 8 and realised that I didn’t want that image in my flat in that size, and started to seek out other images… It has to do with the many uniforms and, as in many of the images where both men and women are present in the set, the gender relations it alludes to.

I found two of the footless ones that I was wanting to try: one is the (same?) woman walking on a track amidst the forest, the other one is of the set whereby the soldiers are conducting explosion experiments (it was an armoury unit), with the men looking at their watches and looking expectantly at the ground.



While initially trying these so as to save the time to print them as 2×4 images, I do like the digital montage that is taking place between them and the video still, notably the orange background of the actual poster: it acts effectively as a window into the distance, the effect is most noticeable in the second image. The line of view of the group of soldiers in the first one counteracts the window effect, theirs seem to fold downwards, onto myself in terms of picture plane.

These won’t work as bookspreads but they work rather well as grid or single line… I can capture more stills from the video and insert some more of the footless images with such an overlay.



Assignment 2 : flipbook with video WIP

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[click on the image above to go to the issuu flipbook]

The assignment calls for a photobook (of at least 12 spreads). For some time I was intent on including looped gifs and video in this and had started to look around on how to do that. All my PDFs have been without rich media to date, and I assume that all software/ platforms like blurb, designed to print an actual book do not embed rich media.

Today I had a look around and created a first PDF from my Pecha Kucha from Saturday (no changes to order or images done so far).

The results are so far mixed: GIF does not work in Acrobat (at least not the CS4 that I have), I struggle to get the Ps CC to output as a video that loops. So the file is without a GIF. The mp4 file doesn’t autoplay on page opening (as setting in Acrobat but undone in upload to issuu). What I am able to do is to link from issuu page to a vimeo/youtube clip, which I have done. It does however open up another window (set in front of the flipbook), so this is far less neat than what I would like it to do:

  • open up as double-page landscape formatted book spreads, with viewer manually moving forward
  • on pages with rich media, these should begin to play automatically on page opening
  • I really like the lightbox effect of the monitor for this piece, so I don’t see it as an actual printed book; this then also means that there is good reason to expand the format beyond stills and to use moving image/ sound


I will work on the images and what I want to do with them — there are various threads contained and I may need to prune further; many of the images are just sketches as the moment and require reshooting.

I have worked already quite a lot with the sequencing and the role of the dark slide in there. I am becoming aware that with this body of work there are various narratives contained and I needed to explore them more systematically – both in this sequence and in the video are some rather diverse endings, openings and closures contained and indeed possible… that will take a bit of time attending to.



My absented feet

I played some more with the photos of my feet on the bed, trying out different ways of making my own feet disappear.

  1. A rough Ps edit to erase the feet:
    My absented feet_WIP1_P1100880

    It is a similar idea to Eva Stenram’s Drape series (2012) which is one of the most fascinating images that that coursebook shows. The whole series is a elaborate covering up of vintage pin-up models with some of the surrounding furniture. There is something in the formalist constraint that intrigues me in the series alongside the ability to change the surface of those spaces by cloning and filling in furniture extensions – mainly: the drape of curtains (note: link to House’s net curtains) to throw back to the viewer the expectation of voyeuristic pleasures.
    > Stenram’s images exchange figure and ground; they also use the curtains as traditional markers between public and private in this process (Gola 2013)

    >> my own image works with the absence in a rather different register: it is not about voyeurism and public/private markers. It is rather crude at this stage in terms of its playful defiance of expectations: that feet should be visible and present. I am uncertain as to its meaning right now, but will continue with this for a while.

    The image makes me feel quite elated.

  2. Some manual covering up with graphite. The oily surface of graphite fascinates me and I have been interested in building up flatness through dense applications of graphite. So, here are a few ways of covering my feet, and a little bit of playing with the shiny surface the graphite creates.



The bottom left is effectively a rubbing of the desk texture onto the foot, the bottom right is done with a hard pencil and some shading. It needs a stronger sense of the reflection, as this is what I like best in the bottom photo: the reflection flips the image plane in unexpected ways, effectively creating an opening. It reminds me of the poor rendering of a recent short video I took about the effect of sunshine through metal fencing – the video is here (and should be visible with a public setting). — The compression makes some of the haze and movement appear flat and uniform: effectively folding the picture plane upwards and creating a cavity/ void, in which then e.g. an opening could be inserted, the video ruptured or similar… this is a screen shot of one of those scenes, and if viewed on a large monitor the flat areas become rather extensive.

— these are some initial thoughts on digital alteration, effectively destruction of the image through compression that may lead on to some further thoughts and experiments on absence.

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P. Gola (2013) Eva Stenram: Cord Prize winner for Drape. Lens/scratch, 28 August 2013, http://lenscratch.com/2013/08/eva-stenram-cord-prize-winner-drape/, accessed 24 February 2016.