What We Can Pierce: Film as Metaphor in Belin and Mosse

Date and time
Thursday, November 20, 2014

What We Can Pierce: Film as Metaphor in Belin and Mosse

DHCART Education has created a pedagogical tool, Mosse/Belin: Movements, with the goal of encouraging visitors to develop and elaborate on key concepts examined in the exhibitions Surface Tension by Valérie Belin and The Enclave by Richard Mosse. The concepts include truth/deception, the body, the medium and celluloid film. This week we present the fourth essay in this series which explores the idea of celluloid film.

Considerations: Film

The arrival of celluloid photographic roll film in the 1880s brought about an upheaval in amateur photography: it was now possible for a body of people to consume images by producing them rather than by merely reading them. Paradoxically, celluloid film, at the same time as it opened the door to the “democratization” of the medium in its everyday uses, became an essential tool for professional photographers, and in particular photojournalists, always more eager to find techniques that would facilitate their movements and let them focus on capturing pictures rather than on developing them. Ease of use now became the watchword in photography. With celluloid film stock, photography was about to cover every possible surface: advertising billboards, books, newspapers, screens, bulletin boards, the walls of houses and museums.

While it has become commonplace to remark that our era glorifies the surface (and the superficial), celluloid film offers an equally cogent metaphor of contemporary experience, one which evacuates some of the more negative connotations associated with the surface. Whereas the surface is a solid barrier, celluloid suggests the porosity of a membrane or skin. This suggests that there is potentially something else to be seen behind the photograph, a field of possibilities we can penetrate but which can also penetrate us – an idea Barthes touched on when he spoke, in Camera Lucida, of photography’s punctum.

In Belin’s work, celluloid is understood as one of the membranes of consumer society, as epidermis in a vernacular sense: it is the wax on the fruit in a fruit basket, the layer of paint on photographed masks, the oil applied to the skin of body-builders, the transparent flowers superimposed on portraits of women, and the thin film wrapping used for a potato chip bag – and the grease the chips in turn leave on your fingers. In Mosse’s work, Aerochrome film is clearly used in the image creation process, but it also acts as a kind of skin between the viewer and the photograph, putting a gloss on what is seen at the same time as it emphasizes the suffering concealed behind the image.

What does the use of celluloid film bring to mind for you? Do you have memories around silver gelatin photography practices?

The unquestionable slowness imposed by the use of analogue techniques in Mosse’s work and Belin’s meticulous studio photographs go against the current need for the hyper accelerated production and circulation of photographs in today’s day and age. While both amateur and professional photographers are charged today with the task of feeding a media system with a greater and greater thirst for content, these two artists defend a kind of slow photography. What for you are the ideal spaces in which to promote a more enlightened view of photography, to take the time to really look at photographs?

Daniel Fiset
DHC/ART Education

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