I came across Jason Shulman‘s series ‘Photographs of Films’ some time ago via an article in The Guardian I saw on Twitter. For this body of work, Shulman makes long exposure photographs of films, distilling the entire running time into a single frame. Shulman’s initial experiments were a surprise to him – he expected the pictures to be something like the brown, monotone hue you get when balls of play-doh are mixed together. Instead, he found varied and interesting translations of each film occurred – the pictures are often beautiful and impressionistic, although, faint details remain. Looking at the images it is unlikely anyone could identify the films without the captions. Despite this, I find myself looking for details and having a sense of recognition towards them – I have no idea if this is because of details that are actually present or because I am projecting these thoughts from memory.
The variety of results Shulman achieves through this series is surprising, and he describes the technique as revealing aspects of a directors style. For example, the precise composition of Kubrick, the psychological mood of Bergman and the fact that people are central to the films of Hitchcock. Not all films work however, the films of James Cameron end up as kind of Pantone swatch – something he puts down to the directors fast cutting style. Shulman describes the image making process as a waiting game where the output is unclear until the end – he needs to wait until the image is “cooked” before seeing whether it is successful or not.
Two observations about the process made by Shulman particularly resonate. Firstly, he describes that each frame of each film could be shuffled into a random order and rephotographed and the same result would be achieved. Secondly, he describes his images as showing the genetic code or visual DNA of the film. (Jaeckle, 2018)
In an interview Shulman says this about his image of ‘The Wizard of Oz’:
“In the fuzzier ones I’ve noticed that people tend to see the things that they want to see, especially if it’s a familiar film. It’s apophenia. They find shapes and scenes that tally with their recollection of the film. Take the photograph of The Wizard of Oz. Sometimes someone will tell me they can make out the shape of the Tin Man. But they don’t see the Tin Man. They’ve managed to make themselves see the Tin Man, they want to see the Tin Man, it’s almost as if the picture works like a Technicolor Rorschach blot.” (Jaeckle, 2018)
This idea of finding something in the image that is not there strikes a chord with me and confirms my earlier instinct that I was projecting onto the work in the same way. The irony of course is that although you may only be able to imaging the Tin Man in the image of The Wizard of Oz, he is there, somewhere amongst the blurred tones.
The thing that is immediately striking about this image of Pasolini’s ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew’ is the way the face of Jesus appears to be shown. This is something that reminds us of not only the Turin shroud but also the way Jesus is often seems to appear in obscure places like clouds, toast and potatoes. Shulman notes that the effect is the result of Pasolini’s compositional technique of frequently framing actors’ heads in the centre of the frame, the result raises an interesting thought about whether it would be possible to encode subliminal images in a film that could only be revealed using this technique.
Jaeckle, D. (2018) ‘Bad Science’ in conversation with Jason Shulman. Hotel Magazine. Available at: https://partisanhotel.co.uk/Jason-Shulman [accessed 1st April 2019]
Shulman, J. (2017) Final cut: films condensed into a single frame – in pictures. The Guardian, 16th May 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/may/16/jason-shulman-films-condensed-into-a-single-photo-frame-in-pictures?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other [accessed 1st April 2019]
Skidmore, M. (2016) The art of condensing whole movies into single photographs. AnOther Magazine. May 4th 2016. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8646/the-art-of-condensing-whole-movies-into-single-photographs [accessed 1st April 2019]