360 Degree Casting. (#12 Film Stills)
This is a new work I made for the series. Here I’ve chosen 12 stills for the piece. I wanted to repeat the enduring and unflinching eye of the camera as it pans up and down whilst Nita seems to be asked to turn round and round by a (silent) presence behind the camera. This was 1933 so sound was available but for the intention of this casting film, unnecessary (or so it seems). By this stage Nita had already taken lead parts in major British films shot back at home in Elstree. From her notes and press cuttings in the archive, she records a huge frustration with not being taken seriously (despite her acting experience), because she was a ‘Paramount beauty contest’ winner for the film ‘Search for Beauty’. I’ve always thought society makes it hard for beautiful or good-looking women to be taken seriously intellectually or in work environments. Somehow, you can’t have both- or at any rate, it’s made very difficult for you. I remember as a child and adolescent going to visit Great Aunt Nita and Great Uncle Ling weekly. And what stays with me from those visits was her grounded, philosophical intelligence and clarity. She didn’t blur anything- she had a way of speaking and phrasing things that gave her thoughts gravity, humor and elegance. Quite an achievement I think- especially as they seemed to always be worried about money. They lived in a big, cold, damp house in Richmond, Surrey. Full of cats- nine in all. And full to the brim with furniture and glass cabinets of extraordinary mementos and keep sakes. I loved Nita, I adored her as a child. And still, despite all her successes and failures, she stayed grounded and if not cynical, something close. I respect that. It shows subjectivity.
For another new art work, I have digitized in still format all 1, 816 frames from the two minute Hollywood casting film of Nita. And I would like to turn the stills into a huge wall piece, keeping the frames at their original size of 35mm (perfect for peering at). This is Nitrate film, so the quality is deep, heavy, thick and sumptuous. I love the tactile, sensuousness of this film quality set against the brutalist recording approach. There is so much silky tonal range and detail that it makes the brutalism more extreme. It gives the brutalism a sensuous physicality and form perhaps.
For me its interesting and disturbing that Nita looks so terrified in the film. One of her eyes has become hooded, I think through nerves. Having to perform in such a basic, striped down way in front of the camera and the people behind it, the intention becoming obvious, must have felt demeaning.
As a photographer and artist, I respect people who are courageous enough to perform in front of the camera, knowing that in order to do so they have to relinquish control and that they are not always going to get the performance right, or even choose the performance and how its shown; that they leave the documentation of said performance in the hands of the Director, Editor and Producer. Artistically, that is both courageous and generous. I suspect this particular performance/ casting film was only meant for Paramount Producers and Directors. I think its quite incredible that Nita actually managed to get hold of the film reel itself. She was obviously quite a girl! I think through this film she gives a rare glimpse of the underbelly of 1930’s Hollywood and its brutality.
Nita also brought or managed to persuade numerous studio photographers for the negs of her portrait sessions with them. She must have understood the value in the negative as opposed to the print because she kept hundreds of them and they are all in extremely good condition. Many beautifully lit in 10 x 8, about 0.5 mm thick with that typical ‘Golden Age‘ lighting and construction. I’ve never seen such an extraordinary quality in a black and white negative before. I’ll post some of these soon..need to decide what to do with them..
I’ve thought about using Liquid Light to paint onto one of Nita’s suitcases or a white round vanity case- then rephotograph the suitcase against black velvet. I found this beautiful liquid Light work by an artist called David ( ).
Thinking about making a rounded wooden shape/ form and printing this image onto it using Liquid Light:
Also need to think about painting onto photographs- perhaps some of the 10 x 8 Studio images.