Film Emulsion as a Body
“Scratches on film are like scars on the skin, they tell the story of where your body has been” -Paraphrasing David Gatten
What was most fascinating about David Gatten was his interest in the materiality of 16mm. Some of his most beautiful works were the What the Water Said series in which he didn’t even use a camera or microphone. Rather he made a “documentary” about the ocean by putting his filmstock into a crab cage and dragging it into the sea. The chemical reactions of the sea water mixed with all the scratches of rocks, shells, and sea creatures created the lines of movement and color. The visual effects were absolutely beautiful, producing images that resembled at times abstract expressionist paintings to complex cellular automata animations.
The other central theme of his work was text/image, which was most compelling in the Journal and Remarks film about visiting the Galapagos islands while reading Darwin’s book of the same name. In the film you get the idea that Gatten is directed by the book as a type of guide to what animal life to look for. Yet to us the quick cuts make it impossible to fully read the text. Rather the images of the island, the beach, the crashing waves all overwhelm us with a more sensuous immediacy. So even though the book haunts his experience of the island, the most powerful elements he reveals to us are the images that help frame his imagination of the animal life.
So in general it was a very interesting cinematic experience. The emphasis on 16mm as a body that records it’s own story onto the physical emulsion was especially inspiring in an age of digital dominance.