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Nicky HamlynClick here to Print this Page
Guy Sherwin
A more recent development is the series of animal films which, by the end of 2002, number about a dozen.

They came about, Sherwin writes: 'partly as a reaction to the increasing dominance of the digital moving image. I felt that because it was now so easy to 'lie' with the image, that there was no longer any certain link between image source and the image itself; and that the filmic processes of light and chemistry that register the image as a visible trace of an event that was once in the world were now seriously undermined. In the attempt to find a subject that was more resilient to digital manipulation, that still felt alive and untamed, I turned to animals, because of the subtlety of their movements, and because they are evidently not acting'.

In one, a cat sleeping on a corrrugated plastic roof, was filmed with a camera running at about one frame per second (as opposed to the usual twenty four), so that each frame was a time exposure of about half a second. The film was shot on very high contrast film on a day of intermittent sunshine. When the sun is out the cat can be seen breathing and moving periodically, but when the sun goes in it is reduced to a black shape, and its breathing becomes thus invisible, so that it appears as if the shadow has struck it dead. At the end of the roll the cat abruptly gets up and leaves the scene, its evident vigour creating a sense of relief.

In a contrasting study of insects, several shots of gnats are superimposed, creating layers which recede into whiteness. This material is then refilmed in increasing close-up, so that we become aware of groups of gnats clumping together, forming extarordinary shapes which resemble silhouetted fragments of torn paper that hang momentarily on the picture plane. These ephemeral shapes parallel, and sometimes merge with the swirling grain which is also greatly magnified.

As well as animals, the subject of the series includes some of their habitats. One example is a close-up of a small area of a lake, filmed very dark so that the water appears almost black, broken only by ripples and the reflections of overhanging branches. These branches periodically dip down towards the surface and as they do so their reflections appear to rise up out of the water to meet them. Unlike most of the other films in the series this one has been made without any image manipulation: The camera is simply pointed at its subject. The film is thus a testimony to the acts of acute observation that underlie all the films in the series. Sherwin sees not only what is there, but is also able to make the visible connections between a particular scene and the various ways in which it can be transformed by film technology without denying its original and specific nature.

Sherwin's work occupies a special place in experimental film culture for its precise balance between an observational attitude, in which the camera is invariably directed at existing things in the World, and the way in which camera technology and printing procedures enhance and highlight the unique features of those things he is filming.

Nicky Hamlyn is a filmmaker and writer

Nicky Hamlyn
Nicky Hamlyn is a filmmaker and writer.
Still from Cat from Animal Studies by Guy Sherwin, 1998 - 2004
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