Accepted paper:

Cinematographic Surface - Tactile Epistemology and Focal Phenomena


Cathy Greenhalgh (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the ‘malleable texture of perception’ (Abrams, 1996) and how focus is used as a device in cinematography. Using an approach to the apparent energy moving across patterned surfaces, a ‘tactile epistemology’ (Marks, 2000) is outlined and questions posed on the intervention of technology in surface perception.

Paper long abstract:

The camera shutter/iris eclipses the rotating mirror, exposing the film emulsion surface to light. In high-definition video, the camera sensor is a responsive electro-conducive surface. The eye involved in material encounter through the viewfinder or screen monitor, is conscious of the act of focusing and exposure. It requires an understanding of the 'malleable texture of perception' (Abrams, 1996) to create sense and texture in cinematography. Echoing corporeal and sensual trajectories in anthropology (McDougal, Ingold, Pink etc), a 'tactile epistemology' (Marks, 2000) has emerged in film theory. Barker suggests 'films can pierce, pummel, push, palpate, and strike us; they also slide, puff, flutter, flay and cascade along our skin'. In this paper I will explore whether when 'lensbabies' or 'squishylenses' and pull-focusing techniques are applied, they may indicate varying perception and feeling about surfaces. In making my ethnographic feature documentary Cottonopolis (2012), which weaves scenes of cotton manufacture in India with memories of Manchester and Ahmedabad, I was confronted with the ever changing surfaces of cotton, from field to fabric. Surface qualities of immersion and penetration, shimmering and skimming, smoothness or roughness are affected by focus and light. Influenced by prior collaborative projects using choreography and acoustic sound composition, I observed patterns across moving surfaces producing a kind of energy, something painters also galvanize (Manning, 2009; Massumi, 2011). Texture as experience and focus as perceptive of surface are affected by technologies (Deleuze, 1993; Edensor, 2005; Marks, 2011; Thrift in Miller, 2005) and these may further affect cultural approaches to surfaces.

panel WMW12
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body