Moving Images: Mark Lewis and David Campany in Conversation

This post was contributed by Carrie Mcalinden and Meg Hanna,  both students on Birkbeck’s MA Film, Television and Screen Media.

It is only recently that Mark Lewis has begun to embrace the label of filmmaker. The screening of three of his works in the Birkbeck Cinema last week provided a seemingly appropriate context for his discussion with David Campany, writer and curator, though we were quickly instructed to “imagine what this would be like in a picture gallery.”

As the intended exhibition space for Lewis’s films, the gallery is referenced directly by both Black Mirror at the National Gallery (2011) and Outside the National Gallery (2011). Both films exhibit the defining characteristics of most of his work – the long shot and silence – and for Lewis it is these elements of the ‘pictorial’ that deem the gallery a fitting environment for this display of his moving images.

However, now that he has come into the title of ‘filmmaker,’ he seems to be more open to letting the spectator experience his work as films and not as pictures. He used to say when installing his work in a gallery, “we should pretend that they’re not films,” and now he is setting up benches and encouraging a more relaxed environment. Still opposed to the rigidness of the cinema, he would rather his films be experienced in something more akin to the avant-garde’s dream of the ‘smokers cinema.’

In his early work, Lewis relied on the four minute film reel to make the choice of duration and has carried on this limitation into his current digital work. Keeping the context of the gallery as well the spectator in mind, he is not interested in projects of endurance, and keeps each of his current films under eight minutes. Such explanations are emblematic of Lewis’s attempts to distance/efface himself from his work. Outside the National Gallery in particular suggests the absence of the filmmaker, despite his assertion that what looks like one long take is actually several takes edited together. As such, his films evoke the actuality films of the Lumiere brothers, yet also embrace elements of artifice in the tradition of Melies.

This distancing of the filmmaker from his work brought up questions of the ‘location of consciousness’ in his films. In the third film screened, Beirut (2011), the camera, on a crane, moves up and over buildings, slowly investigating the world and embodying a ghost-like perspective. Here we see illustrated one of many examples of the “consciousness of the camera” – an idea explored in much of Lewis’ work. Given its limitations, “what would a camera do if it had consciousness?”, he asks.

But perhaps he puts too much emphasis on the camera doing all of the work and not enough on his own ingenuity. “Anyone can make a film,” he proclaimed, provoking a prompt objection from the programmer of the evening, Laura Mulvey. Speaking directly to the ambitious mechanical engineering that went into the filming of both Beirut and Black Mirror at the National Gallery, Mulvey pointed out that “some of Mark’s films are completely crazy.” He is not in fact just some guy with a camera, but rather often finds himself doing something which is “excessive and makes no sense and is irrational, but actually seems to work.”


1 thought on “Moving Images: Mark Lewis and David Campany in Conversation

  1. Pingback: Moving Images: Mark Lewis and David Campany in Conversation | photographyresearchcentre

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