Richard Bowers and the Sound of Aircraft Attacking Britain.

The Velvet Lantern Part VIb: Blow Up Cardiff


Blow Up Shanghai

The Velvet Lantern series:

Blow Up Cardiff is an extension of the Essay. I wanted to create an alternative version to mark the 50th anniversary of the film Blow Up and asked Ric Bower to produce the photographs, roughly translating the film's locations to those of a similar nature in Cardiff. Ric quickly homed in on the idea of surveillance cameras to provide both a pictorial point of view and a theme, taking the original concept further and forming aspects of the exhibition Cardiff Blow Up (Arcade Cardiff). The original film's protagonist plays a kind of detective examining evidence of a murder in a park through enlargements of some photos he'd taken - accidental surveillance.

Ric showed me a photograph of his, built as a composite of many photographs stitched together in software. This was of a cathedral and was extraordinarily detailed, offering the possibility of very close examination through enlargement. Ric's photographs hold a lot of data. They are taken from a high angle and give the view that an ordinary surveillance camera would achieve but with a very high level of detail. I took Ric's panoramas, cutting small segments from them - some three-hundred mini-compositions - not created randomly as I originally intended, but chosen by eye. It was difficult to go wrong, but I wanted to ensure that they felt deliberate and that the segments were identified for reasons of composition, colour, texture, contrast in materials or a point of detail I liked.

My aim was then to animate the photographs. I went for a quiet approach of using slow cross-fades that allowed the exploration of small segments of Ric's vast prints to foreground the aesthetic beauty within these banal scenes. There are moments that, to my mind, echo some of Antonioni's aesthetic preoccupations with bold composition and intense colour contrasted with greys and browns (The Red Desert). The yellow spray painted calligraphy on the tarmac; the bold blue of the Lottery shop sign seen in close up, forming a cold arc like a vision of the Earth from space; the reflections of street lighting on the wet pavement at night.

The slow fade between randomly selected images yields surprisingly rich textures and forms in the periods of transition. Each pairing results in some two or three new images as the balance between the two sources shifts gradually. This means that the banality of the subjects is ameliorated by the mesmerising nature of the slow evolution of these new images. It also means obscurity and ambiguity is reintroduced in images of unremitting accuracy of detail.

Applying the same principle to the sounds - field recordings of streets, cafes, shops - was an option I considered. But because sounds are images in constant motion that retain their integrity quite stubbornly, I looked to another approach to handling 'detail' in sound. Picking up from Francis Ford Coppola's film The Conversation (a film directly influenced by Blow Up) where a surveillance expert attempts to decipher recordings of a conversation, I applied dynamically shifting filters to create both the impression of the sounds being investigated and a kind of musicality as focusing on specific frequencies produces ringing at specific pitches. In the installation, these examinations are happening in real time, creating unique experiences from a limited set of recordings. The recordings are intended both as a suggestion of 'surveillance' and as background recordings for a movie soundtrack.

With the support of Arcade Cardiff.