This is a close-up view of the image cards which make up a short filmic ‘experience’ of a walk around Portland Square location in Plymouth, Devon. It includes images found during research into the area as well as many of my photographs of the area and close-ups of materials and surfaces relating to the place now, in the past and people who lived there. The experience encapsulates walks around this historical area now subsumed by the campus of the University, as well as research and speculation, emotions and observation.
The Mutoscope was a device which I came across whilst researching a 1922 Tea Caddy commemorating the wedding of Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary. The Tea Caddy is an item held by Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery which is across the main road from the Portland Square vicinity and holds in its archives a number of items rescued from Portland Square houses by a Museum employee in the 1970s, prior to demolition for the then Polytechnic campus expansion, which continues to this day.
This film is not intended to be a ‘smooth’ running story with a start and an end, but rather a series of snapshots and fragmented views, portraits and observations that loosely connect into a threaded-together version of the people, colours, materials, places and information which have woven together in my own mind to create Portland Square as it is for me. Portland Square still exists in its original footprint if you know what to look for, the roads, lanes, pathways, thoroughfares and gradient are still intact though height and viewpoints have extended upwards, grids dominate, overlaid like a mesh onto an older ‘structure’ of things.
The mutoscope casing which contains and allows viewing of the ‘film’ has been built into another period Tea Caddy commemorating an English Royal Wedding, but this tin celebrates the marriage of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953…thirty one years on from the tin which I saw at the museum. The casing was put together with minimal interference from other materials, processes and elements. The crank axle made of copper tube (a historical material), the handle is of wood which I turned with simple decoration to reference the affordability and utilitarian nature of both Tea Caddies. The wooden handle painted a muted deep red in reference to the WWII maps that mark each bomb hit….also a red which features in the 1922 tin. Brass handle ends and ‘flicker tab’ is another historical metal…that may have existed as door knobs in some of the houses…speculation.
Why a Mutoscope film and not a modern digital film? I wanted a ‘jumpy’ film that felt like a series of thoughts rather than a story in the legible sense. Most of the images were taken with a modern digital camera, some were found and are 70 years old, all are altered on a computer using photo-editing software then finally, some of the images were also worked on by hand to create split-second subliminal edits like thoughts flashing through the mind. The cards were as small as I could get them whilst remaining viewable, but were too big for the tin, which had to be opened up to take the reel. If the central cartridge containing the reel had been smaller (to fit the reel into the tin) then fewer cards would have been able to make up the ‘film’. The Mutoscope worked as I hoped it would (after making many tests and doing a fair bit of planning and working out previously) so I wanted to show the film on the web by filming it digitally and putting it here. One unexpected result for me, was that the camera speed is not as fast as the human brain in translating information from the eye to the brain, so the final digital filming of the Mutoscope reel in action has lead to an ‘ironed-out’ film that still retains the jumpy disjointed feeling whilst making it easier to absorb by the viewer of the film. From digital to digital, to hand, to analogue, to digital.