The Visual Rhythm In Cameraless Film


Jennifer West; ‘A 70MM Film Wearing Thick Heavy Black Liquid Eyeliner That Gets Smeary’, 2008

When you think of film, you think old school technology.

You think 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

You think big cameras and huge production time.

You don’t think there is any possibility anyone could still be using film now. With the exception for all the hipsters out there who use film in photography as a way to look cool, of course. But we’ll leave that for another topic of discussion.

The thought of people still using film now just to shoot movies or take photographs is absurd. But to think you could create a piece of art with cameraless film is even more unheard of.

Cameraless film on, a plastic based material called ‘celluloid’, focuses on the art form that produces images directly on the film itself. An experimental film technique, whereby the film is taken out of its traditional context and used for a more subjective and interpretation based canvas. This is done through additive and subtractive techniques.

These techniques look at manipulating the chemical compound that is found on the film. This is called ‘emulsion’, the emulsion is the chemical placed on the film allowing it to be exposed by the light when filming to capture an image. With cameraless film the aim is to add or takeaway this layer of emulsion as to add texture to the already standing image, thus creating a visual rhythm.

The most common techniques for the subtractive art form are scraping and scratching at the emulsion, as well as stripping it away with bleach. The additive techniques include, adding paint, drawing on images or even adding certain texture, like netting to the filmstrip.

Cameraless film has been around since the beginning of cinematography, through applying paint to celluloid for the colouring of black and white films. However, it wasn’t until the emergence of avant-garde that experiments with colour and blank film became relevant as a legitimate principle of film production.

The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of film through what is accepted as the status quo.

Jennifer West, one of the more recent cameraless film artists who revived the cameraless approach through her body of 50 direct films since 2004. Through the use of everyday materials from food and lipstick to motocycle tracks and more, West is able to create a performative mise-en-scène.

‘West’s immersive psychedelic filmic spaces powerfully recall the vision of film as syaesthetic art that pervades the history of direct film.’ (DIGICULT 2010)


2010, ‘Celluloid. Cameraless Film’. DIGICULT, viewed 5 March 2016 <;


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