Abstracts: Journeys through Colour

Journeys through Colour: experimentation, realism and artifice in non-fiction travel films. Seminar. 18:00-20:00 Tuesday 27th February 2018, Royal Anthropological Institute, London.

With Professor Jeffrey Geiger (University of Essex), Jan Faull (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Liz Watkins (University of Leeds). Introduced and chaired by Dr Natasha Eaton (University College London).

This is a free, public event, sponsored with BAFTSS and the RAI, an independent charity organisation. It is not affiliated with current UCU actions.



Professor Jeffrey Geiger, University of Essex ‘Cinematic Gestures: Flows and Disruptions on the Yankee Voyage, 1936-38.’
When Kodak began its ambitious Kodachrome marketing campaign in 1935, the emphasis was on the stock’s vibrancy and unparalleled realism. “When your picture moves, it lives,” claimed one advertisement, while another declared that Kodachrome could make one’s movie experiences, once limited to monochrome, finally “come to life.” This paper looks at rare colour film taken on Pacific travels, most of it produced by a committed amateur filmmaker, Edward (Ted) Zacher, who chose the new process to document an eighteen-month training voyage on the famous clipper Yankee. The cruise was organized by the entrepreneurs and sailing instructors Irving and Electa (‘Exy’) Johnson; together they led a hand-picked crew of about a dozen novice and more experienced sailors. Investigating just a small part of an extensive and largely neglected archive of Pacific travel films, this paper focuses on the documentary and expressive potential that Kodachrome colour offered amateurs while considering what this archive might contribute towards re-evaluating and further engaging with Pacific travel experiences between the wars, and with the vast variety of written and visual texts produced in their wake. This amateur colour filming, often quite experimental in nature, had a potential to unmoor moving images from more fixed, purposeful contexts and uses, revealing at the same time the travel encounter itself as dynamic, difficult to pin down: a fluid space of multiple and competing significations.

Jan Faull, Royal Holloway, University of London, ‘What Colours Are at the Top of the World?’  This headline accompanied press reports of the forthcoming Expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1924 – significantly the cinematographer accompanying the climb, Captain John Noel, would be filming in ‘natural’ colour. The film would be made under the auspices of the Mount Everest Committee, a joint committee of The Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club, who were managing an ambitious project to plant the British flag on the summit of the world’s tallest peak, the ‘Third Pole’. Alongside the physical challenges of high altitude filming, Noel planned to use all available processes to include colour sequences in his film. This paper examines these processes and the eventual results achieved. It will review audience reaction to the film – The Epic of Everest – and the methods of distribution managed by Noel, including subsequent international lecture tours in the 1920s and 1930s. It will examine tensions between culture and commerce in exhibiting the film and the consequences arising from theatrical screenings. The paper will conclude with an examination of the continued achievement of Noel’s 1924 film, digitally restored in 2013 by the BFI.

RAI Jan Faull Noel

Dr Elizabeth Watkins, University of Leeds, ‘Photographic experiments: colour and spectacle in early 1900s non-fiction Polar expedition films.’ The history of photographic technologies intersects with the work of early 1900s polar expeditions, marking a shift in the historical field of vision.  The mapping of the Antarctic as landscape for public exhibition was contemporary to early colour processes for stills photography and the emergence of cinema offering a specifically photographic expression – stasis and movement – for the fleeting effects of light in a mutable environment of ice.  Photography and film were utilised scientific experiments, sometimes deemed unsuccessful, yet intended to offer a supplement to established modes of documentation (sketches, watercolours, written accounts), which became integral to the historiography of expedition in public exhibition. The ‘ability to show something’ is in Tom Gunning’s sense a characteristic of the cinema of attractions that connects technologies and subject matter in a visual display formulated to elicit a sensual response from the spectator. Such practices can be tracked to the ‘presentational aesthetic’ (Dixon 2006) of magic lantern slide lectures combined still and moving images, tracing a tenuous line between commercial and scientific interests and in which colour, landscape and spectacle play a part. An analysis of images made using superimposition, the addition of colour (tinting, toning, painting by hand), iris effects and time lapse sequences disquiets the meaning of specific hues. Colour, tracked through shifting formations of materials and practices, signals change – from the temporalities of the Antarctic environment to modernity – the impermanence of subjectivity and perception are integral to the making and reception of expedition narratives.

LW RAI Image

Biographical notes:

Professor Jeffrey Geiger’s research interests range from film and literature to professional work, particularly in film editing. At the University of Essex he was the first director of film studies and established the Centre for Film and Screen Media. In both teaching and research, his research stresses intersections between film practice, criticism, and theory. Professor Geiger has published work in areas such as cinema history, film and literature, and cultural history, with a focus on documentary, ethnography, human geography and constructs of race and gender in US film and literature, and global and transnational cultures and identities. More recently his research has focussed on Nigerian video films and further work in Pacific studies. Books include American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (2011); Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination (2007); Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (2005, with R. L. Rutsky, second expanded edition 2013); and Cinematicity in Media History (2013, with Karin Littau).

Jan Faull is a PhD Candidate conducting research into the form and function of expeditionary film in the first half of the twentieth century, specifically the production, distribution and presentation of films made on various Everest expeditions between 1922 and 1953. This is a CDA with Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal Geographical Society – IBG. Jan was formerly Archive Production Curator at the BFI. Her role involved developing, negotiating and delivering archive co-productions with broadcasters, producing DVDs and supervising the digitisation of archival collections. She was lead curator on the restoration of The Epic of Everest (1924) and co-programmed a season of mountaineering films, Extreme Summits, for BFI Southbank in 2013. Most recently she advised the RGS-IBG on the digitisation of its film collection.

Dr Elizabeth Watkins is based at the University of Leeds. Her research interests include film theories of sexuality and gesture; theories and philosophies of colour and perception; historiography and the fantastic in narratives of early 1900s scientific expedition films and their public exhibition; the archival life of film. Her publications include articles in Screen, Paragraph, and the Journal for Cultural Research. She has co-edited books on Gesture and Film: Signalling New Critical Perspectives (Routledge 2017) and Colour and the Moving Image (Routledge, 2013). Her monograph Film Theories and Philosophies of Colour (Routledge) traces colour and its visual effects as a cinematographic movement of perceptions that are liminal yet integral to theories of subjectivity, memory and meaning in narrative cinema.

Dr Natasha Eaton is Reader in the History of Art at University College London. Her research focuses primarily on British and Indian art, notions of cross cultural exchange and material culture. Currently she is at work on several projects – art and indenture in the Indian Ocean; collecting and empire; the agency of light in empire. She has published two monographs – Mimesis across Empires: Artworks and Networks in India, 1765-1860 (Duke University Press, 2013) and Colour, Art and Empire: Visual culture and the nomadism of representation (I.B.Tauris, 2013). She is under contract from Routledge to write a monograph on colonialism, tourism and collecting provisionally titled Vertiginous Exchange. Natasha has published in many peer-reviewed journals including The Art Bulletin, RES, Journal of Material Culture, Oxford Art Journal, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Cultural Critique. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Journal of Historical Geography, MARG, Literature Compass and Third Text. She has been an advisor to and is currently is an editor of the journal Third Text With Alice Correia she is preparing a special issue of Third Text on Partitions in South Asia scheduled for Autumn 2017. She is also the editor of A Cultural History of Color in the Age of Industry (ed.) Natasha Eaton. Volume 6 (eds.) Carole C. Biggam and Kirsten Wolf (general editors) as part of A Cultural History of Color (Bloomsbury: London and New York).

Updated 13th January 2018