Darkrooms and Representations: Histories of Photography, Film and Exploration Conference. 2nd– 3rdApril 2020. National Maritime Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, UK.
A Journey Back to Sub-Zero. Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film, BFI National Archive.
The conquest of the South Pole in 1911 marks a point where the end of one period of exploration overlaps with the era of the filmed world. The few surviving films from this early era are precious records of feats of endurance and personal and national ambition. What can the materials themselves tell us about how early cinematographers adapted their very new technology to extreme conditions? Does the evidence of that material tell us about technological practice and technique? Films such asSouth1919, The Great White Silence1924 or The Epic of Everest(1924) were constructed from footage and stills that survived arduous journeys and as such they have value for us as artefacts and as narratives. These films have almost never been out of distribution; a testament to their enduring popularity. And of course they had considerable value at the time they were made; films could finance expeditions to a significant degree. Equally important was their value as proof – as evidence of the achievements of these expeditions. Bryony Dixon curator of silent film at the BFI National Archive’s surveys the story of our earliest exploration films. She will examine the materials, medium and message of the BFI’s exploration films and chart their journey from the extreme places of the earth to the safe stasis of our sub-zero vaults.
Bryony Dixon is curator with responsibility for the BFI National Archive’s extensive silent film collection. She has researched and written on many aspects of early and silent film, as well as programming for a variety of specialist film festivals and events worldwide including the Giornate del Cinema Muto in, Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, Berlin FF, MoMA, San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival. She also regularly contributes to BFI Southbank seasons and events and has co-directed the annual British Silent Film Festival for 19 years. She contributes regularly to Sight & Sound’s Primal Screen column. Her book 100 Silent Films, in the BFI Screen Guides series, was published in 2011. Bryony was lead curator on major silent film restorations including, Underground, The Great White Silence and The First Born and the BFI’s 2012 Silent Hitchcock project, The Epic of Everest,The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, Anthony Asquith’s Shooting Stars and most recently Shiraz. She is currently working on a comprehensive restoration of British Victorian film.
The Nansen Photographs: Images from the First Fram Expedition. Geir Kløver. Director, The Fram Museum.
The story of Fridtjof Nansen and his expedition towards the North Pole in Fram 1893–96 is well known among polar history enthusiasts. But has the full story been told? Geir O. Kløver has spent years diving into the personal diaries of Nansen and eight of his 12 crewmembers, in addition to other journals and protocols, photo albums, logbooks, the ship newspaper, and letters related to the expedition. The result of this work will end up in a number of books published in late 2019 and early 2020. This includes the nine complete personal diaries, the logbooks of Fram, the ship newspaper and other protocols, and a large volume collecting the photographs of the expedition, in addition to a reprint of the official books published directly after the expedition. In this lecture, Geir will tell the real story of Nansen and the Fram through some of the known and unknown photos taken before, during and after the expedition. He will also share the photographers’ diary entries from the time the photos were taken and developed, and show how some of the photos were edited and cropped for publication.
Geir Kløver is the director of the Fram Museum, which celebratesNorwegian and international expeditions to the Arctic andAntarctic from 1500 until the 1930s. Geir has edited or written more than 20 books on Norwegian polar expeditions, including the personal diaries of the crew members on Roald Amundsen’s expeditions through the Northwest Passage 1903–06 and to the South Pole 1910–12, and Captain C.A. Larsen’s Antarctic diaries. He is currently editing the personal diaries and other manuscripts from Fridtjof Nansen’s expedition on Fram for publication in 2019/20. His book, Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen won the Race to the South Pole, is a detailed study of the South Pole expeditions of Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott; the book received «Honorary Mention» at the William Mills Polar Book Awards in 2018. Geir has curated/written/co-written travelling exhibitions shown in 27 countries. From 1997 to 2005, Geir worked as the project director of a Norwegian human rights NGO, providing media and communication support to Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Geir worked primarily on projects related to Tibet, Burma, East Timor, the Korean Peninsula and the AIDS issue
Vessels of Memory: Filming and Remembering the First World War Naval Battlefield. Dr Lawrence Napper, Senior Lecturer, King’s College London.
This paper will respond to the idea of the battlefields of the First World War as an ‘inaccessible geography’ which is nevertheless compulsively returned to in cinematic representation. The trench landscape of 1914-18 was of course a hostile environment for those who inhabited it, but it was also literally inaccessible to civilian personnel – a charged landscape, accessible only via the imagination for millions of wives and children at home whose lives were nevertheless transformed by the events that took place there. In the post war period, the landscape became a place of widespread pilgrimage, but it also ceased to exist in its wartime form – an act of imagination or reconstruction was required to understand its continuing significance. During the war film-makers sought to overcome the difficulties of filming in the trenches to record and recreate the landscape for the benefit of those at home, and after the war in the 1920s and 30s again recreations of the trench landscape through battle reconstruction footage was a key cinematic element in the culture of ‘Remembrance’.
This paper will touch on key examples of such films like The Battle of the Somme (1916), Ypres (1925) and Peace on the Western Front (1930) but will seek to focus on perhaps the most ‘inaccessible’ battlefield geography – that of maritime warfare. I will argue that in such extreme conditions the relics of the fighting ships themselves become a crucial index of ‘geographical’ authenticity and remembrance. I will consider in particular the use of the HMS Vindictive in British Instructional’s Zeebrugge (1924), and the projected use of the SS River Clyde in the same company’s later Gallipoli film Tell England (1931).
Lawrence Napper is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London. He has written British Cinema and Middlebrow Culture in the Interwar Years (2009), Before Journey’s End: The Great war in Popular British Films of the 1920s (2015) and Silent Cinema: Before the Pictures Got Small (2017).