“BLANK FILM” : Letter from Ismaïl Bahri to Olivier Marboeuf, Tunis, August 2013

20 August 2013

In 2013 Ismaïl Bahri is in creative residence with the Fabrique Phantom. During this period of research, he maintains a written dialogue with Olivier Marboeuf, on subjects concerning his work and thematic interests.

Dear Olivier, It’s the month of August and I’m writing to inform you about new experiences begun during and after the FID Marseille (Festival International du Documentaire). These experiences grew directly out of the discussion I had there with you and other people. They were also activated in part by the exchange that occurred with the public on the subject of the work undertaken by the Maison de la Région. It seems to me that the FID experience helped me understand the possible links between my research and cinema. This relation has been active for quite some time, but I only intuited it. You’ll see that my ideas gravitate around questions we already touched on in our previous exchanges and that they can be considered as extensions to earlier videos such as Orientation and Dénouement in particular. All of the videos dialogue together and I feel a greater and greater need to conceive of and work with them as linked elements, like the wheels of a great cinematic filming device.


A paper shutter is grafted on to the camera lens. Iron wires hold it in position a few centimeters from the lens. The shutter or mask is cut to the exact proportions of a 4/3 and just lets you see what is occurring at the edges; it almost totally obstructs the field of vision. The paper functions as a shutter but also as a screen. By a surface effect this screen has the form of a white halo, similar to a projection without film. It hides as much as it shows: it leads the eye to the margins and shows the premises of the off-camera scope.

Focus is adjusted to the furthest element in the field. A tension is thereby created between this jump towards the horizon and adhesion to the screen. It’s a simple way to impede mechanics: pull out to the furthest point so as to trouble the surface image. Looking at the resulting videos, we swing between the illusion of a light and the reality of a darkening. It’s a dazzling form of shutter. An obstruction of light giving the illusion of a flash of light, of an overexposure that troubles the nature of the screen. The surface of the video image becomes confused with the white surface of the image.

The device is extraordinarily simple and produces an image that is not initially revealed. I think it brings into question the visual uncertainties linked to the mechanized magic of light, to cinematographic scintillation (surface vibration, film, scintillating photogram…). It seems to me that we find here the same will to make a digitalized image tremble via the interface of an elementary intercessor, in this case the sheet of paper.


As I told you at the FID, I believe it is these elements already present in my work that I want to develop in the coming months. I want to experiment with this dynamic. I would like to deepen the relation to film already present in my work. To explore the idea of an archeology of film and the use of elementary intercessors through the exploration of different issues linked to the operations and mechanics of cinematography. For example, Dénouement is an attempt to replay questions of depth of field as much as Orientations, which also explores the lens, the viewfinder, detail and off camera fields. Attraction is a sort of inverted camera obscura, Film revisits in a sort of magic theater the unrolling of a reel, the kinetics of images in the same way that Ricochet captures a recording without persistence. And now shuttering, projection, screen: the question of luminous magic. I realize that each of these experiences helps define the lines of a great cinematographic filming apparatus. And it is the constituent elements of this device that I want to continue to dissect – the way you take apart a machine – so as to put it together again through the knowledge gleaned from my diverse experimentations.

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