Margaret Salmon

Exhibition: 20 Sept - 14 Dec 2008

Margaret Salmon worked as photo journalist in New York and in London before experimenting with 16mm film as a student at the Royal College of Art in London. Interested in the materiality of film found in the documentary or direct films of Albert and David Maysles, Robert J. Flaherty and Dziga Vertov, Cinéma Vérité filmmakers such as Jean Rouch or Soviet and American propaganda, Salmon uses a Bolex camera - a format that also allows her to shoot and edit her films entirely on her own. The result is transferred to DVD and exhibited digitally. Located somewhere between portrait photography, documentary and feature film, each film bears her own distinct, personal signature.

Works in the exhibition:

Ramapo Central
2003, 16mm film transferred to DVD, 8’, b/w and colour, sound

Ramapo Central is an everyday portrait of an ordinary, middle-aged woman. Initially silent, the image shifts between colour and black and white, eventually moving into a soundtrack with the woman’s voice as she works as a telephone representative at the Ramapo Central employment agency. As we listen to her obliging and courteous rapport with her clients, the artist starts to develop her images as aesthetic and narrative portraits of everyday life, using the soundtrack to break the linear development of the film. Salmon documents the woman’s domestic work and daily routine with wide shots, close-ups and long takes. This calls to mind an interesting contrast, a friction between a sparingly applied but intensive use of colour (reminiscent of American, golden age Technicolor films) and the hard-edged black and white sequences recalling the history of American "author" film and Italian neo-realism. In terms of cinema, Salmon’s interest is centred primarily on male or female portraits and character sketches. She draws portraits in film, emphasising the repetitiveness of mundane work and seriality in sound and image. As such, her characters function as immediate, not necessarily directly recognisable archetypes. In using the narrative structure while giving the impression of documentation, Salmon plays upon not only cinematic models but draws a reference to figures and characters in literature.

2002, 16mm transferred to DVD, 8’, b/w, sound

In P.S., Salmon uses 16mm film to document an elderly man as he goes about his everyday business. She accompanies him on walks, films him during his physically exhausting gardening routine, while washing the car and in calm and contemplative moments as he smokes a cigarette and leans against a fence. The images are punctuated by short, staccato-like sequences of fireworks, the glow of lamps in the night and fleeting descriptions of a barbecue with neighbours. The character himself appears isolated and self-absorbed throughout the film. Though Salmon relentlessly moves her hand camera close to the protagonist trying to read either the story of his personal life or that of an entire generation in his face age and work-weathered face the man remains completely closed to the viewer. In this way, her camera not only pictures its subject, but approaches it as "reactive force". With her highly visual, aesthetically charged imagery, long, observational takes with wide angle lenses and hard editing style, Salom refers directly to early Soviet cinema, bearing a striking resemblance to Mikhail Kalatozov’s episodic film Soy Cuba (1964) telling the story of the Cuban revolution in four parts one from a farm labourer’s perspective. The P.S. soundtrack is a litany-like argument between an older couple with whom Salmon has been acquainted since she was a child. While the woman insists she wants a divorce though financial reasons speak against her husband retorts that she has never been honest with him. Despite the seriousness of what they are saying, the discussion follows a calm and lethargic rhythm, and voices are never raised. The main characters seem to have lost their ability to disengage from their network of dependencies and accusations. Instead, they seem poised in a Beckett-like holding pattern, endlessly waiting for the next daily routine, the "post scriptum". Though image and sound are not directly linked, the spectator can hear the man’s thoughts as an inner dialogue. In P.S. Salmon develops a technique that allows the characters’ consciousness to "speak".