An ongoing screenshot essay.
In Tina Keane's A Shadow of a Journey (1979) the camera is angled down at the foamy sea between the Isle of Skye and Isle of Harris from a boat making its way between the two. Against the churn caused by the ship’s passage are the silhouettes of several figures (including the filmmaker) stood against the railing on the deck. Keane described the visuals of the work as “time moving in amongst the shadows” (Macritchie 1996) but the tumult of the water takes on a symbolic meaning as an accompanying voiceover tells the story of dozens of families that were forcibly evicted from their homes on the Isle of Harris in the 19th century.
In Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd’s 2011 documentary Lost Land there is a strikingly similar shot. The camera is angled down at the featureless sand of Western Sahara from a truck making its way across the terrain. Against the ground blurred by the vehicle’s motion is a silhouette of a figure sat, with rifle in hand, on the roof. Vandeweerd’s film is an act of witnessing the trauma of the Sahrawi who have been exiled from their homeland and now live on the other side of a wall built by the Moroccan government.
Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow (2017) is a wide-ranging exploration of the scale of migration around the world - an attempt to view the current migrant crisis in the Mediterranean through the lens of a wider, perpetual sense of geographical movement. There is a scene in which we see Ai Weiwei’s legs as he walks along a road on the opposite side to a group of refugees who have just disembarked from a ferry in Athens, Greece. As his upper body lurches into frame we see that he is filming on his phone. The shot then cuts to his perspective and we see the shadows of the migrants on the tarmac. Spectres in a foreign land.
Joseph David’s Pump is an absurdist road movie lent an air of psychogeographic exploration by the presence of Andrew Kötting, whose own practice includes a strand he refers to as ‘journeyworks’. As David and Kötting traverse an 11-mile monorail test track on a hand pump-car there is a shot looking down at their shadow on the scrub of a field far below their raised concrete path. There might be a sense here of abandoned space, but trying to connect this motif to the specific wrenching loss of home in the other images feels like a considerable stretch. Then, the very next line uttered by David is “how old was your mother, Andrew?” “She would have been 80 next year,” he responds. The sense of loss is palpable and personal. And lends a poignancy to the vaguely ridiculous shadow we’d seen a moment earlier projected onto the brown soil.
“Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this Earth.” (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
In what is probably the most famous ‘shadow journey’ in cinema history, a vampire ascends the stairs; Count Orlock (Max Shreck) in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). Orlock is a version of Dracula, a vampire, at a fundamental level he is personification of death as potent and ancient as the deep dark power of the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones film.
Homer, The Odyssey. trans. E.V. Rieu, Penguin Classics, 2009.
Macritchie, L 1996, Transposition (Lynn Macritchie on Tina Keane), Mute, accessed 27 March 2019, <http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/transposition-lynn-macritchie-tina-keane>.
Pliny, Natural History, XXXV. trans. H. Rackman, Loeb Classical Library, 1952.
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Raiders of the Lost Ark. 1981. [Film]. Steven Spielberg. dir. USA: Lucasfilm.