Based on an ontology founded on an immutable belief in images and the power of conversing with the invisible, cinema took from spiritualist photography the elements of a formal grammar whose phenomena of on-screen appearance and disappearance are the essential markers of its magical nature.
Taking as her starting point Le Portrait spirite, in which Georges Méliès plays the part of a photographer who depicts a young woman with psychic powers, in Detour de Force US artist Rebecca Baron offers a disturbing portrait of Ted Serios, an unusual character in American popular culture in the 1960s, who claimed to produce prints on Polaroid film with his thoughts. While Méliès, with his optical trickery, extolled all that was marvellous about the photographic image, Rebecca Baron sets out to examine its treatment by the media, which made Ted Serios and his “thoughtographs” the object of morbid, unthinking attraction.
An industrial film produced by the American Chemical Society seems to offer the other side of the coin to the demystification of photography tabled by Detour de Force. Intended to present some of the invisible work of the cinema industry (in particular those related to laboratory work) and scientifically explain the creation of film images, The Alchemist in Hollywood offers the uninitiated an almost impenetrable degree of abstraction that is identical to the inexplicable magic of the photographic image.
Programed by Jonathan Pouthier (film department, Centre Pompidou, Paris).
Le Portrait spirite, Georges Méliès, 1903, silent, 2 min; Detour de Force, Rebecca Baron and Doug Goodwin, 2014, 30 min; The Alchemist in Hollywood, American Chemical Society, 1940, 28 min. [Video screening.]