📽️ Nick Collins  

Following our celebration of the small, this week we focus on the films of Nick Collins, who has been making 8mm and 16mm films since the late 1970s. This extensive body of work can be characterised by his modest and inquisitive take on what are often personal and diaristic observations. These studies weave together composition and pace through a playful yet informed balance of spatial and temporal elements. Collins has recently made a large number of his films available online in what is a divergent and progressive move. We asked Collins’ for his views on this, and in a typically generous and insightful manner, he responded with the text that is featured below. Accompanying this is a selection of films from his online archive, enjoy.

Hammam, Wittnerchrome 200D Super8, 2018

Firstly, it’s work made over an extended period, from 1978/79 until very recently. Everything has changed so much - at the beginning I didn’t have access to a Steenbeck, so After the music… for example (the oldest film of mine on Vimeo) was made editing on an Acmade pic-sync, silent, and the sound (very simple) was added afterwards. Analogue film editing with sound, and the process (rough cut, fine cut, keeping it all in sync, shooting titles, track laying, making dubbing charts, sound mixing, neg cutting, and the various stages of printing) which leads to having a ‘married’ print is almost unimaginably laborious and generally lengthy compared to how most things are made now. I think Vimeo erases these differences, and levels everything, so the way the films result from different processes is somehow hidden, and it’s all a bit homogenised. No different projectors, different spaces, different scales and acoustics. Within that, there’s enormous variety as to how and whether films work digitally, though - I even think one or two of my shortest films look ok on a phone: Untitled (Caribbean Garden) and maybe the tiny 59 seconds of Rack. My iPad mini is my favourite way to watch some films - mostly the ones for which there isn’t a print - and I often feel that the iPad mini has qualities which make it the only decent way to watch some films apart from big projection. 

Field Study, 16mm, 2013

Episcopi, 16mm, 2017

Generally, showing work online, the maker loses control of how the size of the image is in relation to the spectator’s body. Films shown digitally and watched on a computer are more static, especially the silent ones, than they are in their corresponding film projection. There’s less to look at and mostly less intensity in the viewing, than there is in a cinema screening, plus there’s the knowledge that you’re not committed necessarily to watching all of the piece. The way a film projector and shutter work makes film irreducibly perceptually different, resulting in it being somehow both softer and also more vibrant. Shots which are still but within which small things move, like grasses in the corner of the frame (something I’m generally quite keen on) sometimes seem deader when the film’s viewed electronically than they would otherwise. The balancing of the length of one shot against those of the shots around it, which when I was able to edit on a Steenbeck occupied a lot of time, maybe shows less. Slow but silent visual rhythm balanced over the span of a film doesn’t seem to transmit so well via the computer screen. I remember Tamara Krikorian, who taught at Maidstone in the ‘80s saying about video, that the basic principle of the technology is continuous flow - of tape over helical-scan heads. Digital seems a kind of hybrid, in that single frames seem more native to digital than to video, but they’re less obviously all there is than in film. 

An Afternoon, 16mm, 2012

Tape, 16mm, 2017

So why did I decide to put all that work on Vimeo? It coincided in large part with the end of my teaching, and the development of other interests to fill much of my time, and for a while I was thinking that the part of my life where I made things was coming to an end. That’s largely true as regards making 16mm films which end up as prints - between 2006 and 2017 I had the money to make quite a lot of 16mm films, but now it’s become largely unaffordable, or I’m unwilling to make the effort that would be required to rebuild my 16mm film-making ‘infrastructure’. I no longer have access to a Steenbeck and there’s either one neg cutter left in the UK, or none (I’m not sure if Steve Farman is still doing it). So I felt that I no longer had the aim of a career, and consequently it mattered less how the films were seen than that they had some kind of continued visibility, and didn’t just disappear. I haven’t stopped working, but I feel I’m doing so in a more casual way, and I’ve enjoyed using Super-8 and editing the telecined footage with Premiere Pro, and it is such a pleasure to be relaxed about things - for example shooting the little impromptu Bari piece and editing it on my iPad on the ferry from there to Patras. The sort of approach you’re both talking about in the text for User-Friendly. As regards accessibility, while Vimeo compresses things quite a lot, and while I sometimes feel dismayed when I look at the ‘Stats’ bit and find the average amount of a piece that’s been watched is (say) 33%, it has brought about some film screenings of whole programmes or individual pieces. There are quite long periods in any case when I forget that what’s on Vimeo is in many cases not the real thing, although with Super-8 telecined to digital it’s often as real as it gets. Super-8 can look really lovely digitally transferred, and often has more of a film quality than 16mm. Additionally with Vimeo, I like the way it encourages the viewer to take a path through someone’s work, watching things in whatever order one feels like, and throwing up connections consequent on the order chosen, or even, as in User-Friendly, to put oneself together a programme of different makers’ work for an hour or an evening.

Mimente, 16mm with optical soundtrack, 2008