Miranda Pennell on “Strange Object” / interview

Born in London, the UK in 1963, she originally trained in contemporary dance and made videos exploring choreography in everyday life. In 2010, she completed a master’s degree in visual anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2016, she was awarded a doctorate for her research on approaches to activating images from colonial archives.

What was the starting point for “Strange Object”?

I came across a photograph that struck me as a beautiful picture of a curious thing. Then slowly, I realised the photograph was documenting (and was part of) an act of violence. I asked myself, how should we look at images when image-making is a means of destruction? 

I learned that this series of photographs from 1920 was part of an experiment in aerial ‘policing’ of a population that had been resisting British Imperial rule. I wondered about the relationship between the strong aesthetic fascination produced by the abstraction and strangeness of these aerial views, and the grim reality of this genocidal policy of killing-from-above.  Rather than try to explain the images, I decided to use their strangeness to invite the viewer to look, think and feel in different ways, to imagine what is not shown, to see the hand that frames the image.

Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?

It’s not so much a single moment, but I enjoy the radical shifts in perspective that occur. Sometimes being placed in the position of the photographer in the sky, sometimes being asked to picture the world from below, and at other times again, focussing on the story told by the marks and traces left on the surface of an old photo.

What do you like about the short form?

I appreciate economy, and in any well-crafted piece of work, be it in poetry, the short story, in the moving image or any medium, when the work communicates through what is left unsaid. I like when I get a strong sense of the ‘shape’ of a work, how that works on me and how it stays with me, as strongly as the subject presented. This is not so much a unique attribute of the short form I suppose but of attention to form in general.

Photo © Marcin Lewandowski

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