Photographing movie stills, where the images are essentially held captive in a confined, measured space, might seem like predictable work. Not so for Inbal Abergil, whose absorbing new exhibit, “24 Frames Per Second,” opened at New York’s Miyako Yoshinaga Art Prospects in Chelsea on July 15.
To capture the eleven 33-square-inch images that make up the project, Abergil had to sneak a manual camera past security guards into movie theaters around Israel.
“To people who don’t know photography, it just looks like a box, so I never got caught, “ the Israeli artist said.
Once inside, the Columbia University School of the Arts MFA candidate and former Air Force photographer took shots of movie screens from the audience’s perspective, often from behind silhouetted rows of seats and other spectators’ heads.
“I went to only movies that I had never seen before,” she said, so every shot was a surprise. The result is an intriguing study of memory: the immortalization of the smaller moments that get lost from our final impression of a motion picture.
Abergil consciously avoided shots with visible subtitles, so the untitled photographs are all of quiet moments, literally and figuratively: a traveler waiting in an empty airport terminal; a shadowed man in a dark suit with his hand covering his mouth next to a cut off, starkly white funeral bouquet; a woman with her back to the audience, staring into a brightly lit foyer; a blurry profile shot of an actress who looks suspiciously like Jessica Biel.
Movie screen caps aren’t ordinarily of the back of an actor’s head, nor of the denouement of a scene, just before or after the film’s more recognizable action. But here those supporting elements take center stage. Often, the partial, obstructed view of the screen focuses on points that we might not even get to look at, were we seeing the film in its entirety.
Abergil’s square framing device, which never allows for a full view of the screen, along with the darkened edges of the movie theater environment, create a definite sense of claustrophobia. The task of capturing a film’s perpetual motion, too, with only the nominal one 24th of a second devoted to each frame, breeds the anxiety of wanting to catch up, to be allowed the more comprehensive yet less detailed view of a motion picture that we have been conditioned to expect.
But when Abergil forces us to slow down and focus on these singular images, their beauty and depth shine through. The bluish black, darkened edges of the photographs make the more prevalent bright white and sunset orange colors pop. There’s a ubiquity of certain hues; it’s fascinating to see the dominant color palate of a typical movie, something that the whole exhibit captures nicely.
Like it or not, Abergil will change the way you look at movies.