A 2: A Film for my ethnography

27th December, 2020

1. Starting points

I had the idea for this ahead of my first meeting with my tutor when we talked about doing a film about my consulting space. I have been thinking about it since the – but more of that later. This work is linked to my general preparation page for my ethnography but I think that this needs more space for it to develop and grow to become an interesting work

Ed Atkins

I talked at Ed Atkins, ‘Death Mask 3’ , 2011. https://vimeo.com/29956704. This is a film style that I like, There is a death element to this but it is the look that I like.

John Akomfrah

My tutor talked about John Akomfrah – Why History Matters | TateShots – Vertigo Sea

This film is about identity. It started with listening to a young Nigerian trying to cross the sea, that “he was in a terrifying space to get somewhere.” There is a theme here about liminal space and rites of passage. The thing in this film is the roles of powers in shaping life. I need to listen to people who have lived and worked in my space and I will start doing that soon


‘Film is very materialistic. All you can photograph, most of the time, is things. You can describe a soul, but you can’t photograph it; you have to find an equivalent. But there isn’t really an equivalent. Film is helpless when it comes to describing the soul, just as it is in describing many other things, like a state of consciousness. You have to find methods, tricks, which may be more or less successful in making it understood that this is what your film is about’

Kieślowski, 2005: 82

Kieślowski, K. (2005), Krzysztof Kieślowski, Interview with, Geoff Andrew, The ‘Three Colours’ Trilogy. London: BFI Publishing, 2005. p. 82 

What did I learn here?

  • Listening to people’s experiences must be a starting point for this film.
  • My tutor and I talked about abstract art where there is an empty room and this is an area that I explored next. I think this is about absence revealing presence
  • Maybe the room can be empty- ish but populated by audio from people who have worked in lockdown.

2. Exploring artist and ’empty spaces’

28th December 2020

I decided to explore artists who use empty or almost empty places to show something. I had already done some of this research in October, with lots of printouts, but little reading of the material. I began afresh and reviewed my printouts as part of the process. The focus here is on visual art, conceptual or otherwise, that I can use as a foundation for my film.

Peter Todd 

The three resultant films (London, Berlin and Morley College) make poetic use of the camera to evoke the passage of time across space. In the domestic environ of London, shafts of sunlight alternatively obscure and illuminate a simple still life view of a kitchen sideboard and shelves, caught in bursts of real time. Filmed over a day, the culinary tableau of plates, mugs and bowls disappear from the frame, piece by piece, in a playful tidying of the filmic space, which also recalls a child’s memory game, requiring us to remember what was once placed where. Berlin was also filmed within a kitchen interior, but rather than a fixed frame view Todd’s camera roves around the space, revealing the absent householder in an intimate focus on small details and simple kitchen objects. Morley College presents an institutional space rather than a domestic one. However, it shares the still observant focus of the other films, as it holds the image of absent activity resonant in the stacked chairs and music stands of a deserted room. This room in turn reveals its purpose as a space for music making, returning the viewer to the overall theme of this trio of films, that of experimental music and in particular the British composer Cornelius Cardew, a fellow performer of Rowe and the subject of a film by Fowler, who once taught and performed at Morley College in South London, and in this room. Thus memory resurfaces in Todd’s gentle films, where absence in an empty room is heavy with presence, as an historical vibration in the room where Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra played, in the simple objects of a friend’s kitchen and the shafts of sun and the disappearing objects of London.” (Three Films from the Room, 2015)

I think that these films make it clear that absence evokes presence. There is not the complete absence of movement, as in the sun movement and shadow of the London film, and I intend to have something in the room – maybe it will be time or something else that moves. That needs some careful thought.

Yves Klein

This is an iconic work commented on review of absence work. (Klein, 1958)(Brennan, 2020). This was the first ‘empty’ artwork that has been copied many times since in conceptual abstract art pieces. 

With this attempt I wished to create, establish, and present to the public a sensible pictorial state within the confines of a picture gallery. In other words, I sought to create an ambience, a pictorial climate that is invisible but present, in the spirit of what Delacroix referred to in his journal as the indefinable, which he considered to be the very essence of painting. (Klein, 1958)


The work more akin to what I am dong is by Ilya and Emelia Kabakov caked the empty museum (Kabakov and Kabakov, 2004)

 An ambiguous state of construction or demise presides, but the overall effect is one of calm and contemplation. The replacement of paintings by music and light draws connections between the space of the museum, the concert hall, and the cathedral. As with many Kabakov installations, the room functions metaphorically as both a manifestation of social institutions and a container within which imagination and creativity endure. Taking the museum as metaphor, the work invites us to reconsider the status of the work of art and the institutions that house it. 

I think that my bedroom will be stripped of most things to allow people to meditate on the voices and what happens in the rooms. 

Anna Lehman-Brauns 

One of the other things that I think I am doing is exploring the space in order to explore memories as in the workf on Anna Lehman-Brauns (Bertele, 2017), I think that you have to have other elements such as time and light to make the space live as in her ‘Sun ins empty room

Sarah Hobbs

In her carefully staged photographs of domestic spaces, Sarah Hobbs (born 1970) explores phobias and obsessive-compulsive behaviour with affection and even celebration, filling rooms with (for example) meticulously arranged colour swatches or hundreds of pieces of scrunched-up paper. This volume compiles three photographic series.

This is a superbly illustrated overview of the work of contemporary artist/photographer Sarah Hobbs. The photographs collected here are the product of an ongoing exploration into our neurotic tendencies. These carefully curated photographs explore phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders and how we attempt to deal with them. Set in domestic spaces, the images illustrate the idea that even the most comfortable spaces can house our uneasiness. A compilation of three series, the book allows the viewer to see the work as a whole in order to gain a full understanding of Hobbs’ intent to explore the human psyche and relish the idea that we are all beautifully flawed.


Her work is an expression of the inner turmoil of life – I like this a lot and have ordered a copy of her book small problems of living.

Interesting journal article about the empty room (Salen, 2018).

  1. The empty space can connate loss, loneliness or absence but also it can connate freedom and clarity and potential as in Japanese views of empty space
  2. Is a catalyst for evoking memories 
  3. That blank or white or negative space is active – Gestalt theory
  4. “Images of an empty interior can be used as a method to piece together memories and gain awareness and a personal relationship to perceptions of time and place”!!!
  5. This is an in between place or liminal space

Edward Hopper and others on empty rooms

Vermeer and other painter – ref

Tracey Emins empty rooms populated with items of living (Meis, 2015)

Japanese idea ‘Ta’ about creating negative spaces for reflection Ref 

Other ideas about Yohaku spaces for reflection Ref

Perhaps my room which has a window as well as empty space in it is best summarised in the dissertation by Shadwick (Shadwick, 2011). He describes how Hopper chose things P$ that allow for “a synthesis of my inner experience.” Important summary here p65 about choosing the window and void motifs – he sees them as “opening points of transference between literal and metaphysical realms AND emphasising separation and alienation. Iconic tradition  “dualities of mind – body, interior exterior, entrapment escape, dark light, reality illusion. 


Bertele, T. (2017) Anna Lehmann-Brauns captures light and color in her nostalgic images of lifeless interiors. At: https://www.freundevonfreunden.com/interviews/berlin-photographer-anna-lehmann-brauns-nostalgic-empty-rooms/

Brennan, M. (2020) The elequence of abscence: omission, extraction and invisibility in contemporary art. At: http://www.modernedition.com/art-articles/absence-in-art/the-white-art-space.html (Accessed  28/12/2020).

Kabakov, I. and Kabakov, E. (2004) Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Empty Museum. [Installation] At: https://www.sculpture-center.org/exhibitions/3064/ilya-and-emilia-kabakov-the-empty-museum (Accessed  28/12/2020).

Klein, Y. (1958) The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Sensibility – exhibition of ‘The Void’, April 28 – May 12 1958. At: http://www.yvesklein.com/en/oeuvres/view/642/the-specialization-of-sensibility-in-the-raw-material-state-of-stabilized-sensibility-exhibition-of-the-void/ (Accessed  28/12/2020).

Meis, M. (2015) ‘The Empty Bed: Tracey Emin and the Persistent Self’ In: Image Journal At: https://imagejournal.org/article/empty-bed-tracey-emin-persistent-self/ (Accessed  28/12/2020).

Salen, P. (2018) ‘Piecing together the Empty Interior’ In: Journal of Interior Desgin 43 (1) pp.9–18.

Shadwick, L. (2011) ‘The window and the void’ in the work of Edward Hopper. University of Bristol.

Three Films from the Room (2015) Directed by Todd, P. [16mm film] Lux. At: https://lux.org.uk/work/three-films-from-the-room

What did I learn here?

Applicable theory and ideas

Space and Time (Heidegger, Todd)

‘Window and void’ cultural iconography (Shadwick on Hopper)

Place and space for inner exploration (Casey, Derrida)

Japanese ideas of yakutia and ta – contemplative space

Art practice of empty or less populated space to allow filling with ideas and memories (Klein and Hobbs)

Place as a threshold – liminal space (Salen, Betwixt and between)

Place as a space for remembrance and memory (Salen)

About myself and this work

There is a coherence between this work and the shooting of images for my ethnography

This expands my ethnography to include others with same experience: smooth or striated spaces as Delueze?

What I feel about my home consulting room is changing. I used to see it as a place of anxiety but now that I have cleaned it to make it almost empty it feels a more homely space. It has negative memories which I want to tap into.

Options to explore

Often these artists do not use empty rooms but objects that sign something, as in the chocolate wrappers of Susan Hobbs

I realise after looking at Hopper’s work that there is a window in my room – I had tried to remove it but probably have to accept that it is there. Maybe it is more important than I think.

I want to use some audio of doctors talking about their consultations

It is a difficult thing to move from idea to shooting

I am going to pick this up in the next section which is about preparing to shoot my film

3. Preparations

There are things that I need to do before I shoot, and I can see many options and experiments coming.

  • Interview doctors – record consulting experiences
  • Prepare the space and objects in the room, audio, lighting, cameras, filming and processing
  • Consulting peers and others about preliminary work

3.1 Interview doctors – record consulting experiences

I think that I need to start here. I have emailed GP contacts that I have on Tyneside and already have four people that have been shielding and who have agreed to be interviewed. They are of different ages and sexes with different reasons for shielding. I will also record my own stories as they are interesting.

The interview schedule was:

  • Consent to interview and use video and audio in a public film
  • Why they are shielding
  • What is their experience of shielding – good, ill or indifferent
  • What they need to work from home
  • What they would say to Matt Hancock about their GP role

There were a number of themes from the interviews

  • Guilt – at not being able to juggle being a mum and consulting on line – the expectation to do it all  “like other GPs” 
  • Guilt – that they have adopted the ‘sick role’ rather than serving patients as a doctor, “ I absolutely don’t like being the patient’
  • Concern – about asking the patient to consult in a particular way and to a time and with limitations
  • Concern – about the loss of professionalism as expressed in face to face consultations with patients
  • Negative – about not doing enough 
  • Negative – home has become a workplace
  • Negative – stressful – difficult enough without being on line
  • Negative – seen as ‘cushy’ and yet is difficult work
  • Negative – compromise with time for patients when child’s need rise up
  • Situation – not being able to manage both childcare and consulting

There are other themes there but they did show me the variety of situations that GPs are shielding in or working from home. Most had mixed feelings and had adapted but were clear about the challenges.

3.2 Think about setting, audio, lighting, cameras, filming and processing

3.2.1 Setting

The biggest issue is the room, how it is frame and what objects and iconography are included. I can do several set ups. My instinct is to remove what furniture is there now and ‘stage’ a small table with a phone and laptop and notebook and pen as the only items visible. Maybe the phone charger might be charging and flashing on and off – a reminder about time.

In the room I can include or not include the window. I may film without and make the image ‘tight’ on the consulting space, or include it partially or fully. The window references the outside world and the rest is interiority.

3.2.2 Audio

I am going to capture my own audio using a new rode condensing microphone and amp. I have a lapel mike and transmitter which is pretty good and sends to my Nikon D810 camera with its add on receiver. It works well for speech but does not like to be idle for periods and annoyingly switches off.

I changed my mind about the sound after recording three people on Zoom. The video for one of the interviews is very poor but the audio taken using a stand alone microphone is good. I will record my own interview on Zoom. Most GPs working in general practice are female, I think that it will help to have a male voice – I don’t know any other male GPs willing to be interviewed in my network.

3.2.3 Video

January 9th 2020

I have taken some images with my 50mm lens but it is the 24mm lens on my Nikon that will probably work best. I have done some tidying up of the room and today on a sunny snowy day in January I am doing to take some footage, with and without additional lighting and with different elements in the room. I will remove all the pictures and picture hooks as they say something about me and my family – nothing is neutral

Shoot 1

This is a low down shot of the desk with the window hinted at but the view not seen. I am conscious of the whirring of another computer and the modem in this room which is recorded and I may keep as it is authentic. I have removed the pictures from the walls and there are all the items on the table that I would use for consulting – notebook, pen, computer, telephone, chair, desk. This could be any workplace in the UK and it is designed to be that although it is the narrative that defines it as a GP workspace.

Video of room No 1

I am not sure about the height of the camera although my intention is to scale down the image to exclude the book case on the right. Maybe there needs to be even less in the frame. When I entered this to PPro the seat was too low down in the frame so reshot it lower and even wider to give more scope for processing.

Video of room No 2

I think that this is much wider – we are not at the end of the day and dusk is an hour away but it is still bright in the room – it is snowy outside. I am not looking for a warm room.

3.2.4 Processing

I started processing the interview audio and video ahead of the room shots. They were all done in Adobe Premier Pro. The audio is very powerful, and even at this early stage I can see that with four GPs speaking, each with three extracts, that they tell a story about working in lockdown. I have to be careful that there is not a selection that is negative and be truthful to the overall story – which turns out to be nuanced but negative

I decided to record my own audio to contribute to the film. Partly because I have something to say, and partly because it helps to widen the picture. I am doing this while filming the room.

There were four parts to the presentation opening – more information about consulting – a memorable consultation – what I want to say to others about GP working. I felt that the range of themes was limited and that shows in the lack of definition between the four parts. Maybe doing more interviews would help that to give more selection and perhaps even some anchoring text in the film. I was certainly not strict about moving narrative around. I will see what others say.

4. Consulting peers and others about preliminary work

4.1 Reactions from contributors and others

I really liked this video-very poignant and moving in parts and gives a very clear description of ‘home’ working -especially the comment that home should be the cosy safe relaxing place so home working as a concept can feel like a verbal disjunction… I also suddenly realised how hard managing suicidal patients must be remotely – it is stressful enough when they are in the room with you – and I had not really thought of that until today.

GP Support co-ordinator

I like it but there are a lot of ‘Umms’ in it aren’t there?

Family members who is a doctor


I can see the Hopper as his unifying subject is the loneliness of modern life. May be better to have a person though (Janet) if you wanted to follow that particular style. It’s probably more engaging to have someone to imagine while watching as opposed to an empty chair. 

Or you could have some visuals behind it or at least something dynamic to accompany the voices. Perhaps ambient video footage taken from around the house or of interesting goings on (not too distracting though). Like part of the experience of working at home. There’s a good documentary ‘Cameraperson’, which is by a cinematographer who repurposes footage from other documentaries she has shot, that does this well (in addition to having stories though the ambient footage is done well). Here’s a condensed version on the editing of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9aGO3BBhdY&ab_channel=criterioncollection

Also the screen fades at 1:53 and 4:02 and it’s not clear what this signifies, perhaps remove unless rationale.

I would advise against rolling credits and use slides like: https://youtu.be/k1vCrsZ80M4?t=1171 also I would change the font to something more aesthetically pleasing. I would also remove the ‘thanks’ in the credits and I wouldn’t change the language to first person at the end. Keep it all in third person.


Audio is good and I can tell you spent a lot of time getting the most impactful parts. I could understand that it is a collection of experiences through the pandemic from a variety of people. I was a bit unsure of the underlying message/story though. What is the key thing you’re saying with these? That remote working is lonely and tough? Sure lots of people have been working remotely, a more important question is what specifically about being a doctor makes this an interesting experience?

On that last question I think the voice starting 1:21 is important and I think this should be your opening gambit – it’s engaging and reels you in to want to keep listening to the audio. I would then follow this with a voice that explains the context of the film like the first voice or the one from 4:51 which, unlike the first recording you use in your film, clearly states ‘working from home’.  You then have the option to go onto the particular acute stresses like dealing with patients at end of life or with suicidal thoughts. This could be one way to develop a narrative that centres on different themes. I assume your ordering was based on thematic analysis. I would cut clips that don’t go into that particular narrative or one’s that are outliers.

6:56 was an interesting clip I thought!

Health Care Researcher

4.2 Reactions from OCA peers

Overall people people thought that the audio was powerful but there were conflicting feelings about the visuals. Some wanted more in the frame or even a person.

I watched this yesterday and have been reflecting. The challenge you have already noted is how to develop the visual. There is little visual interest in watching an image of an office space while listening to the dialogue, no matter how interesting that dialogue might be. A question is, how can the subject be represented visually when it is largely unseen, especially as traces of admin have disappeared into screens. And the psychological work you referenced seems perhaps the only way – shielding while trying to help others seems rich territory. This suggests a move of the work towards highly constructed scenes, particularly in lockdown. I remember that many of your works offer strong social commentary through visual interaction with your environments and this is perhaps the type of photography you enjoy. While the subject matter is serious and interesting, does it allow you to make the kind of images that are important to you?

OCA Peer

I think this idea that the film does not illustate is where I have arrived this week. I am now looking at how I might develop a new series. This was my response:

You are right. This film does not illustrate well enough what I think or feel about being a GP working remotely and Covid-19. I have also been thinking about staging the room (now that I have emptied it), as in the psychological work of Sarah Hobbs ‘Small Problems of Living’ and Viktoria Sorochinski’s ‘Inside – outside’ , which are the references that are strongest in my mind.
I’m looking for large inflatable telephones…

My response

5. Reflections

5.1 Conceptual issues

I don’t think that the staging is right and needs more experimentation. I have just received a copy of Sarah Hobbs’ ‘Small problems of living’ which are photographs of room displays to illustrate the her inner life and concerns. I think that this is where I need to be. Something that expresses the confines of working in this space, such as a container holding a phone, book and laptop in that empty room – almost like a still life but emptiness and exterior surrounding it. I think that the empty chair is an unwanted sign and metaphor.

5.2 Technical issues

  • There is a sensor ‘spot’ on the left hand side of film which needs to be removed.
  • The film could show time

Lets send this to my tutor now.