Guy Edmonds was part of one of the earliest Master classes in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image graduating in 2006. He was worked for many years as a film restorer and archivist at EYE Film Institute, Christie’s Camera and Photographic auctions and The Cinema Museum in London, among other institutions. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at Plymouth University, in the CogNovo programme, facilitated by the EU Marie Curie initiative. His research focuses on affect and cognitive phenomena associated with moving image viewing, examining the role of projection technologies using electroencephalography (EEG) analysis. He has written extensively on early cinema, the electrophysiology of spectatorship, amateur film and projection. As well as being a member of AMIA, Guy is also a member of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image and the artist-run film lab cooperative, Filmwerkplaats.
NSAC: How did you experience the program?
GE: I had a very positive experience with the programme. I had the benefit of five years’ previous work in a film archive context, so the territory was familiar to me and I could spend the 18 months of the programme processing aspects of that experience as seen against all the stimulating new material provided by the course – including of course an internship in another archive, the Nederlands Filmmuseum. It was a dip into history and theory after a time of practice which is a balance that I’ve always been interested in maintaining. Of course it was still only year two and Julia Noordegraaf and Thomas Elsaesser were very available and as it were ‘on site’ building up the course. It felt like a privilege to have their considerable attention. A major benefit, apart from the excitement of studying in Amsterdam, was that it helped to widen my network internationally, something which has been a great benefit since. The hardest period was actually immediately following graduation when finding employment met with some perhaps inevitable hitches. It was a time when it was important to keep the faith.
NSAC: Looking back, how would you say P&P put you on the trajectory towards your current research?
GE: I would say that it simply made it possible. I had not contemplated a career in research when applying. My goal was to find work in film preservation and it only became apparent that there might be additional paths available in the academic world towards the end of my MA. The expansion of possibilities which it provided has been invaluable since and has given me the confidence to switch between jobs in industry or academia without feeling that I have to explain myself. It actually makes a lot of sense and I’m sure that if the world of work was structured differently more people would put together such a ‘variegated’ career. But to answer your question in more narrow terms, in terms of content, then the introduction to Media Archaeology provided by P&P has been very influential on my current research. Also very important, again in terms of networks, has been the community it introduced me to, the collaboration between UvA and EYE and Plymouth University and key personnel which has been instrumental. I would particularly like to mention Martha Blassnigg, who sadly died 18 months ago, but who blazed a trail, so to speak, from film restoration in Amsterdam to doctoral and post-doctoral study in Plymouth and along with Michael Punt was a convenor of the Transtechnology Research group with which I’m also currently based along with CogNovo.
NSAC: How has previous work in film archives impacted your current research interests?
GE: Working in archives often means handling fascinating objects and projects but doesn’t always allow time for reflection on the practices that one applies. It also exposes you to many potential projects that are never realised for one reason or another. In that sense my PhD is a second phase of the space that P&P provided, a kind of raking over and sifting of experience for that which has been neglected or overlooked.
In both the archives in which I’ve worked, I was exposed to interesting collections which were in some sense compromised, firstly at the Cinema Museum, a vast film collection which had little chance of active preservation, and then at the Nederlands Filmmuseum / Eye, although film preservation was given a lot of resources, the film technology collection was rather closeted away. This is beginning to change now and hopefully my research gives further impetus to the ‘valorisation’ of such a collection.
Perhaps also, despite these institutions allowing a certain amount of experimentation, where my ideas have met certain natural limits, I’ve found ways to pursue them in more personal contexts, usually through artistic programming and my own filmmaking. So that which has fed into my research is a mixture of what was and was not possible in my professional archiving work.
NSAC: P&P has a strong Media Archaeology component. Was this so when you were in P&P? How has the field of Media Archaeology has evolved since then?
GE: Yes, as I mentioned, Media Archaeology was already there and one of the key elements of the P&P package. Receiving tuition directly from one of its ‘founders’ was very special but also the gradual realization that I was already an (instinctive) media archaeologist – I just hadn’t known how to declare myself as such.
Its expansion and development since into new areas is to be lauded although some might say this risks a dilution of purpose. I like the fact that it’s a broad church and that there’s room to specialize within it- and indeed to graft on other disciplines to its branches. Perhaps this indicates that it’s already a mature disicipline and that its radical arguments have been assimilated. I feel the pliability of media archaeology has encouraged my current research attempts to fuse an experimental media archaeology of early film projection with electroencephalographic brain recording.
Of course there may be a danger that it’s seen as a bit of a dilettante discipline but I think that’s a risk worth taking for the ability to harness its creative potential and, in any case, I feel my own take on it is a fairly fundamental one which gives a lot of attention to the primary sources of the media artifacts themselves. Like Werner Nekes or Erkki Huhtamo, but on a much more modest scale, I also collect film technology, but always with the aim of putting it into use – in order to evaluate its relation to the associated human protagonists. As may be gathered, I am in favour of a ‘hands on’ experimental approach and its necessary attempt to increase access to archival objects, whether literally through workshops and study days or virtually through more effective digital cataloguing and even the recent 3D printing of a Lumière Cinématographe by University of Groningen researchers. I was also very happy to be part of the recent book project, ‘Exposing the Film Apparatus’, in which Giovanna Fossati and Annie van den Oever, corralled 32 different researchers using various approaches to examine single items of media technology.
NSAC: I find your exploration of the electrophysiology of cinematic experiences intriguing. What drew you to this approach to film and media studies and what do you hope to elucidate in this research?
GE: I think a fundamental question for me is why is film so fascinating or more personally, why am I so fascinated by film? This is so fundamental that I had rarely addressed it directly in either my research or practices as a film user, both archivist and artist. Of course it was always there, whether in the claims of my thesis for P&P or, for example, in the screenings of found home movies at with a spiritualist medium at Mediamatic, but when I heard about the doctoral training programme CogNovo and the opportunity to study the cognitive effect of film flicker, it seemed like a great chance to come at this almost hidden question from another angle, actually an entirely new one!
My ambition therefore was to help uncover an extra dimension to our experience of Cinema that was more or less hidden from all of us, whether film spectator or media scholar or cinephile, and one that was in danger of being overlooked entirely in the transition to digital projection technologies.
In this sense it has been invaluable to rely on the continuing partnerships with EYE and NIBG because both the questions and the implications of the research have most to do with archival presentation contexts and the potential misrepresentation of analogue-era film. In fact, I see now that it’s kind of a perfect synthesis of P&P: its not just about how you keep the records but also about how you present them.
NSAC: It seems like your research pertains to cognitive neuroscience and perhaps even to transcultural psychiatry. Do you envision a future media studies historiography in closer dialogue with these disciplines? What do you think are the main contributions moving image archivists can make to these interdisciplinary pursuits, seemingly so far afield from the film archive?
GE: My research is necessarily informed by work in Cognitive Neuroscience as I wish to establish a link between brain response and the operation of distinct audiovisual technologies. However, psychiatric concerns, whether culturally determined or not, are not as yet part of my research.
Certainly my aim is to bring this awareness into my ‘home’ fields of media studies and film history. Moving image archivists should and indeed have been open to such developments. In fact I’ve received a lot of interest in my research from archivists, which I think speaks to certain concerns which they were already sensitive to. I think in general moving image archivists are quite open to different academic disciplines and the different perspectives they can bring to bear on their collections. They realise that anything new that they can point to in terms of the productivity of their collections is a good thing and researchers in turn value the archivists’ experience and profound knowledge of their collections.
NSAC: How would you explain CogNovo and the “emerging field of Cognitive Innovation”? How would you describe its potential relevance to moving image archivists?
GE: The study of the brain is one of the key global research efforts of our time. Whether it’s the BRAIN project famously funded by Barack Obama or our more modest but still ambitious doctoral training programme, CogNovo. The EU invested in this project because it recognised its timely nature and wished to support a new generation of interdisciplinary scholars who can apply knowledge from their ‘home’ disciplines to the new brain science. Of course it’s exciting to be part of such a big picture and also slightly alarming given the implications of the research for society. But then we are ‘blessed’ by living in interesting times, it would seem!
The main advantage of CogNovo is that, while each student has their individual project, we carry out the work in a shared social and learning environment so that the potential for each project to influence and contribute to another is vastly increased. The overall aim of learning more about how certain cognitive processes foster creativity and innovation will naturally have enormous implications. This research and the manner in which it’s carried out is vitally relevant to everybody. While it’s my more modest aim to bring some knowledge back to my home discipline and my professional practice of film archiving.
Text by Nicholas Saul Avedisian-Cohen (P&P 2017)