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Sam Holden's Eleven Moves

The photographer showcases his video art and experimental films at the Liverpool art festival this week

As someone well acquainted with the slick imagery of newspaper supplements and style mag spreads, photographer Sam Holden knows exactly which is your good side. But glossy falsity held no lasting fascination for Holden, whose work as a video artist deliberately deconstructs the premeditated pose, taking portraiture into the moving image and seeing how it, and we react. Holden’s film Focus No.1 has been selected for Moves 11 in Liverpool this April and May; a festival that brings together the most exciting video art and experimental film in a challenging and boundary-pushing programme. Ahead of the festival, Dazed caught up with Holden to talk about his work…

Dazed Digital: Tell us a bit about the film you have in Moves 11...
Sam Holden:
My background is in portraiture both professionally and artistically, so Focus No.1 is a response to the shortcomings of photographic portraiture, particularly in terms of actually giving any meaningful information about the subject beyond what they’ve chosen to show or their physical appearance. Rather than looking at someone and imaging what they’re like, you get these insights into what they’re like as a person then try to imagine what they look like.

DD: What prompted you to play with the focus?
Sam Holden: The technical side of it was inspired by Poor Little Rich Girl by Andy Warhol, where the first half of the film the lens was faulty so the camera is in a fixed position but it’s totally out of focus. You’ve got this blurred figure pottering around, so because of that you can fill in the gaps subjectively. The second half is in focus and is utterly banal, all of the magic that each individual brings the first half is lost because you can see everything. I thought the lack of focus was a really useful tool in highlighting the subjective nature of portraiture.

DD: So you started out as a photographer but now you critique photography using video?
Sam Holden: Yeah, in order to explore photographic portraiture and discuss how ineffective or limited it can be video is a really good tool. It’s durational, it has sound, to critique something that’s not durational or has sound is an easier task. To use photography to critique photography, especially in portraiture, is probably more difficult.

DD: And there are more modes of exhibiting video.
Sam Holden: My films are meant to work on screen or projected. There’s always an ideal way that you’d like them shown, but if you get in a group show then people don’t always offer you a massive room to yourself with a comfy bench and really good sound! The whole thing is about the fact that by watching it on whatever medium, you still have to engage with it, there’s something for you to do. I’m not a snob, I’m not fussy about it, I’d be just as happy for someone to watch it online as in a gallery with good sound.

DD: I think people are tough on video in galleries, they don’t give it much of a chance.
Sam Holden: People’s attention spans are quite short because when it comes to screens, TV, film, we’re so used to things being engaging and punchy and there to get our attention and a lot of gallery goers approach the screen in the same way, they expect to be engaged and they’re not there for the long haul.

DD: I always wondered why there’s no video portraiture exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery, why it’s only really paintings or photographs.
Sam Holden: Their yearly portrait prize is the epitome of that nice portraiture, ‘this is Laura in the garden looking pensive’ and it’s called Laura Looks Pensive in the Garden. Of course she does, because you want Laura to look pensive and Laura wants to look pensive. It just seems to be those kind of beautifully lit, aesthetically polished photographs that say nothing about portraiture. A lot of nice pictures of nice people that don’t question portraiture or have that dynamic.

moves11: INTERSECTIONS, Liverpool & the UK, 27 April - 1 May 2011