Channel Sicily with Kersti Jan Werdal's Film Stills
Our second guest photographer introduces FYGB to 16mm film stills she shot one summer in Italy. Kersti is currently an MFA candidate at the California Institute of the Arts.
I’ve been working with film photography for 15 years, developing and printing in a dark-room in the suburbs where I grew up just north of Seattle. I was a lonely kid and photography began as a way to connect with my external world and recognize my place in it, even if I felt alienated from who I saw or where I was. I moved out of my parents house while I was still in high-school, and quickly became part of a community of kids downtown that were into the same things as me. I documented our hangs, house-shows, late-night car rides, and our attempts at being “adult” way before we could be called that.
Photography has been my steady companion. As I matured, the work did too. Street-style documentation slowly became more sensitive documents of liminal states, passing moments, overlooked corners, vernacular scenes feeling a bit off or confused. I can’t paint at all but a lot of people over the years have thought my photographs are very painterly, so I suppose they must be somehow.
In my late 20s I studied Sociocultural Anthropology, which made me consider the role of the observer and representation. It’s important for my practice to think about what is included or left out of the frame and how this impacts the image, much like off-screen space in cinema. I don’t believe pure objectivity exists when making art, which leaves responsibility on the maker. With that responsibility I always ask what the framing says about the subject, and what it says about me.
I’ve always had an emotional connection to taking pictures, I’m confident that there is only one of that specific frame, and can only be that one. I never crop and I somehow haven’t forgotten a shot taken (But only on film! I never have this same memory-recall with digital). Maybe this is why I love photography so much. It has always been a point of self-assuredness, a mirror into a singular idea I had about a moment I saw, captured.
I make films now, mainly large-scale installation and documentary related works. But when I begin the editing process, I first work from stills. I take screenshots and assemble my ideas into what shape the film should take, like a storyboard. Working backwards through images helps solidify a tone for the work.
I recently began a narrative film about the early 2000's in Seattle surrounding youth that resemble those kids that shaped who I am. I often work in 16mm but don’t privilege it over digital, it depends on the project. I’ve self-published books over the years, placing images side by side and in a sequence. I’ve also done some programming and photo-edited an artist I assisted for a couple years as well. So, working from stills during post-production has always come pretty natural to me.
I am sincerely pleased to share some stills from an upcoming film with For Your Guest Bathroom.I have been waiting for the right moment to synthesize photography and filmmaking in a presentable project. The five images are from 16mm footage I shot on a Bolex while visiting an area in Sicily I used to live. I shot on different days but around the same time of day, just before and after sunset. The teenagers are hanging out on a terrace that always reminds me of Bertolucci’s Il Conformista. Gangs of teens hung out there every night in small groups, gossiping and smoking cigarettes. In the most casual way, they’d occasionally look down to this epic volcanic rock beach, which is part of the series as well. Those rocks mark the actual site of Polyphemus the cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey. I’m thinking of tying that into the film somehow. The statue is odd feeling to me, taken from that low angle, but I like it. I found him in Giardino Bellini (Bellini Park) not too far from the terrace and sea, and am not sure what happened to his nose?
Kersti has work on view in a group show called The Center Is Not Holding