Cinematic portraits: Something in Someone’s Eye

Photo courtesy of Elisa Julia Gilmour.

Elisa Julia Gilmour. Photo by Sarah Beach

Elisa Julia Gilmour. Photo by Sarah Beach

[F]ragility and materiality are two of the concepts Elisa Julia Gilmour wanted to capture in her installation and first solo exhibition, Something in Someone’s Eye, now at the Ryerson Image Centre.

The installation consists of four portraits on a 16 mm film loop in a dark room and vinyl filmstrips that run on the walls.
At a passing glance, it wouldn’t be difficult to mistake the portraits for still photographs. The subjects are usually sitting quietly lost in thought. The portraits were motionless except for subtle movements of eyes flickering up and down, a slow blink, or the swivel of a chair.

“The human gestures and the human gaze are very subtle, overlooked and underestimated,” said Gilmour, who graduated from Ryerson’s photography program in 2013. “I wanted to use film and photography to bring out that overlooked beauty.”
When Gilmour filmed her subjects, she didn’t know what she wanted at first. She would sit them in front of a camera and sometimes ask them questions ranging from, “What is your favourite colour?” to “When is the last time someone made you feel bad?” At other times she would just leave the room and leave the camera rolling.

After months of filming, she watched the footage and chose the moments that she found beautiful, strange or unique. It ranged anywhere from a moment before they were about to answer a question, to a moment of when they were deep in thought.

“There’s something spectacular about these subtle shifts,” Gilmour said.

Photo courtesy of Elisa Julia Gilmour.

Photo courtesy of Elisa Julia Gilmour.

[T]he installation seems to be something close to her—every subject featured in it is somebody who is important in her life or has affected her in some way.

People are also fascinated by someone her age using a medium that is so off the map, she said, but she’s simply using something familiar and near to her since she grew up seeing her grandparents use analog film.

The choice of the now-discontinued colour reversal Kodak Ektachrome film as the medium is also crucial in emphasizing the sense of fragility and materiality Gilmour wants to convey. The analog film used in the installation is continuously being degraded as it plays.

Each time the portraits play, more scratches and dust accumulate on the film reel. Every viewing will always be slightly unique, just like all the fleeting, subtle moments it captures.

Gilmour’s exhibit will be on display until March 2 at the Ryerson Image Centre.