Russell Chater ‘In the Frame’ 2021 (extract)

Ramsgate Recorder Summer 2021

When did you move to Ramsgate? What brought you here?
I moved from London (too crowded, too noisy, too expensive) almost exactly five years ago, having decided upon Ramsgate almost by chance. Though born in London, as a child, part of my psyche had already been forged in Kent – in its wooded, rather than coastal, landscape – yet I now discover Thanet as something quite distinct.

Has Ramsgate/Thanet influenced your practice in any way?
Here, it’s not just the sea or a grain of sand that undoes time. Accretions of architecture and geological strata play tricks with time too. When I first moved to Ramsgate, I didn’t at first appreciate this, having hit the decks running because of commitments for screenings in the UK and Japan that focussed my attention beyond the immediate. It was only by 2018 that the rhythm – natural, physical, temporal – of this place had time to sink in. The pace of some of the work changed. As if to see more clearly, I also switched from Super 8 film to HD video. I haven’t yet worked with any filmmakers or artists in Ramsgate but gallerist – and now Ramsgate resident – Laurent Delaye, does feature in my latest film. As does another local, Andrei Siliva, in the film before that. I tend to draw on people in my immediate vicinity.

Can you give me a brief history of your background?
My background is in literature, photography and fine art. Filmmaking is something that came later. It had the feeling of inevitability. My postgraduate tutor at Central St. Martins was Tina Keane.

Tell me a little about what you’re currently working on.
I’ve just started work on the last part of a video trilogy (The Storyteller) shot in and around the coast here. The piece was delayed due to successive lockdowns. The first part screened in San Francisco in 2019 (SFMOMA) and for most of 2020 (McEvoy Foundation for the Arts and, online, at San Francisco Cinematheque) and appeared briefly at Silverland Studios as part of the 2019 Ramsgate Festival of Sound. I like the fact that throughout the first lockdown, the sound of waves of the South Coast of England broke gently on the West Coast of America. Meanwhile, an unrelated short film I finished at the end of last year will premiere at Oberhausen in May.

Is there a typical day for you? Do you have a particular routine or any particular processes?
Not really. I tend to work into the very early hours so, in any case, am not fully functional before noon unless teaching. I have two computers set up on a desk on the first floor where I work in the evenings but, last summer, set up a second work bench at the top of the house so I could watch the swifts while thinking.

Can you tell me about the technical production of your work. Do you use any particular equipment? If so, why?
I started filmmaking with an inherited Super 8 camera. The gauge suited me well due to its association with home movies and the diaristic approach to gathering footage I employed at that time. Initially, I edited 8mm celluloid traditionally by cut and paste but soon, for convenience, transferred stock to digital. My preference for film over video over fifteen years probably stems from the fact I’d always used analogue cameras and 35mm or 120 film as a photographer. The look of video didn’t appeal until HD. I mainly shoot that on iPhone.

What inspires and drives your practice? Are there any overriding concerns?
To answer the second question first, experimenting with how we tell stories. In terms of my aims or drives as a filmmaker more generally, I noticed recently that MUBI had dug out an old quote from when I was first starting out. It still holds true.

Who do you particularly admire?
Insight can come from unexpected quarters. Two artists that shaped my mental framework early on were Robert Rauschenberg and Luis Camnitzer. I had a lucky exchange with the former when I was a student on an art trip to Bilbao. Signing his name along the Nervión on my map of the city he said, ‘remember art should remain a struggle upriver.’It’s taken me a long while to understand the full import of this. Luis Camnitzer’s advice was more immediate. I had done an ‘in conversation’ with him at a photography show in New York and, the following year, we met for lunch at his favourite Indian restaurant on the Lower East Side. I was on a scouting trip to New York, in talks with a gallery, so was somewhat disconcerted when he pointed to the folly of my ways. You will never truly develop as an artist if you pursue this path prematurely, he said. I’d just begun my first film – a section of which had been screened in NY – but was flailing about in terms of what I wanted to do. I was still quite object driven and, back then, the location of ‘artist’ and ‘filmmaker’ wasn’t always as contiguous. Stepping back allowed me to find and develop a language. Were it not for that lunch, I’d never have become a filmmaker.