Work / Photography

Richard Nicholson delves into the dark worlds behind the scenes of cinema projectionists

In a world of Netflix, relaxing at home with movie downloads and cinema’s move towards digital, the art of film projection is sadly a dying one. A new project by artist and photographer Richard Nicholson has created a fascinating and poignant homage to the art of cinema projectionists, shedding light on the poky little rooms where the magic happens.

The series, The Projectionists, is currently on show as part of Flatpack Film Festival, and came about when Richard was approached by the University of Warwick’s Professor Charlotte Brunsdon to join her research group, the Projection Project, to make a photographic documentation of the state of film projection in British cinemas. She’d seen Richard’s project about the demise of the photographic darkroom Last One Out, Please Turn On The Light, and saw parallels between the two.

“I didn’t want to rehash my darkroom series, so I suggested we do some test shoots to see if I could come up with some new ideas,” Richard tells us. “At the time I was reading Michael Fried on Jeff Wall and absorption. That essay influenced the way I tackled the project.

“My real motivation in photographing disappearing analogue worlds is to meditate on what might be missing from our contemporary digital lives. It seems to me that we’ve become alienated from physical objects and tools.”

The series features images from projection rooms including those at Dalston’s Rio Cinema in east London, the Arnolfini in Bristol, London’s Prince Charles Cinema and BFI and the Umit and Son reel to reel cinema shop in Hackney. Shot digitally with a Nikon D800, Richard aimed to achieve a quality close to that of large format film.

“Modern life, with its insistent focus on the computer screen, has become increasingly disembodied, but here is a world in which labour is enacted in the realm of tangible things,” says Richard. “As well as accurately mapping this analogue terrain, I have sought to reference the dream factory that these machine-rooms serve – key moments in the projectionist’s workflow have been staged and lit for cinematic effect.”

He adds: “I’ve learnt that projectionists are similar to photographers. In general they are shy, reserved people. They’re fascinated by equipment, and committed to putting on a good show.”

Richard Nicholson’s The Projectionists is exhibited as part of the 10th Flatpack Film Festival, which runs from 20-24 April


Richard Nicholson: Phil Fawke, Odeon Queensway, Birmingham

© Richard Nicholson, 2016.


Richard Nicholson: Peter Howden, Rio Cinema, Dalston, London
© Richard Nicholson, 2016.


Richard Nicholson: Sam Bishop, The Electric, Birmingham
© Richard Nicholson, 2016.


Richard Nicholson:Peter Bell and Alexa Raisbeck, NFT1, BFI Southbank, London
© Richard Nicholson, 2016.


Richard Nicholson: Alexa Raisbeck and Peter Bell, NFT1, BFI Southbank, London
© Richard Nicholson, 2016.


Richard Nicholson: Ewen MacLeod, Arnolfini, Bristol
© Richard Nicholson, 2016.