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Matinee: 'Skinningrove' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

13 April 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 287th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Skinningrove.

This 14:38 film directed by Michael Almereyda was inspired by an hour-long lecture Chris Killip gave at Harvard. So, while it's longer than our typical matinee, you can still consider it short.

In fact, it's short enough that you'll probably watch it again right after you finish. So set aside half an hour.

That's because the roughly 40 images he shows cover a lot of ground.

Skinningrove is an obscure coastal fishing village in North Yorkshire, England, that you would miss if you weren't looking for it. The inhabitants, Killip tells us, believe they own the sea there. And, fearful of the place becoming a resort, make something of a mess of the place. And yet, they managed to get the government to rebuild their dilapidated homes originally built for miners.

Those who fish the sea are also doomed by it.

Killip spent several years photographing the inhabitants in the diffused light of the town with his large, plate glass camera. He was an obvious presence, not a discreet street photographer. And he wasn't much welcomed at first.

But one of the fishermen told the others he was all right. He had a sense, Killip says, that the photographs would matter.

And indeed they do.

Those who fish the sea are also doomed by it. The town has a tradition that when a father is lost at sea, the children are taken out on it to overcome any fear of it. They dress in their best for the voyage and nothing is said.

Killip went to sea with them when little Simon took the trip after his father's death and the resulting images are quite moving.

His protector also drowns at sea, we learn, along with several others. And when the mother of one of the boys asks, at the funeral, if Killip has any images of her David, he automatically says he doesn't.

But he wakes up in the middle of the night realizing she didn't mean if he had any photos he wanted to exhibit but if he had any of her dead son.

And of course he has pictures of the boy who became a man and died before he was 20. He goes through his contact sheets and two weeks later when he returns, he presents the mother with an album of images, commemorating the life of her son.

The film is shot in Killip's office, apparently, lit by the screen he projects the images on and the yellow light of an illuminated globe that sits on his desk next to the computer he uses to go through the images.

It is a quiet telling, almost confessional, sparked by these monochrome images.

"Black-and-white images inevitably seem to be historical documents," Killip once said. "And for me, my real liking for black-and-white was the way it was removed from reality."

Or, in this case, saved from reality.

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