Filming for ‘The Cost of Life’ exhibition - a series of artworks created by artist Paddy Hartley to celebrate Hoffman La-Roche’s 125th Anniversary
What do you get when you cross an artist who enjoys creating works inspired by science with a filmmaker who loves making films about the interplay between science and art? When I was a filmmaker at Wellcome, it was pretty normal to wander into their Collection, a vast gallery of art spanning centuries, celebrating and inspired by the sciences.
One of the first pieces that truly caught my eye was Project Facade, a stunning series of military uniforms adorned, amended and tailored in a way that conjured thoughts of the origins and evolution of plastic surgery - each uniform begged to be scrutinised, teasing the viewer to unpick its larger meaning. It also looked fantastically cool and happened to be the creation of British artist, Paddy Hartley.
A decade later, out of the blue, I was contacted by Jonathan Steffen, a communications expert, informing me that his client would like to work with me to make a film.
This sort of request isn’t unusual but what did cause me to pause were two facts. One was that Jonathan’s client was Hoffman La-Roche, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, the other being that the film was about Paddy Hartley.
Over a short call, I discovered that Roche was celebrating its 125th Anniversary guided by the theme, ‘The Cost of Life’. That as part of this celebration they had commissioned Paddy to make a series of artworks and, finally, that Paddy specifically wanted me to make the film about the making of this art. This was sounding like the proverbial dream gig. Over the course of a few more head-spinning video calls, I met Jonathan and Paddy - both of whom were absolute gents - and the team at Roche who informed me it wasn’t just one film they wanted but ten!
Quite naturally, Roche asked for a plan - a sense of what I’d do and over how much time. Being used to working efficiently within busy scientific institutions, I originally suggested a one day shoot. Then, in a sort of surreal, inverted reality, Paddy came back and suggested two days, then Roche interjected and suggested a three day shoot! In the end, it took four days to capture the various phases of Paddy’s process.
So how do you film an artist? It was incredibly important to me to try and capture the process of his making art in a way that Paddy felt happy with. I knew he wanted the films to feel relaxed, spacious and that there would be text rather than dialogue, removing the need to concern myself with interviews… But the best guidance Paddy gave me in terms of tone, style and approach was by referring me to a wonderful BBC4 series, called Handmade.
Not only was I familiar with Handmade but I adored it - a unique, stripped back and beautifully shot series of films celebrating the craft of metalworkers, woodworkers, glass… One of the things I loved most about these documentaries was their apparent simplicity and honesty; films that truly felt inspired by the original documentarians who largely just filmed what they observed. None of the films had music, dialogue or unnecessary gimbal or drone shots to make them look ‘slick’. They simply – like the work they portrayed – were: a visual meditation of the human ability to craft and make. I immediately watched three episodes (thanks YouTube!) and knew we could do it.
Roche has a large social media presence and wanted every film made in a range of shapes and formats - which led me to film everything in 4K - not something I often do as the hard drive space and processing required for editing can get a little spicy. In the end, I ate the bullet and got myself an obscene number of memory cards and two new dedicated hard drives for the work.
In terms of filming, I took my beloved Canon C200 with my three favourite lenses, an 11-16mm Tokina for expansive, wide shots, the 24-105mm Canon EF workhorse which is fantastic for documentary and the 100mm Canon EF Macro for those details and moments you want to really get into. Other than that, it was the tripod and nothing more - I’m not a fan of over-complicating things - trust in your subject, your instincts and your camera.
Paddy and Jonathan are both absolute gems and for several days we formed a tight, fun and creative collaboration - Paddy had a brilliant series of work planned for me to film, Jonathan observed us, throwing in the odd idea while writing the text (based on interviews with Paddy) that would accompany the films and then there was me, getting out of Paddy’s way and letting him do what he does best - create. I’m a big fan of disappearing. As much as possible, I like those being filmed to forget I’m there. For this reason, much of my work is handheld, allowing me to move quietly around, shifting positions, angles and framing in a nimble dance while the subject loses themselves in their work.
Then came the edit - a process I love. Every film was approached as a micro-narrative in its own right, revealing either how a work of art was initially conceived or how it was made. Paddy’s words guiding the story and feel with my shots being used to create a sense of journey, of creation.
When possible - and without trying to force it - I’d look for juxtapositions offering a little subtle poetry. For example, when Switzerland was referred to (where Roche is based) I cut to a macro shot of the glaze covering one of Paddy’s Urns, the patterns creating a richly abstract, mountainous feel.
To my delight, Roche was thrilled with the results - so much so that the main film created for the project is being screened alongside Paddy’s work in the exhibition. My hope being that by bringing two like-minded people together, we’ve created something that can offer a unique record and insight into the creative process, mastery and thoughtfulness that lies behind one of today’s greatest contemporary artists.
The Cost of Life, A Perspective on Health by Patrick Hartley will exhibit 13/10/2021 until 23/01/2022.