Unit X - David Bell

Part I - Research

A modern, urbanised city. An extreme contrast from the industrial days (Bell, 2016)

A modern, urbanised city. An extreme contrast from the industrial days (Bell, 2016)

As part of my research for the Unit X project, I took it upon myself to understand the root meanings of Engels’ works and after deciding as a team to approach the ‘Working Class Condition’ theme, I began to come to grips with Engels’ ideas and how these intertwine with the working conditions of Manchester. In particular, we wanted to focus on the changes of the working class condition in the city and how they differ over time. This focus gives us a plan to create an installation that would reflect on and be heavily influenced by these changes. 

One highlight of Engels’ notes was that the working class and industrial zones of Manchester had a broad social and economic impact on the city. In Steven Marcus’ book, ‘Engels’, Manchester, and the Working Class’, he states “Manchester, the site and centre of the first Industrial Revolution, a new kind of city in which the formation of a new kind of human world seemed to be occurring” (Marcus, 1974). This is something I’d like to explore in our piece. This notion of change from an economic and industrial powerhouse that we call Manchester, to today’s more modernised city that is now a shadow of its former self.

I was first drawn to this idea after seeing photographer Neil Pearson’s images of Manchester. He takes an image in the exact same position as a photographer would have during the later years of the industrial revolution - a collaboration over time.  

(Pearson, 2014)

(Pearson, 2014)

I intend to explore this idea of ‘old and new’ and the impression this has on the city as I feel this reflects on Engels’ thoughts on the city and even England as a whole. As a filmmaker, I am interested in the documentation of the world and the different ways you can record a moment in time. This installation will allow me to explore these alternative methods. This has been one of the most captivating aspects of my research - learning about the city that I now live in, in particular its pivotal role in the industrial revolution.  

Super 8 and its influence

As part of the Unit, we had been provided with Super 8mm cameras, something as a filmmaker I have always wanted to work with. Using the Super 8 around the city was a pivotal part of our research. It allowed me to see Manchester through someone else's eyes - to get a fresh perspective of what Manchester and its history means. Furthermore, with a limited amount of film, it allowed us to hone in on the meaningful parts of the city. This process gave us a guideline on what we wanted to do in our piece and steered us in a direction - one where we could explore the changes in the city. 

A screenshot of Vicki Thornton’s Everything which we call nature...(Thornton, 2008)

A screenshot of Vicki Thornton’s Everything which we call nature...(Thornton, 2008)

When discussing these initial thoughts with our tutor, she introduced us to a visual artist called Vicki Thornton, who works between the gallery and cinema. Vicki works with 16mm film in one particular production called ‘Everything which we callnature…' (Everything which we call nature..., 2008), which was collaborated with and supported by no.w.here. In this piece she uses a process in which the film is overlaid with shapes that she has manually added to the image, frame by frame. She says it “explores the space between imaged and imagined space, abstraction and reality” (Thornton, 2008). I’m interested in ‘exploring’ the space between what is present today and what isn't i.e the change in working conditions and people, as well as the impression the people have made on the city.

My aims for enquiry

The next steps are to work strongly as a collaborative group and take this initial research and begin to develop a solid plan of action to get the idea onto screen. I want to take this research and create a project that has Engels’ routed throughout and reflects on Manchester, its people and its industrial role.

Engels, F. (1971) The condition of the working class in England. 1st ed. Blackwell Publishing
Marcus, S. (1974) Engels, Manchester, and the working class. 1st ed. New York: Random House.
Pearson, N. (2014) http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/article6887900.ece. [image].
Thornton, V. (2008) Everything which we call nature - Vicki Thornton. Vickithornton.com. [Online] [Accessed on 4 May 2017] http://www.vickithornton.com/everything-which-we-call-natur/4592681276.

Part 2 - Enquiry and investigation

Working in a collaborative environment with people who have different skills has not only brought the project to life, but has allowed me to learn and take new knowledge forwards into my own professional work. Filmmakers will collaborate with both photographers and animators in the professional world and therefore this is essential experience. Collaborating has also helped bring our ideas into reality and allows us each to focus on different tasks and specialise, creating better work.  

An early plan

An early plan

Prior to filming, in a team meeting we decided to film parts of Manchester that were a result of the industrial times - images of the working force of the city and symbols of the state of the working class environment today. For example, we have an image of a workman’s glove left on the concrete floor - symbolic of a change in the amount of work happening today. As mentioned in part 1, this whole process provided us with the foundations to build our ideas upon. 

Hence, one of the first decisions was to use the Super 8mm film. Not only was it a creative decision from the start, but it was a brand new process for us all. Working with a new material you are unfamiliar with and being out of your comfort zone can lead to interesting results. This therefore led onto the second key development of deciding to rotoscope over the footage we had shot. Through this method we can digitally draw over the footage we have to create a moving animation. These animations will have deeper meanings besides them being drawings, they will be symbolic of the impressions the people have on the city and will bring them to the forefront of our production. 

I would like to use Super 8 in my own practice as a filmmaker. I believe that Super 8 is one of the most basic forms of filmmaking and it is testing to work within the constraints of film length. It drives you to produce quality over quantity. Furthermore, contextually, it puts you in the shoes of those who had to work with that material and this helps question your abilities as a filmmaker. 


When out filming with Zoe to collect footage of Manchester, her photographer’s eye and my filmmakers abilities came into play. Her input into each shot helped refine the image and it provided us with improved compositions. It is interesting to get another perspective on the frame and when we’re further developing our project, Zoe’s photographers ability will come in useful as she will be able to give input into the framing and angles of each image in post production.

Plan of action and additional research

The next steps are to, as a team, delegate the jobs to each member according to their skills. Lewis and Tanya will work away on the rotoscoping and we will meet frequently to discuss progress and development, as well as putting forward ideas and steps to help us move onto the next checkpoint. For my own knowledge, as we will be working with After Effects (After Effects, 2017), I will further develop my understanding of the software so that when it comes to compositing our work, I will be able to help the animators construct the piece. I would also like to further my knowledge on the development of the working class in Manchester as a whole and how it has changed. I have taken a book from the library named “The Working Class in Mid Twentieth-Century England” (Jones, 2012) and I intend to further my research to help aid my project and personal knowledge. 

After Effects. (2017) Adobe.
Jones, B. (2012) The working class in mid twentieth-century England. 1st ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Part 3 - Reflection

Personal Development and Engagement

During this project I have built upon my skills as a team player. Firstly, I feel I am more able to share and take on board skills from other team members. Working with animators in particular gave me an insight into how they work and what is possible. In addition, Zoe’s photography insight into the delivery has helped shape the project’s visuals, which are predominantly moving. Working collaboratively and having faith in each others abilities has helped us all work well together. This will most certainly be carried forward into my own team work with filmmakers alike.  

Throughout the unit I was involved in numerous activities in order to gain a better understanding of the task. One of my strengths in the beginning was working to understand how we could approach the task and the research needed. Having been provided with the brief from the start, I made a concerted effort to go and have a look at the exhibition space so I could see what scale we were working with, then I could inform the team. Secondly, I attended the projection mapping tutorial which helped me understand the role of projectors in the gallery environment - which helped inform the project, giving me insight into how an installation could function. This is something that I developed over the course of the project - thinking about how images and video can work within a space and the affect it has on the audience. I attended the Live Video Performance tutorial with Chris as well as the tutorial groups with Jenny Baines, she helped us in the development of our project. I thoroughly engaged with these discussions and built upon the advice we’d been given.

Reflecting on decisions

The decision to work with Super 8 was a good one. The aesthetic of each image worked well with what we were trying to achieve and its aged look reflected the idea of changes in time. In a sense, Super 8 was the camera for the working class - cheap, quick and accessible to the people and so using it seemed almost poetic. 

During my research I began to understand Engels, his ideologies and thoughts on Manchester and the working class. In hindsight, I would have looked into this in even more depth, not just his ideas on the working class, but the effects they had on the cities’ infrastructure. It would've been interesting to examine the sheer contrast between the wealthy and poor and perhaps explore that in our production. 


Communication between the team was effective. It was primarily verbal, as we met up frequently to discuss progress, but we also used social media to plan and exchange thoughts. It gave us the opportunity to exchange pictures, links and other information. 

I communicated my ideas to my peers with courtesy and respect for their counter opinions. All of our ideas came together and amalgamated into one and this is testament to our personal and team relationship. These discussions took the form of verbal communication as it would've been difficult over social media. I learnt a lot about communicating with peers who have different skills and abilities as well as using that to get the best results. 

What I’ve learnt and my motivations

I learnt a lot about using 8mm cameras and how they operate and I would like to further improve these skills in the future. The footage I shot was nowhere near perfect and thus I will most certainly work with this medium again to improve. As a filmmaker it will make me more versatile and ready to work with new methods of filmmaking.

One of my key motivations during this unit was to deliver something visually interesting. Seeing the live performance that Chris had previously made, as well as the capabilities of projection mapping, I was driven to make something that could grab the attention of the audience. I value audience engagement and this task was an opportunity to create something that could test this. 

This whole process has introduced me to the ‘gallery’ space, something I had little interest in prior to this. I would like to work in this field again and perhaps explore projecting my images onto different spaces for different effect.


My favourite snaps!

I've been to quite a few countries so far and I'm very lucky to do so. Here are a few of my favourite snaps from my journeys, as well as a few from my home, England.

Munich, Germany

Seattle, WA, USA

Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Ovingham, England

Corfu, Greece

San Francisco, CA, USA

East Sussex, England