Close Up

13 - 20 January 2023: Strange Objects: Reflections on British Colonial Legacies


Amidst the debate sparked by calls for the return of historical artefacts to the countries from which they were plundered, we present a two-part programme of films by Miranda Pennell that use archive photographs as a starting point for a reflection on British colonial legacies.

Programme 1
With Miranda Pennell and artist and writer Kamila Kuc in conversation.

The Host  
Miranda Pennell, 2015, 60 min

A filmmaker turns forensic detective as she pieces together hundreds of photographs in search of what she believes to be a buried history, only to find herself inside the story she is researching. The Host investigates the activities of British Petroleum (BP) in Iran; a tale of power, imperial hubris and catastrophe. While the tectonic plates of geopolitical conspiracy shift in the background, the film asks us to look, and look again, at images produced by the oil company and personal photos taken by its British staff in Iran – including the filmmaker’s parents – not for what they show, but for what they betray. The Host is about the stories we tell about ourselves and others, the facts and fictions we live by – and their consequences.

“This sober, respectful and devastating work is one of the year’s highlights, a quiet and insistent probe into the act of making and marking territory, of the way identity is constructed in serial acts of necessary blindness” – Mike Hoolboom


Programme 2
With Miranda Pennell and artist Jananne Al-Ani in conversation

Why Colonel Bunny Was Killed
Miranda Pennell, 2010, 28 min

Triggered by the memoirs of a medical missionary on the Afghan borderlands, the film is constructed from archive photographs of colonial life on the Northwest Frontier of British India at the turn of the 20th century. Searching for clues at the margins of images framed at a time of colonial conflict, the film plays sound against image and finds striking continuities in British portrayals of a distant place and people.

“A fascinating example of colonial forensics, which used a forgotten memoir entitled Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier as the starting point for a suggestive and never dogmatic exploration of Englishness, subaltern history and the relationship between empire and photography.” – Sukdhev Sandhu

Strange Object
Miranda Pennell, 2020, 15'20 min  

The ‘Z’ Unit’s operation in a world far from our own was an experiment of sorts, a test. And this place, inhabited by beings different from ourselves, served as a laboratory. A successful outcome would secure the Z Unit’s future, enabling its enterprise to expand and its methods to be applied to other worlds. An investigation into imperial image-making, and destruction.

“In this short, wounded history of a coloniser and their Other, the narrator gives us a disordered alphabet of war. Around her an audible story unfolds of people quietly pacing hallways, ruffling through pages, in search of truth, right where it might be in its most inaccessible form”. – Camilla Peeters

Trouble (work-in-progress)
Miranda Pennell, 2023, 30 min

“Everyone knows about the curse of the ancient mummy”. England has been colonised by a marauding spirit as the Empire’s undead speak back to the film’s troubled investigator. The second part of an ongoing project on aerial photography and colonial bombing during the so-called interwar years.