The Next Projectionist: Notes from The Void

By Camille Brooks


My room, which is small and self-contained, has held me for so long I am almost as familiar with it as I am my own mind. Although small, there are still bits of it I do not use. Secrets are uncovered almost daily; I'll catch a glimpse of something new, an old socket for example hidden behind the wardrobe, a failed web where a spider waited months for something to happen, an entire spider's life. Something familiar but lit a different way. I rarely tidy, relying instead on the tidal drift of squalor from one pile to another. I rarely buy anything new. The familiar becomes forgotten, buried, and then turns up again, usually when I lose a sock or an important document and start chucking things about a bit. I found a toy egg today with a robot inside, his head went round when you opened the egg.

Nobody had played with him for half a decade. The emotion of this discovery was akin to finding an entire spider orphanage in the corner of the room, dried into a silent tableau of neglect, the loss of a hopeful idea, the rekindling too late.

Four and something years ago I acquired the position of part-time projectionist in a London cinema. It got me out of my room at last. I'd become so calcified and insular I had almost forgotten that light was playing elsewhere, over magnificent plains and vistas, into other rooms, and never the same twice – everything is buried and turned over by light, all surfaces are re-invented every second. You are never more aware of the transience of light and time than when watching a film clatter through the gate of a projector: there is no rewind, each frame is a moment lost forever, encapsulated for a moment lost forever. The lamp that throws these moments onto the wall is made to evoke the real light outside, a memory of light. Headlights of a submarine in the ballroom of an ocean liner. That is cinema.

The projectionist is responsible for all the lights in the building, bringing them down before each show and up again after, changing the bulbs wherever they go. I do the lights behind the posters as you come in the door, the bright lights in the box office for checking notes; globes over the cafe that catch flies no matter how many times you empty them... they light up the sweeping staircase to a circle that is normally closed, and down to a triangular lobby. There are toilets and a telephone exchange, everything you would find on land; you follow the signs until you end up in the pit, with only a memory of where you came in. Green lamps indicate the escape route. The floor gets taken away when the lights go down, that's my job.

head-land-camille-brooks-2.jpgHead Land, 2006

Surrounding this circus is a network of rooms you never see, which I have the keys to. Some of them are visited every day, others only twice a year to check the emergency light fittings. They are the organs of the building. Their names, when you read them on the key ring, suggest a bottomless Victorian underworld: the Intake Room, the Vault Store, the Old Boiler Room, the Letters Room, the Tape-Slide Workshop, The Void.

For a number of years I tried to be a writer. I looked for a room that was quiet and cheap; imagining that by shutting out the external it would be possible to open myself up to internal regions, and to document them. In the absence of a lamp the memory of light must be found elsewhere. That is writing. I couldn't do it. I found the room and sat, stupid and open, like a carnival clam, my internal regions withered into exhibits. I walked out of the room and got a job as part-time projectionist.

It wasn't as easy as that. I walked out of the room and went looking for places in the city where I had once been vaguely inspired, to do what I don't know – hours spent staring at shop fronts and playgrounds, trying to get them to work again; ending always in a cemetery or one of those parks where they stack the gravestones against the wall. I began to worry about where my search for silence was leading me: that quiet room, where nobody came visiting. The cinemas that first lured me to town were vanishing, gone multiscreen or multi-storey, locations I once understood had been paved over, pedestrianised, or looked like part of a theme park.

Everything I found failed to resonate.

The projection room saved me from this. With its solar system of reels and pulleys, internal lamps that spilled onto the back wall, I saw the machines of the imagination had been rumbling somewhere all along. I felt useful suddenly, a working cog in a moving lighthouse. Those years of failed writing I now locked into the Letters Room, the rest I keep in The Void. If I was any kind of writer I would describe it to you.

Visit and support the Rio Cinema, Dalston, Hackney, London

Camille Brooks is a writer and projectionist. This is an extract – to read the full version please visit

From the Floating World

When one has stopped loving somebody, one feels that he has become someone else, even though he is still the same person.

In a garden full of evergreens, the crows fall asleep. Then, towards the middle of the night, the crows in one of the trees wake up in a great flurry and start flapping about. Their unrest spreads to the other trees, and soon all the birds have been startled from their sleep and are cawing in alarm. How different from the same crows in daytime!  – The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon