Seams and Embers, her second animated film, was made as part of a residency at National Mining Museum Scotland and observes a young miner during his early working days in the 1940s through to his experiences as an old man following the closure of the Scottish pits in the 1980s.
What was it about the subject of mining in Scotland that drew you in and what new challenges (if any) did it bring to the animation processing?
The 84/85 miners’ strike was probably the awakening of my own political consciousness and coal was so engrained in the domestic, industrial and cultural history of southern Scotland that I couldn't help but be drawn to the challenge of making a film about mining. But my interest is really in the story of people’s lives; not kings and queens and wars, but ordinary people. So much of the politics of wider society is in the telling of one person’s life and that’s the kind of story I like to hear and to tell. National Mining Museum Scotland is rich with resources for this approach, including people working or connected with them who had been miners or part of the mining community and who generously agreed to tell me their own tales. Clips of these recordings form the soundtrack to the film.
Once I had decided what era to set the beginning of my film in, the biggest challenge was to get enough of the domestic and industrial details of the time ‘right enough’ not to jar with people who’d been associated with the mines, but not to get in the way of my creative response to the museum.
Every way I looked at it, I realised it was going to be impossible to get a sense of community in the film with a small cast. In the end I made 11 characters which was more than a little bit crazy.
Using black or darkness in a film seems to be a tricky one to get right but it would have been odd to make a film about mining without any scenes underground. I tried to get round this by creating quick intense snapshots of scenes that were actually fairly brightly lit but through a green filter. I used the filter to mimick an infrared camera, helping the scenes to appear dark whilst also allowing the head torches to shine.
Where’s your creative place? Either your workspace, or another place that sparks your imagination.
If I'm trying to get ideas formed in my head, my favourite place is sitting on a bus. I love the wee cameos of folk that you get through behaviour or overheard conversations and the snippets of lives lived that you see as you pass by.
I also share a studio in Art’s Complex at Meadowbank in Edinburgh with two inspiring animator pals: Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson. It’s good to have some company as well as have someone to bounce ideas off when you emerge from hours in the dark for a break.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When my S1 art teacher said ‘only boring people get bored’ I was struck cold with guilt and fear!
Despite realising (perhaps!) that we can’t decide whether other people find us boring, I resolved then, with the black and white determination of a 12 year old, never to be bored…but maybe I would always have been a bit of a human-doing rather than a human-being. Who knows?
Who is your “one to watch” for the future or someone overlooked from the past that you feel should be better known?
The opportunities for potential audiences to discover great short film makers, including animators, are sadly limited so it’s hard to select just one unsung hero. However, someone whose work I adore and whose name I shout from the rooftops, given half a pan tile and a chimney-pot, is Suzie Templeton. Her films have such beautifully observed characterisation and great dark but real stories.
Is there one decision that you have made, that you know was life-changing? (Question submitted by Alison Kinnaird)
I suppose deciding to go to Telford College in Edinburgh and do a part time art course instead of returning to youth work after a break in employment led places I couldn’t have imagined. At that point I had no intention of going to Edinburgh College of Art or studying animation but the tutors at Telford were so encouraging that one thing led to another and here I am doing this exciting and wonderful job! But decisions in life inevitably intertwine and I still work with children and young people doing animation workshops, which I love.
Seams and Embers is the centrepiece of the Seams in the Dark exhibition, currently on display at the National Mining Museum's home in Newtongrange, Midlothian until the end of May. Entry to the exhibtion is free.
Claire Lamond's residency at the National Mining Musuem was funded through Iconic Artists in Iconic Places; a collaborative project by Museums Galleries Scotland and Creative Scotland that enables artists to cast a new perspective on museum collections, historic sites, and Scotland’s intangible cultural heritage.
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