top of page


“Countless layers of ideas, images, feelings have fallen successively

on your brain as softly as light. It seems that each buries the preceding,

but none has really perished”

Charles Baudelaire

Portrait in time and gesture considers the oscillations of a human being's sense of identity over time. Reflecting on the tradition of the photographic portrait – conventionally taken to offer a definitive representation of its subject –Portrait makes manifest the inconsistencies and displacements inherent to a subjects' life trajectory by presenting a figure who, via her gestural movements, in turn separates and re-unites with itself. 

"Calling itself a portrait, the film itself adopts certain techniques and features of classic portraiture: its subject is framed frontally, at eye level, and stares directly into the camera. However, where classic portraits bring forward (por) the traits of their subjects (trait), as if the traits were there, inhering in the subject’s being, Rocamora’s filmic portrait largely strips her subject and her world of their identifying traits and, instead, brings forward what is, in a sense, behind their identities: the temporal, performative and omissive nature of identity (time and gesture). The mise-en-scène and sound design deprive us of any but the barest identifying traits.


The subject’s full body coverings suggest she’s religious, perhaps an Orthodox Jew or a Christian nun, in what could be a place of prayer or worship (distant church bells can be heard). It is tempting to see her, as feminism long regarded devout women, as simply oppressed by patriarchy. But the cinematography and editing disclose something different. The film consists exclusively of two identically framed, superimposed shots. In each shot, the woman appears translucent as she performs a distinct series of movements. The two shots combined produce a single choreography, within which the woman both departs from and returns to herself, appearing at times pious, reverential and fearful, as well as irreverent and defiant, only occasionally leading to the appearance of unity, opacity and full presence.

As much as her identity is bound to her background, who she is, fundamentally, is the rifts and the gaps, the act of performance taking place, within herself. Following philosopher Judith Butler’s theories on gender, we might say that even for this devotee to be subservient within patriarchy, she still must perform a role, even if she, in part, internalizes and identifies with it. But if the role must be performed and identified with, then it is not endemic to who she is."


Mark Cauchi

University of York, Toronto

Catalogue Essay, Troubled Histories, Ecstatic Solitudes

Koffler Gallery

Film stills of Portrait

Dagestani, visual reference for Portrait © Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, date unknown.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944), a Russian chemist fascinated with photography, created, well ahead of his time, a photographic technique to capture images in black and white on glass plate negatives, using red, green and blue filters. He then presented these images in color using slides with a light-projection system involving the same three filters. A single, narrow glass plate about 3 inches wide by 9 inches long was placed vertically into the camera. He then photographed the same scene three times in fairly rapid progression using each of the three filters.

Rocamora was fascinated by Mikhailovich’s use of plates as a technique of ‘triple exposure’ that condenses three discreet points in time into one instant – in his case to render photographic colour possible. The intention behind Portrait is to make manifest the uniqueness of each distinct moment, thereby expanding the notion of portraiture by visualising the oscillating nature of one's notion of one's identity over time. 

Dagestani, visual reference for Portrait © Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, date unknown.

Visual reference of early portraiture

Dagestani, visual reference for Portrait © Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, date unknown.
Dagestani, visual reference for Portrait © Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, date unknown.
Dagestani, visual reference for Portrait © Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, date unknown.

In the centre, the original composite image, the triple negative on glass, shown here in positive form.
On the left a single black and white frame and on the right the three black and white frames used
to produce the final overlaid image, photographed in turn through blue, green and red filters.

Portrait in Time and Gesture has been exhibited in two versions: as single screen ‘double exposure’ [video overlay] film (image on the right) and as a ‘triple exposure’ live installation, where the front and back images are projected and the middle presence is live (central header image).

Installation view of Portrait in Time and Gesture at the Koffler Gallery Toronto. Documented by Toni Hafkenscheid. © 2015

Written, directed, choreographed by: Isabel Rocamora • Featuring: Tilly Leyser • Shot and edited by: Isabel Rocamora • Assistant technician: Al Livingstone • Commissioned by: Signals Media, •  Funded by: Arts Council England • Produced by: Isabel Rocamora for the Isabel Rocamora Studio (Infinito Productions). Year of production: 2005.

bottom of page