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  • Andrew Spragg

(ESSAY) Filming with Namida Red, by Andrew Spragg

Trailer still from the film Negative Worlds, featuring Nisha Ramayya filmed surrounded in red.

Andrew Spragg takes us on a journey through the filmmaking trajectories of Namida Red, otherwise known as Edmund Hardy, in the lead up to his upcoming film Negative Worlds (2024). This essay-reviews walks through the many sites the two of them explore during the making, from Argylle Estate, to a Kingsmill Factory, slipping through detours, into other-wordly possibilties

My friend Jen calls it “the p-word”. Code for getting too misty-eyed about a particular walk or place, inscribing it with intangible and mystical properties. It is the kind of tedious cliche that keeps Iain Sinclair in work, and less notable acolytes applying the word “liminal” to any space not immediately recognisable from a postcard. However, during the first lockdown,  we all seemed to become psychogeographers by state mandate. 

For my dad, this meant discovering patches of woodland on the corners of housing estates, former waste ground rewilded and enclosed with wicker fences. More in step with Richard Mabey’s brownfield excursions than Sinclair’s work, it suited his lifelong interest in photography. The mating and nesting cycles of swans became his prevailing preoccupation. The occasional walks we did, when permitted, consisted of long silences looking across the water in the distributed mists. 

We are slipping from this detour to another detour. 

Namida Red, otherwise Edmund Hardy, has spent most of his time from 2020 to the present day making films. They are compelling, joyful and melancholy things. There is an intimacy that seemed unavailable in any other format at the time of the lockdown. Online calls did not allow the same proximity as a close-up, did not afford the viewer with the same opportunity to just absorb a shot, to be in the presence of another person and not need to say anything. The films feel personal, and for anyone fortunate enough to spend time with Hardy they can’t help but be. Negative Worlds, the culmination of his filming over the last few years, meditates on possible other worlds, other-worldly possibilities, while being anchored by a group of friends and collaborators. It is celebratory – an invitation to escape out into the archipelagos of a community. We may not be able to have our impossible world in one piece, though in having de-centered it into fragments, little spaces to inhabit, we might have just enough of it to escape notice and survive.

Our first few walks were around routes closest to us. Argall Estate was in transition, with the beginnings of artist workshops, baker co-operatives, and a small restaurant that gained Guardian notoriety over the course of the pandemic before closing in late 2022. These stand in sharp contrast to the industrial laundromat for hotels (largely shuttered for 2020-21, now regularly leaving cards in my postbox advertising 40 hour per week positions), lock-ups with bleached photos of Russian-imported foodstuffs, a couple of garages and several pentecostal churches. 

There was a Kingsmill factory that permeated the air with baking. However, not a single loaf of bread was visible in its backlot, any time of the day, even when the lorries arrived to be loaded. It was a mystery when the actual process of shipping the bread occurred, though this happening late-night under flood lights occasionally crops up in the dreams I have. In the summer, a rally of souped-up sports cars conducted drag races around the estate, using the roundabout at the end to carve wild donuts. I sifted my foot through the dense litter of stainless steel canisters and discarded bottles of budweiser left behind, just to see what sound it makes. 

There are two highlights of our visits. The first is stopping to film a mechanical claw that lifts scrap metal and feeds it to a mysterious hopper. The bracken around the junk yard is thick but you can see where slick water and oil is leaching into the soil. There are face masks and lone rubber gloves strewn in the branches, cans bleached by the sun on the ground. Across the months I toy with a phrase, something about discarded PPE accumulating in migratory drifts, but it doesn’t find a home anywhere. 

The second highlight is a large, fiberglass maneki-neko, chained up outside a Chinese supermarket and cash and carry. I hold the camera as Hardy stands and sits next to it. This process of gradually accumulating material to edit and refine is one I see as an extension of Hardy’s writing - a clear-sighted instinct of what works and what doesn’t, but the willingness to gather too much and discard as needed later. He never strikes me as prone to self-doubt, particularly about the merits of his creative work; just eager and engaged with whatever calls for tinkering. I remember a visit to a flat loaded with books, right up into the improbable attic bathroom, where a biography of Blair sat in a sideways stack by the bath. Another byproduct of London living, the conflict between slowly accreting material, work or research, and the precarious space in which one lives. 

I assumed that an appealing aspect of working with digital film is the scope of what you can achieve and create without needing more than you can carry. I’m later proven wrong, as Hardy shows me his enormous neon-lit PC, which looks like a prop from a financially unviable film adaptation of Neuromancer. As he edits and renders his films, it radiates epic waves of heat and light. 

The notion of space is a critical one, several locations collapse into one another in Hardy’s films. You wonder at times where shots have been gathered - some places are clearly European or Japanese - others the interior of a club somewhere local, shot guerrilla style, or someone’s house and back garden. Locations stretch and stitch together to create a new kind of geography, one formed by personal associations, long trips across short distances and minor incursions. We find a hole in a fence by the rail line and encounter a landscape not unlike Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Moribund brownfield, the low stretch of autumnal sunlight across the bracken and the cool angles of the trackside fencing. I am press-ganged into taking a few shots myself, but an unsteady hand means most of these are unusable.

We discuss closing songs, parting images and the moment where the narrative stops and the credits roll. We swap memories of films that have done this successfully, the hush that rolls in after the last image. The last film I saw before the pandemic was A Portrait of a Woman on Fire - it was a mid-afternoon screening and we sat and gathered ourselves in the quiet of the BFI screen. A moment later, and we were walking out to the river's edge - the cool blue of those epic London skies complementing the vivid colours of the film, its singular and crisp statement. It feels like a linchpin memory, one at the centre of a time of life that describes a network of other times, other places and other feelings, all routed through that moment in the mind. 

In its harnessing of good faith from friends, the casting of tolerant accomplices, Namida Red’s work recalls that of Jeff Keen. Although more meditative, less frenetic, than Keen’s work, there are similar gestures: children’s toys repurposed as props, waste areas dressed as sets. It is film on the move, made with resources, labour and time borrowed from wherever they can be made available. Another touch-stone, one that is explicit in our conversations, is Patrick Keiller. The harnessing of place in the service of a narrative about flows of capital (political and material) mirrors Keiller’s Robinson trilogy. The distinction is that Hardy’s place is less bound in time or location. Though shot across a number of real cities, gives it has an internal landscape of its own. While Keiller’s London relies on our recognition of pieces of the city, albeit made uncanny and strange, Hardy’s work unhinges into improbable geographies. This is a double gesture in some cases. One actor holds up an oversized plastic gun, clearly a prop, but its baroque decals and obscene proportions serve to underline the fantasy of it all. This film is a refusal of limitations, an expansive pushing out of space to make its dimensions fit a different narrative.

Within Negative Worlds there is something utopian; within its choices as a production, its story and its methods. Namida Red’s thematic concerns have been catalyzed by the pandemic, but they also suggest a way of being in the world beyond it. The steady and slow accretion of materials was something noted by actor and poet, Nisha Ramayya, in a recent social media post about Hardy’s book Every Cruel Thing (Monitor Books, 2022): 'The red threads running through Every Cruel Thing intersect with and warp his upcoming Negative Worlds film and the Teanancy graphic novella in ways that puzzle, excite and edify. Edmund’s work is structured on the inside and out by friendship, collaboration, and the dreams that work upon us and that we work out together.' As one of Namida Red’s closest collaborators, she’s well placed to make the assessment, and Hardy’s work is one of patient engagement with multiple narratives, multiple forms and multiple selves. Just as Robinson might be the protagonist of London or the Orson Welles cut-out of Chris Petit’s novel, or, more crucially, the delirious narrative hinge for Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, so we have a multiplying of possibilities in those endeavors and assemblages of Hardy/Namida Red . The accomplishment is one we won’t even realise until those objects and elements are placed side by side, and some trace of the original messages can begin to be decoded. 

The lifting of the restrictions saw both my parents driving to my flat in Leyton. We took a walk across the Walthamstow Wetlands, close to where Namida Red and I had spent afternoons filming and talking. Swifts and swallows dived at waist height around us. Despite repeated suggestions that he bring his camera beforehand, I discovered dad had left it at home. He took a few blurred photographs with “my” camera, a hand-me-down Olympus of his. For all their amateurishness, the shutter smearing the birds’ motion brown across gray ruffled water, I can’t bring myself to delete them. 


Text: Andrew Spragg

Image: Trailer still from Negative Worlds, by Namida Red, featuring Nisha Ramayya.

Published: 13/12/2023


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