The Katherine Film Stock Experiment

Deep within The Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation archives in Paris are a series of files documenting a film stock experiment from circa 1916. Known as the “Katherine files” (presumably after the name or pseudonym of the model) these files are notable in that their instability suggests the observer effect, as originally hypothesized by Niels Bohr. Once observed, the optical status of the Katherine stock becomes locked down into its observable state, thus preventing it from existing in its other potential states. Within the files, for instance, there are notes dating as far back as 1934 which suggest that the images in “A” Positive exist in the “D” Raw Stock film frames. Other notes from the 1940s go even further and indicate that there are no observable images at all, on either “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D.” Clearly, the Katherine images are an instance (if not literal, then at least metaphorical) of wave function collapse and suggest the as yet unrealized potential for a radical form of filmmaking wherein the observer effect makes possible not only an infinite number of readings of a film, but a single film of infinite capacity.

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