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Twin Lenses Captures Career Photographers Vision

Originally Posted: October 14, 2008

Sheila Cosgrove Baylis

This week, the Hamptons International Film Festival is featuring films from around the world and around the block. One local film that's sure to be a fest favorite is "Twin Lenses," a documentary that studies the unprecedented careers of Kathryn Abbe, a Montauk resident, and her twin sister Frances McLaughlin Gill. The twins broke through the glass ceiling with their cameras, working for Vogue and other major publications at a time when few women worked as professional photographers.

A beautiful and responsible contribution to Art History, "Twin Lenses" is the creation of East Hampton resident Nina Rosenblum. The film is an expansion of work begun by her mother, Naomi Rosenblum, who wrote "A History of Women Photographers."

Chronicling the lost story of these sister photographers isn't something Dennis Watlington, the film's writer, ever expected. "It was a little off my path," Watlington said, "but these women were true pioneers. And it goes with the theme of American courage that runs through all of our work." Watlington is an Emmy-winning television writer who pens most of Rosenblum's films, including "Twin Lenses." We sat down with Rosenblum and Watlington to find out more about their project and process.

What's it like to work together?

Dennis Watlington: We have a great partnership. She does the researching and filming and I put it together. I like to say that she goes out and gets the groceries and brings them home and then I cook.

Nina Rosenblum: We're like a molecule. Dennis is a structuralist. He writes. I bring in the material. I'm the explorer. Dennis builds the armature and I put the visual parts on.

DW: Nina studied painting. She has the vision of an artist instead of a journalist. Her accuracy makes our films special. Documentaries are written in the editing room. You create a document of intent, but you don't know what you'll be working on until Nina comes back with the footage.

What do you love about the film?

NR: I loved that I got to study these women triumphing over all the obstacles.

DW: In the last scene, it's like the last ball. So many people in the film are deceased now. It's the final flourish. They had such vitality and a strong will to live. They kept it pumping.

What did you learn?

NR: I learned so much from watching [the twins] in action. I learned about the focus that it takes. I learned about making an essence, bringing something down to its essential qualities, the thought process and the visual process.

Nina Rosenblum and Dennis Watlington

DW: I learned that American courage comes in so many shapes and forms.

What's special about this documentary?

NR: Making this kind of film is like making a quilt. We take documentaries and make movies out of them. Our intention is to have as much fun as possible.

DW: We let [the twins] tell their story, as opposed to adding narration. It's fluid. I would be bored if we couldn't make fluid movies.

Why this subject matter?

NR: Women are the unsung contribution to photography. And they did it all while having and raising children. But they have been scanted by histories of the medium. Also, film is a photographic medium. We worked with the way the artist sees the world. With film we get to work on all levels. Both film and photography capture moments in time that would be lost. And the twins chose us. They asked us to do this film about them. They knew our work.

Did they have any artistic influence?

DW: No. They completely trusted us. They knew our work. So they didn't ask for any control over the film.

What's next?

NR: We just finished a film called "In the Name of Democracy." It's about the first American soldier to refuse to participate in Iraq, a war he considered illegal and immoral.

 • Catch a glimpse of "Twin Lenses" during the Hamptons International Film Festival. Click on the website www.HamptonsFilmFest.org for show times.




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