Moholy’s interest in film grew out of his investigations into cameraless photography, which he called “writing with light.” By placing objects and projecting illuminations onto photosensitive paper and then exposing it to light, Moholy composed abstract pictures of image and shadow. He arrived at this technique independently, though Man Ray in Paris and the German painter Christian Schad, working in Italy, had already made similar inroads into cameraless image making. Using a variety of materials to shape and transform light including multiple light sources, metal, glass, tissue, oils, water, and acids, he concluded, “Since these light effects almost always show themselves in motion, it is clear that the process reaches its highest development in the film.”
Moholy had also written about transforming reproductive media into productive media. More than fifty years before the advent of hip-hop, Moholy regarded the gramophone as an instrument onto itself and encouraged musicians and composers to produce new sounds with the device via scratches and noise. Moholy hoped that by studying the grooves of a phonograph via magnification, artists would be able to develop a system of “sound writing” that would obviate the need for the recording of real sound.
Moholy believed Russian Constructivist painter Kasimir Malevich’s White on White (1918) was “the ideal screen for light and shadow effects which reflect the surrounding world in the painting. The manual picture is suppressed by the painterly possibilities of light projection.” Here Moholy imagines repurposing Malevich’s radical minimalist composition as a means to reengage with the “surrounding world” by using the painting as a template on which a new kind of abstract imagery can be generated. Malevich’s absolutism, often understood as a terminal point for abstract painting, is thus transformed into a launching pad for an intermedial future. He extrapolated those ideas further, writing in a letter from 1934, “I want a bare room with twelve projectors so that the white void can be activated by the criss-crossing of beams of colored light.” He also spoke of creating a “dynamic light architecture” that would “unite the ‘sequence’ of music and the ‘juxtaposition’ of painting.”
Moholy further suggested that filmmakers use film’s resources of “color, plasticity and simultaneous displays, either by means of an increased number of projectors concentrated on a single screen, or in the form of simultaneous image sequences covering all the walls of the room.” He also formulated ideas regarding “light cannons” that would project images onto clouds or gas, mobile projectors, malleable screens, and public light displays. Moholy imagined a genuinely experimental cinema liberated from convention and driven by developing technology. In other words, Moholy, writing in 1922, dreamed up the project of expanded cinema.