For the week of September 24th through October 1st, I have been working on background research and planning for a documentary project with City Limits. The two topics that Jarrett and I narrowed our search down to were a photoessay on the Rockaway Pipeline or follow up interviews with individuals from my senior thesis film. The senior thesis film was a reactionary piece to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We investigated how government and community action responded to the needs of families impacted by the storm. For the time being, I am focusing on reconnecting with the families that we interviewed directly after Hurricane Sandy. This piece would be a retrospective look at the event to commemorate the fast-approaching, one-year ‘anniversary’ date (not quite a cause for celebration). We hope to discover what help has been given to families in need up to this point, what assistance is still needed, how government agencies could improve their disaster relief response, and what these families might do differently if there is another severe weather event such as this.
I think it would be most relevant to my course of study at this point to utilize what I have learned thus far in my independent study course to outline key points for future documentary film and photography projects. This is not only useful for me now, but will be useful in the future when pursuing similar journalistic endeavors.
I will start with Photo Albums: Image of Time and Reflections of Self. I feel that much of the photography displayed on this website would be defined as amateur rather than professional photography. Most of my images are not self-sufficient without a narrative to accompany them. They can not be displayed independent of captions or background information. The compositions that I am drawn to the most are not planned in advance. Each photo essay that I have posted on this site has deep personal meaning to me, mostly because of the subjects that I photographed. The style that manifests itself through my photographs are based on the emotional immediacy that I feel at the given time and the psychological realities surrounding me. The content behind the subject and compositions in these photographs can be defined as latent, but the nature of the photographs as a whole are spontaneous and dynamic. My work deliberately covers up as much as it discloses. The moments that I have chosen to display are not the full truth of my reality. They do not reveal the gritty moments of my life, only the times when I’ve felt the most passion and drive.
My photographic essays need narration. That is very clear. The viewers need to be able to fully understand the storyline at hand and the depth of these moments. Otherwise they are just floating images, stripped of meaning and context. They can not stand on their own. For my future professional work, I will need to spend more time and effort constructing a complete narrative to accompany my photo essays.
In A Stop Sign at the Intersection of History and Biography, Hanson primarily discusses the way that photographic images are useful in an educational environment. He states that the key to ensuring that a photograph makes the fullest impression that it can, is to allow students adequate time to honestly investigate an image. The educator needs to choose one specific image, allow the students time to practice their interpretation either verbally or on paper, and then return to a group discussion.
The critical point here is to present an image in the context of larger issues occurring at the time. These issues could be historical, political, or social. In my future projects, I will need to conduct adequate background research on the subject matter at hand. This will help to position the actions of individuals in society within the larger, societal struggles. I will, also, need to present this material within the documentary film or photography project. This will help the audience to draw connections between the photograph or film and society as a whole. Lastly, it is important to make sure the photographs that I am presenting are self-sufficient. Each photograph should have a meaning or purpose that is relevant to the idea that I am trying to represent to the viewer.
In An Experimental French Journal, Grignon highlights the importance of allowing the audience to reach their own conclusions. This is achieved through presenting all of the research materials to the viewing audience. He encourages journalists to step back from the stylistic conventions that dictate the presentation of their research. The goal in pursuing this course of action is to free the material from scholarly language that can obscure or distort the true value in journalistic exposition. The type of research presentation suggested here encourages involvement rather than detachment with the subject matter at hand.
This is applicable to my film and photography work, because this type of workflow encourages social involvement. I can incorporate these ideas into my documentary work in the future by deconstructing my narratives. By this I mean that I can present issues through facts and documentary evidence, highlight the patterns present in this data, but allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. This would strengthen the piece by encouraging dialogue and involvement in social issues, rather than forcing a particular point of view on the audience.
In Grounding Visual Sociology Research in Shooting Scripts, Suchar presents a method for integrating visual representations of the real with theory-based research. Suchar highlights the value of using photographs to develop shooting scripts. Shooting scripts are a list of research topics or questions that can help the researcher to reveal patterns in a given environment over a longer period of time. Using photographs as documentations of the real has the power to ground abstractive or conceptual data. After this data has been recorded, analysis, conceptualization, and further inquiry can be carried out. The entire process facilitates the development of a timeline or narrative. This narrative then can assist the researcher in drawing conclusions.
The field research method shooting scripts is relevant to my documentary work, because it encourages sustained involvement with a project over an extended period of time. This type of perspective can benefit my work by increasing the depth of my analysis and give the audience a more complete understanding on a given issue. As a photographer and filmmaker, this method can help me ground my photographs in the historical and social realities of the time.
The Portrayal and Betrayal article highlights the need for the photographer to have a personal stake in the projects that they pursue. There should be a driving force that ignites the passion of the journalist. This ensures that they will be motivated to push forward with a project, even when it is not practical or realistic. All of the projects that I have been involved in can be traced back to a deeper passion that I feel to strive to accurately represent the truth.
In Visual and Verbal Critique, Chaplin argues that the power of truth in documentary film and photography has been degraded by the public’s overexposure to a simulated reality. She believes that the only way to combat this dilemma is to appeal to the masses through sentiment and nostalgia. Human beings attach importance to inherited objects and ideas. This will not negate the fabricated images that bombard us from the media, but it will motivate society to reflect more on the messages that they are exposed to. She states that this will allow individuals to recognize the value in their emotions and social connections, and can restore a truthful perception of space and time.
This applies to my documentary work, because it emphasizes the importance of appealing to an audience’s emotions. Without a personal connection to the audience, the motivation to view your work will be greatly diminished. They would not be exposed to a truthful representation of reality and all the work I will have done would be valueless.
To recap, the main points that I should take away from the articles that I have studied thus far include:
Include strong historical context and narration for clarity of understanding.
Create self-sufficient photographic images that can communicate a given message effectively with the audience.
Allow the audience to draw their own conclusions.
Maintain a high level of involvement with a project over an extended period of time to improve the depth of analysis of a given issue and the audience’s understanding of the research.
Be motivated by passion or desire to tell the truth in a given situation.
Appeal to the audience’s sentiment.
Additional Notes from Visual and Verbal Critique: Update October 6, 2013.
The media operates as a sign structure. The stages of capitalism mirror the stages of development of a sign system. Consumer objects are used in our society to constitute a system of identification and to differentiate individuals within the population. The object has its effect on the individual when it is consumed. When a given object is purchased or consumed it transfers its meaning to the consumer.
A potentially infinite play of signs order society, while providing the individual with an illusionary sense of purpose and self determination. The relation of word, image or meaning is dissolved and reconstructed. The force of the meaning of any given object is derived from desire and fantasy, instead of utility.
The only way to fight this system for freedom and self determination from these symbolic objects that pervade our everyday life is through the demystification of desire. Answers can be drawn from a state of active passivity. This passivity aids photographic seeing, which in turn allows the individual to find the unspoken gaps in political discourse. We need to deconstruct the constructed capitalist reality to find Truth.
Visual representation and communication reaches deeper than critique to inspire political change using deconstruction. Deconstruction entails investigation, raising a challenge to the system, and finally exposing the flaws in capitalist ideology. The use of visual representation to deconstruct the pervasive ideology produces demystification. Demystification is a permanent revolution. This instrument can allow us to see through the gaps of dominant ideologies.
Capitalism uses power to control desire for profit. The temporary release from capitalism is seen as fantasy. However, visual art holds the power to free desire from fantasy by denying verbal discourse. When verbal discourse is denied, the gaps in the dominant ideology are revealed.
The measures that must be take for such a feat to be successful include actions such as active passivity, drifting not navigating, the denial of a purposeful argument, and reliance in imagination not the system. These measures are necessary for the silence in society to finally be revealed. The pursuit of deconstruction can not be by definition deconstructive, instead it should strive to be formally innovative. (If this pursuit was deconstructive by definition it would have to involve discourse, not visual representation).