...and cinematic photographs 12.11.2007, 7:53 PM
posted by dan visel
To make a trifecta of film posts for the day, I'll point out Jonathan Harris's The Whale Hunt. Properly speaking, this isn't a film at all; rather, it's a sequence of 3,214 photographs which Jonathan Harris took over a week's trip to Alaska to observe a traditional whale hunt. Harris has date-stamped, captioned, and tagged (in three ways) each photograph. They appear in a Flash interface which displays the images in sequence: a very long slideshow. What's interesting about Harris's work – and which may merit his declaration that it's "an experiment in human storytelling" is they way in which tags are used in the interface: if you click the whale that appears in the top center of each photographs, you can change the constraints on the sequence of photographs that you're looking at. You can choose to see, for example, only photographs taken in Barrow, Alaska; only photographs featuring the first whale killed; only photographs that show children. Or you can choose a mixture of qualifications. One particularly interesting qualifier is the use of "cadence": you can choose to see pictures that were taken close together in time – presumably when more interesting things were happening – or further apart – when, for example, the narrator is sleeping and has the camera set up to automatically photograph every five minutes.
My sense in playing with it for a bit is that using constraint in this manner isn't a tremendously compelling method of storytelling. It is, however, a powerful way of drilling into an archive to see exactly what you want to see.
steven mandzik on December 11, 2007 9:36 PM:
Wow - just went over and viewed the slideshow, that is amazing. I like the multiple views, the way it auto-plays, good stuff.
Rebecca Lossin on December 12, 2007 1:39 AM:
The last two sentences hint at something truly interesting- that the constraints impeding the pleasure of narrative are an expansion of one's engagement with an archive- with archival, rather than narrative objects.
I would not agree that it is a "powerful way of drilling into and archive to see exactly what you want," for I fail to see how any of these ways of viewing would necessarily increase the precision of a search. But what is, in fact, rather wonderful about it has nothing to do with precision or rates of retrieval to begin with. To offer these alternative entry points and this level of interaction with the context of photographs, greatly alters and expands the context in which these images can be discovered and digested. Traditional finding aids are rather rigid. They only have one order.
And of course one could argue the virtues of one over the other. I am a bit obsessed with difficulty lately so I might favor the creative work of disassembling, say, the institutional narrative presented by ad hoc committees in order to find an interesting narrative over the easy omnipotence of a seamless and instantly gratifying interface- but then I am just a bit cranky about everything with a power chord lately.
bob stein on December 12, 2007 8:05 AM:
it's a very beautiful interface and quite elegantly conceived particularly in relation to the structure of the experience. but as far as drilling down into the archive . . . . unless i missed it, there isn't any way to search the text of the captions. i assume this is an artistic choice, presumably made for aesthetic reasons. but why? why limit viewer's ability to search on the full text?
bowerbird on December 13, 2007 2:09 PM:
> but then I am just a bit cranky about
> everything with a power chord lately.
too old to rock'n'roll, too young to die, eh? ;+)
Rebecca Lossin on December 13, 2007 9:41 PM:
There is nothing "Rock and Roll" about a lap top computer unless Courtney Love is using it to bludgeon an audience member.
bowerbird on December 14, 2007 1:56 PM:
wow, you _are_ cranky, aren't you... :+)
and evidently too emotional to notice that
you spelled "power cord" with an extra "h"
-- transforming it quite a bit in the process --
which explains why you failed to get my joke...
bowerbird on December 16, 2007 1:18 PM:
anyway, to get on-topic, it seems to me that
jeff jarvis has a very nice write-up on this:
> So you could start with a paragraph of text
> and then comes video to illustrate or report
> a point and that video need not be a produced
> piece but could merely be a snippet that
> demonstrates a point better than words can
> (rather than saying the candidate was angry,
> you can show her anger and let her be heard).
> And then comes more text, then a photo,
> then a graphic, then text, with links and
> updates and corrections and tags throughout.
> Ideally, each element can have a permalink
> so others may link and add to the story;
> each element can also expose links and
> commentary from others if you want.
> You get the idea: a story need not be
> a galley of type or a packaged sequence
> of images. It can be both
> an appropriate mix of both now.
his topic of interest is _news_, of course, but
-- as his title to his blog entry suggests --
this approach is applicable to story-telling too,
and indeed to the crafting of books in a manner
that you often speak about here on this blog...
sebastian mary on December 17, 2007 9:04 AM:
To get off-topic again, I read that as describing notions of "the easy omnipotence of a seamless and instantly gratifying interface" as a kind of rhetorical power chord. I rather like that idea - and it's not irrelevant to the often highly emotive tussle between narratives of technological development as tending towards either utopia or atomized chaos.
bowerbird on December 17, 2007 6:49 PM:
oh, a _rhetorical_ power chord...
my oh my, we're getting _poetic_. :+)
p.s. meanwhile, i've taken to
looking over my shoulder often,
making sure that courtney isn't
back there about to bludgeon me.
alex itin on December 19, 2007 2:33 PM:
A beautiful interface.
It would be interesting to so something like this documenting an event recorded by multiple people using multiple media.
I'm reminded of the old Gates Memory project.
Rebecca Lossin on December 28, 2007 4:58 PM:
Actually, drawing that comparison between my spelling mistake and the relative ease or difficulty of using internet archives makes me realize that I need to think about this more carefully. Because while I am really stuck on this 'ease' thing, I also have no desire to make formal demands nor am I necessarily dedicated to rigor (especially for the sake of rigor- I am in fact quite lazy myself) but I can't avoid this sort of knee jerk reaction to facility.
It is a difficult thing to talk about in the context of such and individual and sensitive project however. What bothers me is more along the lines of "look, you can key-word search a relevent quote!" or the "Be more 'well-read' than your co-workers" audio book ads on the subway. No problem with audio books- big problem with reading turning from a carefully prepared meal into a smoothie with suspicious powder supplements (to go)- and one that pretends to give you all the benefits of that meal by adding exotic sounding, trademarked herbs.
I have a feeling that what I keep thinking of as a sort of celebrated laziness is something missing from the discussion surrounding this mass digital migration that I can't quite put my finger on. Any ideas?
Also, I just think the image of Rockstars breaking computers is rather funny (and perhaps pertinent- they used to break guitars right?) but my repeated failure to convey an intended tone via electronic text might be another reason that I am rather wary of certain trends.