Second essay: response to a responsePosted: July 26, 2011
Some thoughts in the wake of my second essay / proto-exegesis attempt:
- Move away from a ‘documentary’ practice.
The more i get into this, the more i consider losing the idea of making ‘documentaries’. After all, what do i get from using it, apart from the extra baggage of the history and context that it brings with it. What do i get from documentary that i do not get from non-fiction? I originally called my practice a documentary practice to distinguish it from a fiction practice. Yet, as seems pretty obvious now, the opposite of fiction is not (necessarily) documentary, but non-fiction. ‘Non-fiction’ lets me keep the basic content that i’m interested in – ie making films from content out there in the ‘real world’ – without it being strung up upon all the baggage that comes with documentary as a term. I make it clear in my essay that that i’m not looking to engage with staples of authenticity, objectivity et al, and really only discuss ‘documentary’ (as social/political agent) when using it as a contrast to the more artistic, less didactic, forms of photography i’m actually interested in… So what do i want with documentary? Not a lot then. Sure, i may refer to my work as documentary to demarcate it from fiction when describing it to the laymen, and yes, the form of the photo-essay i’m interested in does have its roots in documentary practice. But beyond this, and considering this is all there is, ‘documentary’ as a term is out. Non-fiction is in.
- Create some distance between the photo-essay and my practice
So far, my project has been about translating the photo-essay into a video practice. This has meant that everything – the contextual purpose, the equipment, the visual style and composition, design, layout etc – have explicitly been using the photo-essay as a source. In some ways this is true of what i’ve been doing, but for this project to be manageable i think i need to really focus in on one particular aspect to take from the form. Perhaps “an exploration of multi-screen interfaces in non-fiction video (as seen in the photo-essay)”. Or maybe “Non-linear non-fiction – from page to screen: a translation of photo-essay arrangement “. Etcetera etcetera. But it’s feeling like having the stated goal as a video translation of the photo-essay – and thereby addressing every single element that goes into the production of a photo-essay (see above) – is too scattered and a tad overwhelming. Rather than the goal being such a translation, i feel i need to re-orient to use what interests me about the photo-essay as a frame through which i view and address a more concrete, particular problem.
- Define said problem
This really has been floating round for a while now. A translation of a photo-essay into a video practice is not a problem. Yes, it presents and interesting challenge / framework / inspiration from which to create interesting pieces, but the practice of doing so will not really be the answer to a problem or a knowledge claim (or at least as i have been able to define one thus far). I’m beginning to realize that it’s not a good thing that i feel i already have a reasonable idea of what the finished product will look like. If i do, there is obviously no research-through-practice going on. Just practice. Thus slightly negating the whole point of my honours-doing.
So, this needs to be looked at. I have slowly been realizing that the “real” reason behind my initial attraction to the photo essay lay in the format’s ability to enable open, non-expositional, non-fiction audiovisual works, which are as much objects of artistic expression as they were observational documents. I think that’s pretty much what i like about them. Yet to frame that as a research problem, as i really need to be doing in honours, comes out something like “How can one produce observational, expressive, non-fiction audiovisual pieces?” Of course, I have absolutely no idea what the resultant work would look like (beyond being probably nothing like a photo-essay, at least). So the conundrum: I can tell you what a video translation of a photo-essay might look like (and even make one), but doing so would not be the result of an practice-led-research based problem. I can tell you what it is about the photo-essay that interests me, but when that’s framed as a research problem, it’s too huge for the scope of honours, and probably will have little to do with the photo-essay.
Two possible ways forward here. Firstly, somehow frame a research question that addresses the combination of factors behind what interests me about the photo-essay (and do so without getting bogged down in “documentary”). This i see as unlikely, esp. in the remaining 12 weeks. possibly the only way to do this would be narrow down the photo-essay as a frame of reference, by say maybe focusing on the work/technique of a specific photographer, or by specifying a specific type of photo-essay upon which to focus, such as “the photo-essay as portraiture”, or “the photo-essay as news reporting” etc. Secondly, forget such lofty aims of “open non-fiction pieces”, “artistic expression through observational non-fiction” etc. As a research question, focus instead upon a particular aspect of the photo-essay as a catalyst for further exploration. Perhaps, as mentioned, their non-linearity. Or maybe the idea of the layout of multiple videos being a narrative element/technique in itself (possible cheesy title: “Editing Sideways: Video Layout as Aesthetic Practice). The latter particularly would be able to incorporate the photo-essay as a base material in a non-arbitrary manner, as the form certainly uses the layout of multiple elements as both an aesthetic and narrative tool… (i actually quite like this, will follow up).
Anyway. That’s how i’m feeling at the moment. More than a bit meh.