Due to a number of issues related to participants as well as concerns following the November assessment of my previous projects (YOP), my tutor advised me to begin looking at ways of presenting my material. I have been exploring a number of photographers who use text alongside images, particularly first person singular/plural narrative, from some of the work that came out of the FSA documentary project (Evans & Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Lange & Taylor’s American Exodus, Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices), up to more recent work (Karen Knorr, Fazal Sheikh, Walid Ra’ad, Susan Meiselas) as well as the purely verbal transcription work of Studs Terkel. A lot of the work that is out there exploring themes in some depth seems to be presented in published book or album format, with some exhibited online. I tried a number of layouts using InDesign, but since I am not really aiming to produce a printed publication, I very soon scrapped the idea. I also looked into producing a mouse click-controlled slideshow gallery using Flash, but it seems that it is a bit more complicated than simply downloading a readymade template and inserting image files (this is possible, but looks very unprofessional). After a week or so of trying to teach myself how to write the command codes necessary to achieve the effects I wanted, I decided that it was taking up too much time. The point is that once the slides are prepared and formatted, if I really want to have a slideshow produced I think I’d be better off getting a third party to do it!
I was originally aiming to produce a multimedia show (or photofilm) in much the same format as I had before, using a basic slideshow of images combined with interview material from the subjects that I would edit down and then translate and incorporate as subtitle files (all of the material I produce is in two languages, for both Russian-speaking and international audiences). For this stage of the project, I have produced two short preliminary drafts of the kind of presentation I’m looking at. One is with sound and subtitles embedded (I got in touch with the guys at Duckrabbit and asked them what software they used to create a semi-opaque box around the titles; apparently it’s Sony Vegas Pro, which I very quickly got to grips with and have used to embed the subtitles here), while the other uses text slides in between the images. I have completely avoided using any stylistic touches or Ken Burns effect, since I feel that will detract from the essence of the content. The images are also not attempting to be overly ‘stylised’ since the whole aim of the project is to present disabled persons in as ‘normal’ a way as possible. As such I have tried to follow the Griersonian approach, where narrative content supersedes any aesthetic ambition on the part of the photographer.
The concept of the project is still very much collaborative, but the subjects themselves are the screenwriters and directors while I am simply the cameraman. In this sense the photographer’s role can be seen as more of a facilitator, providing a platform or a means for the participants’ voices to be heard. As originally discussed, none of the materials will be shown without prior approval from the participants. I will get release forms signed regarding the final show as opposed to signing a pre-production agreement (the research and rationale behind this are detailed in my journal, and have their origins in the legal controversy surrounding Wiseman’s Titicut Follies).
The draft films
At this stage I have named the draft films simply Dinara 1 and Dinara 2. Dinara 1 follows the same format that I was aiming to employ before I received the assessment feedback, whereas Dinara 2 has no soundtrack and presents slides of text between the images. I think my major concern is now not making the presentations too long, and avoiding repeating images, as well as making sure that the project concept does not get lost.
I was thinking of calling the whole project something like Reclaiming Territories (the idea of reclaiming identity through one’s occupation or sexuality) or Looking beyond the Wheelchair, but I’m not sure if that’s too cliché. At the moment I’m sticking with a simple slideshow format.
The problem with using a moving image recorded interview is that only so much can be edited out while keeping the material natural sounding, with enough pauses and breaks for the titles to be read. This in turn means that either the slides themselves need to be on screen for longer, or there needs to be a lot more of them (risking image overload or repetition). Another issue is that at times the speaker can tend to repeat things, give too much extraneous detail, or be prone to aposiopesis and even grammatical error.
The advantage of using text slides is that it avoids the confusion encountered when reading text and image at the same time, and the number of slides and their lengths can be reduced (therefore reducing the overall time). The text can be edited to remove extraneous or repeated ideas, the grammar corrected, and all without the obvious changes in vocal pitch or intonation that occurs when simply cutting and splicing the recording. The text remains true to what the speaker said, in much the same way as when one cites an author. I have tried to reduce the text to smaller chunks. Originally I tried inserting a whole slide filled with text, but it was visually uninspiring, and anyway with longer texts it is more difficult to judge how long an audience would take to read them.
I have combined my images with rephotographed family snapshots, as well as newspaper pages. The text is all transcribed from interviews with Dinara and her mother Bibigul, although I have made no attempt to point out who is speaking at any particular time, it should be fairly obvious from the content of the speech (Bibigul gives background biographical information, and I have tried to combine this with family archives, while Dinara speaks for herself, and her words will be shown alongside contemporary images of her and her friends). I have also included information from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention website on infant jaundice and kernicterus, since it would appear that with better healthcare and diagnostics, Dinara’s CP could have been avoided. As such, raising awareness among expectant mothers, and empowering them to question healthcare workers has become one of the goals of this particular film (in a similar way to Jo Spence’s Picture of Health?). The final slide shows the logo of the commissioning organisation, ARDI (Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities). Apparently there is no available statistical data on disability in Kazakhstan, and when I approached the Department of Health I was informed that I’d need permission from the Ministry to access any of the data they have on record. I am still trying to pull strings and get at least some figures, though I don’t hold out too much hope.
Other goals include awareness raising among the general public, and a step towards challenging stereotypes (we are not monsters; we have ambitions too) as well as messages to parents with disabled children (parents shouldn’t be afraid; we never treated her like a disabled child), and perhaps most importantly message to the disabled people themselves, who may feel depressed or inclined to just give up or not bother (it’s in her character; she’s achieved things through her own hard work).
As I have pointed out, these are draft excerpts, and I will be collecting more materials – particularly interview material with Dinara about her embroidery, and possibly a family portrait. I have been given the impression that although we have met up on only 3 occasions, and despite the fact that I explained at the outset it would be an extended project, Dinara is already fatigued by the process, and so any subsequent visit will most probably be the final one prior to a review of the finished slideshow for approval.
Although I am leaning now towards a combined text and image slideshow/web gallery, I am concerned that there may be too much text, not enough images, possibly too many rephotographed family snaps? I am now aiming at final shows of no more than about 5 minutes each. I am still hoping to produce 3 shows, possibly 2. The participants I am focusing on now all have cerebral palsy, and I have chosen to focus on them for a number of reasons:
- We are able to communicate and arrange meetings without 3rd party involvement
- The subjects are able to speak for themselves and have a greater amount of autonomy than other disabled persons I have been interviewing, which makes it simpler to arrange meetings and discuss alternatives and preferences
- The wheelchair is an obvious metonymic device, and this makes for a more powerful overall visual effect (the juxtaposition of ‘normalcy’ with ‘otherness’)
- The participants I have chosen are all determined and have achieved things (employment, education, family) by virtue of their own energy and resolve; as such they challenge commonly held stereotypes and can be seen as an example to other disabled persons and to parents of children with CP (without laying on the ‘inspiration porn’ too thickly).