At this stage I didn’t have the sound recording of Adilzhan, and was considering using a text slide to explain that several months had passed since our first meeting and that his situation had changed somewhat. In the end I decided against using the slide, since I managed to shoot enough material that illustrates the points Adilzhan makes.
The approaches I have adopted draw from my research on collaborative techniques as well as the use of image-text combinations to achieve a synergy more effective than either image or text alone (see blog entry on image-text). The use of family album shots to add vernacular and increase intimacy/empathy with subject matter is something that I have come across in my research (Danny Lyon, Susan Meiselas), though I have not tried it before and am wary of overusing them. I am adapting the overall final products to concur with what the subjects are talking about, giving weight to the topics they choose to emphasise. As such, although the photofilms will be on similar subject matter and presented in similar ways, I want to avoid keeping to a set pattern or template, and allow the production process to be more organic. In this way I hope to keep audiences engaged and challenged by what they see and hear, since the goal is to prompt viewers to question their own preconceptions and stereotypes based on the evidence presented, rather than to question the subject matter itself.
The moving image interview with Yernar was successful because he is more confident, mature and fluent in expressing himself. This probably has a lot to do with his age, social position (as a lawyer he needs to be speaking publicly about a range of topics) and familial situation (as a parent he needs to be assertive).
Their stories are vastly different. Yernar finished school, has 2 bachelor degrees and is working as a professional lawyer and legal consultant, is married and has 3 children. He speaks about his professional experience and achievements, and touches on the importance of family and work. On the other hand Adilzhan had only completed 9th grade (in Kazakhstan to enter higher education students need to have completed 11 years of schooling), though he was working on finishing his secondary education as we were producing the film. We did not wish to make this the focus of his film, though originally I was considering following a past-present-future model. In the end, we decided the film should be more about what is important to him – sport, making some contribution to the family budget and rising to the challenge impairment poses. What is interesting is that both of them see work as an opportunity to help others, rather than purely as a means to an end.
This is not so much about my impression of participants’ lives as them relating their lives to me; this is an important distinction. I have been welcomed by these people into their homes, we have got to know each other and they have opened up and told me about their challenges and problems, as well as their hopes, dreams and ambitions. The project has not simply been going to a location, shooting a few images and then narrating an assumed overview of their life; it goes much deeper since they are in control of their own narratives (see blog entries on ‘Shady commerce’ or ‘Complex contract’, Fazal Sheikh, Jim Goldberg, Jo Spence, Hannah Wilke, Matuschka, The Enfreakment of Photography, The art of storytelling and the construction of narratives). As I have said, the vast majority of my work was done without a camera – building rapport, even friendships (Schusterman, photography as performative process: Selecting the images to fit the political agenda). I trust this comes across in the final products, since I want audiences to become as endeared to the participants as I have done.
Although the stories may be viewed in a certain order, I no longer think the order is of prime importance, since many of the themes overlap. Each of the films will contain a personal message, either to other disabled people or to the general public. Hopefully the films will improve as I get into the project, so the final film will be more polished than the first. Other than this, there is no reason to stick to a viewing order. Each film works as a standalone, and since the overall message ‘look beyond the wheelchair’ is the same in each film, I do not wish to impose a hierarchy on the subject matter; none of these stories is more important than any of the others.
Work with Amanat is on hold while he has his final exams at university. Adilzhan is on hold at the moment as well since he has sunk into depression again.
Presentation is important, and I have tried to build stories that have a rhythm, not too fast and not too slow, building up to a final climax that is more of an ellipsis than a full stop. These are slices of life, and are very much in the present tense but with future aspect. We hope Dinara is able to fulfil her dream of having children, that Adilzhan lands a steady job, and Yernar will continue helping people. Although the narratives are built up around the soundtrack, since the visual impact is crucial I have also watched the films without sound and captions to get an idea of how the images flow consecutively and cohere as a unified whole.
Separate background visuals will hopefully not be necessary, as I have tried to include narrative detail and contextual visual information in many of the wider shots. Once again, I don’t want the audience to be distracted by the exoticness or alterity of the location; these are stories about individuals, and their humanness is what connects.