Production of the photofilms

Taking on board the comments made by the Assessment team about my last digitally-based work, I have kept these photofilms shorter, more focused and with greater clarity of purpose and concept. While this has meant that I was unable to include a lot of really valuable and relevant material, it has also necessitated the exercise of stringency in selecting what material (both audio and visual) constitutes each final cut, which was useful exercise in itself. The final products are more professionally finished in my opinion, and are ready to be placed on the client’s webpage.

I have also changed tack from my last project and decided to create these films more as illustrated narratives: the images are more closely linked to the speech of the subjects, without reflecting exactly what is said by each participant at each moment. The images themselves aim to convey a sense of normalcy about the subject matter, rather than any attempt to show stylised imagery. My research on attitudes to disability in the media, as well as views on what makes positive imagery of disabled people has informed my style of shooting as well as selection of images to be used. Participants are seen from the same level, not shot from above or below; the images do not focus on disability as the central focus (in many of the images I have not included mobility aids in the shot); participants are not presented as either pitiable or heroic, while any assistance given does not appear condescending.

Since the core element of the project is the telling of personal narratives, I began by trimming down the interview to sound chunks that I could work with, and focusing on the main topics discussed. At the same time, these topics had to accord with the 3 areas I had identified as needing to be addressed. They also had to be self explanatory, and not referring to things outside the knowledge of target audience (here I was thinking of someone with no previous experience of interacting with disabled people, or specific cultural knowledge about Almaty or Kazakhstan). Hence I tried to avoid using parts of the interview which made reference to specific named places or people (on a couple of occasions this was not possible, but I trust it is clear from the context what or who is being referred to).

I used Adobe Audition to modulate the sound recordings and edit out false starts, hesitations and other distractions as best I could without disrupting the natural rhythm and intonation. At times there may be background noises (for example, Yernar’s child is calling for him at one point during the interview), but I am not proficient enough at using sound editing software to even begin any attempt at removing them. This is a screen shot of the editing of Yernar’s interview in multiple tracks:

The next step was to link a set of images that corresponded visually to what was being discussed in the oral interview. This was the trickiest part, since very often the visuals were not a literal representation of the text. On the other hand, this meant that I had more freedom to include an entire sequence that illustrates a day-in-the-life, and such sequences can be demonstrative of general disability experience, and thus appropriate to almost all observations. Once I had made an initial selection, I made a draft film and discussed the content with the participants (either online or in person). Most often they agreed with both the images and the sections of interview that I had chosen. A couple of times we discussed alternatives and I incorporated the changes that we agreed upon.

The software I used was Sony Vegas Pro, as recommended by the team at Duckrabbit who I contacted while I was producing my previous projects. The principle is very similar to Photoshop in the sense that I work with layers and opacity for the subtitle box, while the audio and visual tracks can be adjusted separately in the editing program I choose. The most time consuming aspect was translating the film into subtitles that reflected the natural speech of the interviewees, but were concise enough to fit across the screen width and remained on screen long enough to be read, whilst not overly encroaching on the image by being included for the entire duration of the slide time.

Screenshot of the production of Yernar’s film incorporating still images, moving image, solid colour transitions, soundtrack and overlaid subtitles:

To avoid the technical issues I had with subtitles in my last projects, I have used closed captions hard-coded onto the film with an alternative version minus subtitles provided to the centre. The subtitles I have deliberately made large for them to be inclusive of those with impaired vision. I have tried to reduce the titles to smaller chunks and leave them on screen for longer as well. Although the captions may thus intrude on the images, I think that the text is no less important than the images in this project, since it is the actual narrative that my subjects want to relate about themselves. I have gone through the films again to make sure that each slide is visible without captions for a total of at least one second.

The more one uses such programs, the more one appreciates the PC’s RAM and graphics card capacity as well as the general potential to produce and edit image and sound. What I am able to achieve with relatively low tech equipment and self-teaching makes me wonder what is being concocted in media studios globally. Although what I have produced involved a lot of exploration, relationship building and behind the scenes investigation, photographers generally pass their work on to editors that work on the final presentation thus saving enormous amounts of time post production. With extended projects it is probably therefore not economically viable to be a one-man-show. I need to think about how to decrease the post production time frame to make a feasible business plan.

Links to the photofilms on Vimeo:

Dinara Sharipova photofilm 1: https://vimeo.com/197034851

Adilzhan Baratov photofilm 2: https://vimeo.com/184287036

Yernar Sarseyev photofilm 3: https://vimeo.com/198318717

Amanat Musin photofilm 4: https://vimeo.com/194040712

Although I uploaded these films to Vimeo for my tutor to evaluate, I have noticed that when viewing them full screen they are significantly inferior in quality, I assume this is due to the compression algorithm used by Vimeo. Hopefully the assessors will download the files from the OCA server.

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