Yernar Assignment 6

Unlike the previous 2 films, where Dinara did not want to be shown in moving images and the interview material with Adilzhan had too many hesitations and false starts, Yernar speaks with confidence and fluency and we were able to complete his interview in one take. I have chosen to insert two sections of moving image in the film, which form the opening and closing sequences.(In fact, I had initially not wanted to do this as I was not keen on the balanced ‘mirroring’ effect, but as I explain below I was not able to form a cohesive narrative structure when I inserted the moving image sequence in the middle of the film. Do these sections work well and fit in relatively seamlessly with the rest of the show? Obviously there is a difference in the sound quality because of recording equipment and location, but I don’t think that detracts from the viewing experience since it is clear that the interviews were recorded at different times in different places)

I set about constructing the film by first going back over the interview materials and selecting topics important to Yernar personally, but which also coincide with the disability issues I have already identified as relevant. Yernar spoke about his education, his work, how he met his wife, friends and family, what he enjoys doing in his free time, and how he was actually afraid that his own children might have CP as a result of medical error. He also touched on discrimination, and about how in the past he had been unable to understand other disabled people and their attitudes, while his personal message was directed at non-disabled people.

I extracted the segments about work, family and discrimination, while the personal message I decided to include as a second moving image sequence right at the end, since Yernar does not pause or hesitate excessively. I had in fact wanted to put the message in the middle of the film in order to vary the structure, but this didn’t make for a very cohesive narrative sequence. The inclusion of 2 moving image sections makes up for the fact that I was only actually able to photograph Yernar on 5 occasions, and so had less visual material to work with. I was thus able to avoid using shots with weak or repeated content as ‘filler’ images. (Unfortunately, however, this means the film runs to over 3.30 minutes. I don’t know whether it is over-long, but I think that the moving image sections facilitate its momentum; I’m looking for feedback on this since I haven’t shown this film to anyone else yet)

As such, the film has 3 sections. In the first section, Yernar discusses his work. The opening sequence shows him giving legal advice to the father of a disabled child. I chose a section which is not only illustrative of what Yernar does for a living, but is also relevant to disability studies and empowerment, since they are discussing access to education. Yernar then goes on to talk about how after studying law he decided to become a legal counsellor. The images I used here are day-in-the-life style, showing him travelling to work using the InvaTaxi service. Part of disability acknowledgement involves understanding the issues surrounding dependency and interdependency; showing Yernar using a special service for disabled people does not detract from the idea of his autonomy, and does not present him as a burden to society. The section ends with still images of Yernar giving legal advice as he recounts his success stories. (Are these images strong enough? Would the photofilm have benefitted from including images of those success stories? Since the film is actually about Yernar, I think it’s not an absolute necessity)

The second section then begins with Yernar talking about his children, and I have included as many domestic shots that show the family interacting and Yernar as a responsible and capable parent (challenging stereotypes I discovered in my research) changing his son’s nappy and helping his daughter with her homework. The section also includes some family snapshot images showing Yernar with his wife, Adepa (I’m very glad I was able to include these, as Adepa did not want to be photographed, nor did she allow me to photograph their youngest child; since Yernar mentions both in his speech, their absence would have been conspicuous). The final photos in this section show Yernar having his hair cut. In a seemingly trivial series of images, we see him in his mobility device at the barbershop while he speaks about CP and how early detection can prevent or lessen its effects. The juxtaposition of the normalcy of the activity depicted with the weight of Yernar’s words makes for a poignant sequence. (Normalcy is what is missing from representations of disability in the mainstream media, and as such it has been the ethos underlying the images in all the films; here I feel that I have achieved something greater than just showing a disabled person going about his normal everyday life. Do these images function in the way that I want them to? Are they on the contrary too banal or condescending?)

The final section is Yernar’s personal message, which I decided to include in full from the moving image sequence just as I shot it in one take. I shot Yernar in his kitchen, as I liked the location for two reasons. The first is that it is a real locus of domesticity and shows the normalcy of Yernar’s lifestyle. There is nothing out of the ordinary here, and things like the photographs and magnets on the fridge add to the air of normalcy. The second reason is that in the Soviet Union, the kitchen was traditionally the place where people would talk about serious matters like politics, philosophy, the arts and so on, and this tradition has endured somewhat in the former soviet republics. The significance of a ‘kitchen conversation’ will not be lost on a local audience, while the lack of ‘exotic’ surroundings will allow an international audience to focus on what Yernar has to say rather than on his double ‘otherness’.

Yernar addresses non-disabled people, asking them not to ignore or be afraid of making friends with disabled people. This is a really powerful section, and to my mind the length and pace are perfect. I was also able to finish with a smile from Yernar before fading to white (positive ending!).

As with the first two films, the hard coded captions are large-sized (enabling the visually impaired to view them) and the sequence begins with the subject’s name in Cyrillic script (I thought it better to use both name and surname, since just using the forename, although appearing more familiar, could be perceived as patronising in tone). (Despite the film being even longer than the last one, at 3 minutes and 38 seconds I don’t think it feels too long). All the shots were taken from an angle that is on a level with Yernar, and not looking down with an ‘ableist gaze’ or creating ‘inspiration porn’ by shooting from a lower angle (these are things I have read about and noted down in my written work).

Yernar’s messages are rather more poignant than those of the first two films, and he speaks with much more gravity. This is doubtless because of his age and experience (he’s about 10 years older than Dinara and Adilzhan, married and with 3 children), as well as his shrewd intelligence (he majored in both journalism and law – I did not dwell on his education since the final film, about Amanat, will focus on the importance of access to education). On the other hand, the images themselves have a real positive flavour, especially the ones featuring his children (some of these images were not selected until the final cutting stage, when I decided to include images in which Yernar himself is not shown – something I had not planned to do: I was just taking photos of his children to give him later on, while keeping the children engaged and lively interacting with me during the shooting process, taking advantage of the light. Does this work?).

This film has been the easiest to construct as a visual and aural narrative, but the most difficult to translate from Russian, since Yernar uses more complex language and grammatical structures that do not so easily lend themselves to translation into short and simple English language captions. (How do the captions read – are they on screen for long enough/too long?).

Written assignment

The course brief instructs me to write a 5,000-word ‘Reflective Account’ drawn from my learning journal. (Am I on the right track with what I have compiled from my journal?)

I did a lot of reading on the subject of disability (history and theory), which informed my approach to the subject matter (particularly ableist or ambiguous visual representations), whilst opening up new (to me) avenues of contemporary culture (identity politics, queer theory).

I discovered a whole culture of disability art (including blind photographers!), as well as artists who were disabled (e.g. Chuck Close), developed disabilities (e.g. Jo Spence) or worked with disabled people to produce bodies of work that deal with disability and bodily integrity (e.g. Nicholas Nixon).

I looked at image/text combinations, where the text operates as more than mere caption (Bourke-White, Lange), and where marginalised people are provided with a platform to relate their personal narratives (Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg). I also looked at artists who have used personal narratives to challenge or refute accepted notions and hegemonic metanarratives (Danny Lyon, Fazal Sheikh).

I explored issues of collaborative techniques in visual social science methodology (Pink, Clifford), informed consent (Gross et al, Pryluck, Wiseman) and compassion fatigue (Moeller, Campbell) in order to inform my approach and confirm my integrity as an ethically-conscious image-maker.

I have therefore selected from my learning journal what I feel to be the most important elements – those which have had tangible results and influenced my photographic approach as well as my way of thinking. I have included research as well as personal experience and reflection, which is differentiated by being written in italics. It has been really difficult to reduce the content, since so much of what I read and looked at I feel is important (and I read and looked at a lot of work).

Initially I wanted to include a brief from my initial proposal to set out what I saw as the project objectives and then look at how these had changed according to circumstance; due to space constraints I have not included that (since it will be submitted to assessors as a separate doc, and I can refer to it). Instead I have reflected on how conditions necessitated a change in my tack and how I needed to be flexible in order to fulfil the assignment objectives. Is this good enough?

I haven’t included any specific reflections on or incorporation of tutor feedback – is this a problem?

The word count is very high – is this an issue? Excluding the bibliography I have almost twice the number of words needed! Do I need to remove some passages? The passages in red are those I think may be omitted without much detriment, but if I need to reduce by another 5,000 words, what are your suggestions please, Les?

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