A fairy tale invention

I started reading again about the development of photography in its’ early years. Not so much for historical purposes but to decipher analogies with today’s popular access and extreme fashion of digital still images.

I felt that the assumption that images of those last years are the new popular hobby and habit that we need to research upon, was just a one sided reading of the story. Obviously its extreme use by both amateur adults and children (which is my topic) is not coincidental, but neither is it unique. There have been several similar cycles of intense or occasional commercial burst related to the still image in the past. This tool, this technique, this way of expression, has offered several times in history amusement, entertainment, artistic expression and communication. Obviously the process was different and the access too. But it seems that each time, history supports its analogies. For example , from the 1860’s through the early decades of the 20th century, tens of millions of stereographs were manufactured and sold.

Stereographs: where reality met fiction

Stereographs: where reality met fiction

The predecessor of 3D was an extremely popular item and experience. Both for kids and adults (M. Heifemann, (ed) Photography changes everything, Smithsonian Institution, 2012) Lets not forget that Europe and North America, where mostly this would be happening, had only 400 million people inhabitants together. Companies were mass producing stereographs and shrewdly marketing them as both educational aids and home entertainment. Reminds you something?

The question is what could we learn from these life cycles of the image? What was the understanding of reality and representation? What was the relationship of children during those times with the act of visioning through a frame? Lets have a look at one of the few known children photographers of the beginning of the 20th c.: Jean Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) . A young bourgeois, of course, who offers us though a very young at heart point of view. Here is what he himself wrote:

My cousin, by Lartigue

My cousin, by Lartigue

“as a spectator I enjoy myself. But suddenly this morning an idea began to dance around in my head, a fairy tale invention thanks to which I will never again be bored or sad: I open my eyes, shut them, open them again, then open them wide and hey presto! I capture the image, everything: the colors! the right size! And what I keep is moving, smelling living life. This morning I took a lot of pictures with my eye-trap.”

This attitude sounds very familiar to me, reminding a few six year old kids I worked with at a park project 4 years ago. Our underlying theme were the 5 senses and we used small digital cameras (Karamella Nursery, Athens, 2011). It was still a period that kids wouldn’ t have access to smart phones but some would be allowed to hold their parents’ Cybershot or other small digital cameras. A day in a big park with their classmates and the encouragement to observe and take pictures of what they like most triggered the photographer inside them in a very passionate way. As if the tiny digital frame became a new way of seeing the park itself and the life inside it. A particular boy was very passionate about looking at things and clicking in a way that reminds both Lartigue and the way children treat sweats. I believe the question can be about the observation skills that children may develop and the connections they can make about the world around them through photography.

JH. Lartigue's photo of his room

In my room my collection of racing cars, 1905

Visions of a space through mobile apps

Collage with caption "TIME"

Time

One of the interesting things I see about certain apps on mobile devices is that they can become an introductory or concluding space for media literacy and expression. The central role of still pictures in many apps which use images and the possibility to manipulate, organise and add elements of text or other symbols, may very well lead to narrative structures and conscious choices as long as there is room for dialogue between content and form.

What we are interested is a process of choosing a point of view for our work, no matter how “small”, “short” or “ephemeral” the result may be. Apps’ possibility to function relatively quickly and directly from shooting to “editing” minimize the maturing process from idea to (audio)visual text . This offers aspects of entertainment, appropriation and a feeling of solving a riddle which engages audiences and – especially young- users. Of course this same speed, usually neglects deeper thinking and possibilities for synthesis. Could we thus grasp the graphic and expressive qualities of such creativity, even though it may be evanescent and evaporating in the mobile device environment, and turn it towards further narratives and critical thinking?

Signs in close ups

Signs and arrows showing the way

Here are some examples of such a pilot project with “Photo Collage” and “Pic Collage” during an adult workshop that I offered at the Media Meets Literacy conference in Warsaw (22/23 May 2015). In relation to media education work such apps lend themselves to pluralism and possibilities for both group work and solitary expressions which are important to both young and old. In addition I find particular documentary qualities in “playing” with these apps, as “point and shooting” with our mobile phone cameras has become almost a trivial habit for almost anyone. The challenge is to turn an often meaningless gesture of “clicking” -which however is charming enough to happen in millions everyday all over our planet- to a thoughtful choice.

The participants here, worked in pairs or three and were asked to reflect on their impressions from the venue of the conference. We had a short discussion which, in a normal workshop would follow a more detailed brainstorming session. The important documentary element was to guide participants to switch point of view on the space they have already been all morning without thinking about a specific interpretation. The should come back with a collage version of their vision of the space. Pictures could serve a way of thinking or rather a way of LOOKING.

Female details

Female details

Collage with a focus on windows

Window idea

Humans and patterns

Humans and patterns

Although we lost some time in technicalities which are still inherent with such uses (who has what device, which platform, free and payed versions, adapters, transferring materials etc) the feedback about the process was that it was both absorbing and entertaining and the results have a visual quality one can built both meanings and feelings. It is worth remembering that our initial inspiring question was the space itself and our vision of it , a purely documentaristic or street photography question. The interesting thing is how the interactivity of the app affects form and leads us to new scenarios. Imagine that we almost didn’ t have the time to touch upon the layer of adding text and captions, leading us thus to a more complete narrative. In addition we would like to have more time to compare how the same space inspired different approaches, and to discuss the narratives that occurred.

Tricks and attractions

Μια ξενάγηση στην ταινιοθήκη της Τσεχίας, μας θύμισε πολλά για το πώς ο κινηματογράφος προσπαθεί πάντα να μας σινε-πάρει.
During the Film Literacy Advisory Group meeting in Prague, we were invited and guided with great care and a personal touch at the Czech National Film Archive which proved to be a very intriguing experience.

A big group of experts joins forces for film education

A big group of experts joins forces for film education

The main issue we were exposed among others was the restoration of original films of the 20’s which were tinted (colored) at the time. While working with black and white film, as the only option (!), the creative people of the period felt it would be more engaging and impressive if they could add some color to the images. So, one solution was to “over-colour” whole scenes in certain basic colors: we mainly find cyan, yellow, pink (!) and green with varying strength and density.Purple challengePink mania

While watching extracts of a recently restored Italian film about the Biblical stories, an amazing super production of the 20’s, I tried to put myself into the shoes of a spectator of the time. The strong images of Moses, the destruction, fights and efforts of the masses around him, obtained a magical overall feeling of a colored “light”. Although it may seem funny at times today, tinting was definitely one of their special effects. When the hero moves from one space to another we often found ourselves in a different color environment. The magic of storytelling through moving images on a big screen, was definitely enhanced taking into account the drawing and painting orientated, B&W A big production with many extrasphotography, slow pace, locally driven life of the viewers.

Was there a symbolic code for choosing which color to put where? Was there a conscious use in relation to exteriors or interior shots? We hear from the specialists that probably not. The people responsible for the process functioned in an intuitive way, absorbing the feeling of the film and the particular scene before deciding which color to apply to each part.

History of film proves that film crews every other decade had the chance to try out some new achievement to make their art more impressive: double exposures, sound, later came the cranes and smoothly rolling cameras, matte paintings, light and smaller cameras which can go out in the streets, visual effects with motion control cameras and stereo sound, not to mention Dolby surround and 3D. This latter, being an important filmic treat of our younger generation, only recently became an expected feature. However, it is not more than 8-10 years that it was considered a spectacular novelty for the mainstream audiences. How long still do we have to bear with 3D? Is it going to lead to something new? What would the next step be? ( I do remember Peter Greenaway’s lectures on the death of cinema and the filmic experience of the future, but I see people still watching films!).

With all that in mind I sympathize much more with the editors and chemists who patiently tried all possible colors and hues and tones.

Software as toys

lego-wheelchairWhile until recently we were in a universe of playing systems like wooden blocks, Legos , Playmobil or Fisher Prize constructions, today we usually find ourselves in front of a framed, 2 dimensional screen environment which includes numerous other worlds, smaller systems of manipulation and 3 dimensional possibilities. Viewing size changes, affecting experience, varying from a Sony PSV, or Nintendo small screen to tablets, computers or big TV screens which connect to various sources like Internet or Sony Play station network. However, content is king from what we learn from young users and size little affects. Eye contact to the screen and mouse or touch screen interaction is a crucial engagement.

Few children take full advantage of Lego flexibility anyway, as they similarly do not take full advantage of computer possibilities. The Playmobil worlds are endless and kids tend to recreate more versions disregarding setting and costumes. Possibly, this unbeatable attraction of the games, could be treated in multiple ways, informed by the long, destructive, regenerating relationship of children to toys. So, within this turbulent waves of games and software, we could point out applications which seem to have inherent qualities for developing image sensitivity, critical thinking, literacy and storytelling. In relation to the young ones’ visual culture it is a good opportunity to recognise what certain apps and software, can be used for developing these visual multi- literacies and young people’s ability to make cognitive connections. This is one of my new projects and I shall be presenting soon such apps.

 

Giving shape and form to ideas.

Disregarding the overall pessimism, the end of the year brings some positive feelings. One of which is about giving shape to ideas. About giving form to a project with a collage technique.
It’s  been more than a year that I felt the need to share the theoretical and methodological discussions on media literacy I have been having with my good colleague Menis Theodoridis. Every now and then we would sit, enjoy a coffee and design a workshop or share thoughts about some project or curriculum aspect. And there were other professionals I’ve met during recent years, from various related fields, that we rarely had the chance to put in practice our ideas. More so, there was no chance to take the time to evaluate our thoughts.

An imaginative and open minded thought: already recognizing media literacy in 1925

An imaginative and open minded thought: already recognizing media literacy in 1925

So, something had to happen with these rich but fleeting and often incomplete opportunities. My belief that media learning is cross disciplinary, should always balance lecturing with hands on experience and that teaching is an artform itself, was also seeking a space to express its self.

Shape in shape: the person as part of the artwork

Shape in shape: the person as part of the artwork

Some serendipitous encounters gave me the decisiveness and shape I needed: first, a discussion with Mark Reid (Head of BFI Education) on Harvard’s Project Zero. (Funnily enough this useful chat was done while leaving La Ciotat, in France, a city indeed related to the birth of cinema). Then the clarity brought by a great new colleague, Nina Trifonopoulou, who saw that a recurring event was needed, if we were to meet the training requests from educators and other adults.

The fruit of these thoughts became the “Sunday coffee time with image and sound”. Here are the ingredients of this coffee blend:

More than a mug of cofee

More than a mug of coffee

The afternoon coffee, almost a ritual in Greece, gave us the warmth and cosiness we wanted for the event.

A 3-hour session every second Sunday of the month gave us a specific time capsule within which our ideas should fit. (And in any case there should be a limit to voluntary work!)
A space for cultural workshops, rented affordably from a friend working in animation, gave us an interesting space in the heart of Athens.

The financial crisis gave us the belief that it should be as cheap as possible to make it easy to join, either once or every time.

The stress of  city life led us to plan independent meetings, with no obligation to follow the series.

Our workshop experience with challenging groups led us to take a flexible, developing structure around key themes. Although events are self-contained, this approach is fruitful for series participants, and create meaningful connections for us as designers.

My impulsive personality allows for experimentation with both old and new participants. Using my  preparation, I can think aloud and bring new elements in modules I have already been working on.

A strong belief in the value of other people’s perspectives led us to invite insights from informed professionals from different fields who had become “media curious”. A ritual of “secret guests” was inaugurated already from the second workshop with enriching results. A strong disposition to discuss among us, participants and “secret guests” alike, promotes a pluralistic way of learning for all.

Finally, Theodora Malliarou, a young but systematic colleague, records proceedings and offers an external viewpoint while Nina keeps an eye on the flow of the content in each session.

Raising questions about watching films

Raising questions about watching films

The themes so far?
1. How to watch a student film and 2. Collective brainstorming techniques
Next themes to follow:
Psychology meets media over a still frame, Young children’s digital micro-worlds,

The results?
The very first time, in November, we had few but dedicated participants who ALL returned for our second meeting in December. The number actually doubled: 22 people left the room excited, and more experienced than when they arrived.

Small groups work on small ideas and present them to the whole team.

Small groups work on small ideas and present them to the whole team.

group storytellng

Collective storytelling based on personal memories

The future?
We will be making a report of the highlights and the structure of the meetings for further reference. The aim is to create a small Think Tank among media professionals, educators, and others who are interested in using media when interacting with groups of other people.
Blue sky thinking?
To strengthen the structure, make it sustainable and develop international meetings.

The "Violence 3ptych" from the "Collective brainstorming" session

The “Violence 3ptych” from the “Collective brainstorming” session

Being resourceful with short storytelling

Being resourceful with short storytelling

Story hunger

Cover of Paul Auster Sunset park on a bed

Lost in reading

A wonderful description by great Paul Auster (“Sunset Park”, Picador, 2010, page 149) of our relationship to TV and storytelling .

…he will watch a film on television, the one sedative that can always be counted on, the tranquilizing flicker of images, voices, music, the pull of the stories, always the stories, the thousands of stories, the millions of stories, and yet one never tires of them, there is always room in the brain for another story, another book, another film, and after pouring himself another scotch in the kitchen, he walks into the living room thinking film, he will opt for a film if anything watchable is playing tonight.

The closing down of ERT, our national broadcaster, made me feel some hunger.

 

Looking back at our own work

Mess needs rearrangement, but it creates new forms too.

Mess needs rearrangement, but it creates new forms too.

Setting up a site feels like rearranging your workspace. You bring yourself to remember and re-discover all sorts of little and big projects that were realised and many others that never did. Notes, photographs and ideas pop up either through your drawers or your digital folders.