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

Objects trigger images

Participants thinking over the exhibition

Participants recreate stories from observing their objects

One more “object based brainstorming” session for a Media and Theater workshop this time. It is a very interesting technique we practiced with Andreas Treske for young documentarists at the North Aegean Narratives project on the theme of identity and immigration. Later I applied it again for beginner documentary makers to trigger images for the very special heart of Athens. This time personal identities in the spectrum of public life were targeted.IMG_1078 IMG_1084 IMG_1085 IMG_1086
As always, little surprises occur both from the selections of objects people make and their associations. A big surprise was a “live” object which was carried in our small installation: a child was brought to join memories and secret objects or bureaucratic items.

A child next to other items.

A child stands next to other items as proof of a life cycle.

Here at the Theater in Education 2014 Seminar in Pilion, Greece, the workshop is collaboratively done with N. Govas and Ch. Zoniou, two excellent theater pedagogues.

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

Documentary both reveals and hides stories

‘Documentaries always hide great stories’: this was the phrase that Mark Reid, Head of Education at the British Film Institute kept in his mind from my presentation in the Film Literacy day in La Ciotat, south of France a month ago. He added: “we usually think that documentaries tell stories, but you interestingly showed how many the hide…”.

A Melies studio photo decorated the programme.

A Melies studio photo decorated the programme.

In my presentation I deliberately deconstructed a short length documentary I did 3 years ago about a traveler child in the suburbs of Athens. The “truth” which was guiding me through my research and shooting period, was completely challenged and subverted a year after the film had finished. I had chosen the young girl as a character because she wanted to get out of the ghetto and had a wish to continue school. This girl, never made it: she gradually dropped out following the majority of her community. As it proved, two “directors” were not enough to help her not quit. Firstly, the school director, a unique teacher well known for her systematic efforts to bring and keep Roma kids in the school and second, me, a  film director who cared enough not only during shooting but also after. Truth as always, is bigger than documentaries.

The sister of my protagonist learning life in a muddy road.

The sister of my protagonist learning life in a muddy road.

The educational aspect

In a film literacy context, the presentation developed to show how the film itself gives us several chances to read it as a space for communication, information exchange, language development and form creation . Meaning that documentary can be very useful from a media education point of view, something rare, as, usually, fiction films are used for this purpose.

 

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.