Empires at War

If you are in a video watching mood, check out [China vs USA – Empires at War](http://youtu.be/DznkEjYO1BA). I haven’t done the background research yet to know who produced this film, but it was fun to watch the opening five to ten minutes, which is all I got to watch before other things demanded my time.

Roger Ebert has [six documentary films by Werner Herzog](http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/six-of-herzogs-less-known-docu.html) that are all available for streaming. The quality is not great, but you still get a chance to see what Herzog is up to in a nonfictional setting.

As usual Kottke comes up with some of the most amazing finds. Not the best documentary work in the world, though I do appreciate the good short, but, ahhhhh … Paris. (See also his [link to a rant][rant] by a piano repairman about the decline in quality of pianos.)

[rant]: http://kottke.org/11/09/piano-quality-and-consumer-technology-regression

Photography/Video Release Now Available

Last week someone asked me to design a form that he could use to obtain photographic release for a project involving children. A lot of the releases out there assume that you are a photographer working with a professional model. That or they use a lot of off-putting terminology. I tried to come up with something simple, straightforward, and as honest as possible.

Do let me know where it doesn’t work so that I can revise it for future use by others.

Link to Scribd document

7 Things to Learn about Photography

Scott Bourne has a list of “20 Things I Learned About Photography” that I like quite a lot. For photographers like myself who are interested in documenting the world about them, the following items seemed most interesting to me:

2. Background – background – background. Pay close attention to the background. Keep it simple. Make sure there are no background distractions. Make the subject the star of the photo not the background.

6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Practice is important. Results aren’t – at least until you can talk someone into paying you for your work.

9. Don’t waste one second of your photographic career trying to figure out if you are better or worse at photography than anyone else. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t help and it won’t make you better at photography.

10. Spend more time thinking about composition and light than you spend thinking about getting paid or recognized.

11. Spend time looking at light. Understand it. Look for it. Recognize it. Worship it. Nothing beats good light – ever.

14. When in doubt, leave it out. Good photography is as much about what you do not include in the photograph as what you do include in the photograph.

20. It’s better to think of photography as an opportunity to make photographs not just take photographs.

Errol Morris’ “Interrotron”

Tag this with: “kind of cool, kind of creepy.” I had to study the diagram for a while to make sure my first impression was correct: this is simply a revision of the teleprompter allowing the interviewer to ask questions but making it possible for the person being interviewed to look directly into the camera. It used to be that directors or interviewers sat right next to the camera lens, but this still led the subjects of an interview to look slightly off camera. I guess this works on the direct eye contact level but I wonder if it doesn’t drain a bit of the human warmth out of the interview process.

That is, this may lead to better television but poorer documentation. Individual filmmakers, and audiences, will have to decide which they prefer — and the usual caveat should be added here that this has to be on a project by project basis or otherwise it becomes yet another technology in the long string of technologies that amount to “realistic” within a given era.

Interrotron web page

Review of Errol Morris’ “Tabloid”

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir has a terrific review of Errol Morris’ latest film “Tabloid.” It does what good, no great, reviews do: it addresses directly the larger issues as the context in which to understand the work being reviewed. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Morris has frequently, and accurately, been described as a filmmaker who is fascinated with epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and limits of human knowledge. He’s also sometimes been called a postmodernist who denies or elides the distinction between truth and fiction, and that’s a charge he has always forcefully rejected. (From a recent Morris tweet: “Compare. Hamlet kills Claudius v. I kill you.”) After all, his most famous film, “The Thin Blue Line,” clearly articulated the thesis that a Texas Death Row inmate named Randall Dale Adams was innocent of the murder for which he had been convicted, and indirectly resulted in Adams’ exoneration and release. Morris sees truth as maddeningly difficult to find or to recognize, and believes that human stupidity and vanity and self-deception often prevent us from seeing it. He even suggests that at certain moments truth may be situationally unknowable, as in the lessons on America’s failure in Vietnam delivered by the war’s chief architect, Robert S. McNamara, in Morris’ Oscar-winning “The Fog of War.” But that’s quite a different matter from claiming that truth does not exist or is entirely relative.

Objectified

The maker of _Helvetica_ has a new film out — apparently he’s at work on a trilogy. This one is focused on the role of industrial design in our lives: [Objectified](http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/objectified/).

“Grammatically Weak”

*A note written to my seminar on documentary inputs and outputs.*

> … direct observation by people interested in learning firsthand from other people, without the mediation of statistics, theory, and endless elaborations of so-called methodology. (Coles 114)

Later:

> Instead, he simply wants to describe what he has witnessed. He wants to set down the words he has heard, to tell us what the people of New Burlingon have to say about themselves and their lives. (Coles 180)

“Helvetica” on Flickr

We watched [Helvetica][] today in the documentary seminar, and though the 80-minute film overflowed are 75-minute class, everyone had interesting comments to make:

1. For one, how reliant type designers and graphic designers are on metaphors and metaphorical language to describe either type faces themselves or their use in various applications.
2. How even a topic as seemingly “off the wall” as a type face could be handled readily by following established documentary film guidelines. That is, the film is fairly conventional in form: it alternates talking head interviews, sometimes *in situ* but sometimes in a kind of abstract visual space, with images of Helvetica out in the world. This is about as traditional as you can get. (Is there a kind of reverse relationship here: do more traditional documentary subjects allow for more non-traditional forms? Would pursuing non-traditional form and content simply push things too far for viewers? What would be an example of such a latter case?)
3. What made the documentary so compelling was the passion, and articulateness, with which the designers spoke. Their language, their vision, brought us into their world and then back into our own.

After the film was over, we were all drawn to comment on how we now wanted to “go see for ourselves” instances of Helvetica in our own lives. I suggested that we do it by posting things to Flickr and perhaps tagging those images with “helvetica.” Guess what? As of today on Flickr, there are 8855 images [tagged with “helvetica”](http://flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=helvetica&m=tags). And so I am going to suggest that we create a group on Flickr and this is just one of a number of things we will post there before the semester is done.

[Helvetica]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000VWEFP8?ie=UTF8&tag=johnlaudun-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000VWEFP8

“I Love Alaska”

In 2006 AOL mistakenly released the searches of thousands of its subscribers. As I understand it, the information was anonymized, in that no names were used, but still identified: an individual subscriber had a number attributed to them. AOL quickly “retracted” its release, but by then the information had been copied all over. Two Dutch filmmakers pored over the information and discovered that the information we submit when we search for information reveals things about us that we perhaps would rather not be known in composite. The searches of one particular individual, user 711391, told a particularly interesting story all on their own.

They released their documentary as a series of short videos, each one nothing more than an image of an Alaskan landscape, shot in HD video, while a woman’s voice reads out, fairly flatly, the contents of each search. If you watch the videos in sequence, the searches unfold chronologically and reveal that the searcher is a woman with a snoring husband, who has conducted an affair over the internet, and is looking to escape her life in Houston by going to Alaska.

Her searches are interesting in that they are often phrased as rather personal questions or statements: “Has anyone ever praised you for being who you are?” The starkness of the represented Alaskan landscapes would seem to reflect the starkness of the searcher’s life, as she seeks to live life more fully.

This is the first episode:


I Love Alaska – Episode 1/13 from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo.

This kind of archeology of ordinary life as it is being lived reminds me of the *garbology* craze that hit a decade or more ago, where researchers would go through people’s trash, usually in the context of teaching a course on archeology or sociology, in order to show how much we can know about a person through the things they throw away. In both the cases of garbage and internet searches, what I think is really compelling is that we typically think of them as discrete bits of information, which they are, which reveal relatively little about us. Where they become compelling, even disquieting, is in their aggregate:

* a single piece of garbage reveals relatively little
* a kitchen trash can reveals a few days of living
* a household can at the street can reveal an entire week’s worth of living

The same goes for internet searches. Just think how much information Google knows about you — perhaps not you as in named you but about the on-line you, your avatar if you will — from days, weeks, months, even years of searches. Chances are the longer period is possible if you have any Google accounts and tend to log on to check your GMail or for your personalized iGoogle page which gives you local weather and news.

I think I’m going to log out and clear out some of those cookies. Maybe give birth to a new user id. Break my on-line self up into smaller pieces. I might even like Alaska.