Friday, August 26, 2011

Visualisation - at the heart of videojournalism and creativity

Videojournalists being prepped for combat reporting

Athletes, artists and creatives know it. Scientists have been trying to understand it - being able to visualise puts you in a state to create or perform.

The celebrated Art philosopher E.H Gombrich talked of schemas and mental states. We draw something, see how it compares to others and then subsequently alter it for the next time. Thus we build schemas - mini formulas in our minds and in Darwinian fashion the good ones survive; others get filtered out.

How else do we create TV shots and why do they look the same? This is a question, within a question whose answer I'll reveal below.

Neuroscientists have recently unveiled results that support the idea of visualisation.

John Gabriel from MIT showed volunteers 250 images to memorise whilst going through a MRI scan - apparatus that maps out your brain. [if you're a member of Athens you can read the full report here]

Two hours later the volunteers were shown a random additional 250 images to see if they could remember the earlier ones.  The scientists say something surprising happened.

Just before the volunteers saw the same image from the earlier test the patterns in a part of the brain called the parahippocampal changed to reflect a low level of activity. Gabriel says it was almost as if the brain was emptying itself.

The team performed another test. They showed the volunteers images when they exhibited this brain pattern and found the volunteers' memories improved by 30%.

In some way in trying to remember something appears to put you in a state of learning.

Gabriel says "Knowledge of brain states that correlate with learning creates the opportunity to enhance learning itself".

BBC TV image
Competitors taking part in the alpine sport, the luge, and Formula 1 racers, often visualise the course enacting twists and turns before they set off.

I discovered myself with observations for a thesis that solo film makers use visualisation in varied ways.

Think it; do it
Those with visual pre-thinking skills can accomplish the task of film making with a degree of ease - and I might suggest in a heightened state of learning are best positioned to carry out their tasks.

That also assumes a working knowledge of the task ahead or what I might call "inner-mind catalogue" of what I refer to as visual plates. But the key is what constitutes those visual plates?

The answer to the question I mentioned earlier resides in the last statement, which is if the repository of your images come from television, you'll go on to produce television and I believe if no Darwin-esque figure is able to act to alter the schema for TV, you will continue on that path.

This propensity to act by rules perpetuates a schemas. But what might have been appropriate in say the 1950s may not be now? In fact the 1990s constitute an important year zero with reference to a new convergence culture.

This largely affected a broad range of media, including news, albeit with reservations. There were specific and important alterations to TVnews in the 90s, but today if you're a visualists, documentary maker or videojournalist you could argue it wasn't enough!

In a later blog I'll address some of those schemas.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The art of photojournalism during the London Riots within a social network age. Don Omope interviewed by David Dunkley Gyimah

London's Burning - Riots 2011

The London riots will stand as one of those epochal events in British history.

[this post will be enormously useful for practitioners, academics and anyone interested in photojournalism and videojournalism.]

Much has been trawled through and spoken about with interviews from the police, politicians and rioters, but rarely have we heard from those on the front-line documenting these events, which have provided us with iconic images and reportage.

Don Omope, a photojournalist, is special because he embodies qualities that have come to define the new worker, the new photojournalist  - a freelancer who is also many media savvy.

He's special because, I have had the pleasure of seeing his career crystallised from BA student, MA grad, working for Sir David Frost and now producing network programmes, and he demonstrates what hard work can yield.

You'll be animated by what he says because he reflects the views of many, who work on their own terms eschewing the establishment route of media, creating their own niches.

You'll want to listen to him because, as he puts it, he was one of the first journalists on the scene, before Tottenham exploded. He made that point known broadcasting live on BBC News 24.

A bit about me:  I have been in the media since 1987, first presenting on radio for the BBC, to working across many of its acclaimed outputs e.g. Newsnight, and ABC News/ BBC WS in South Africa from 92-94 where I first came across some of the best photojos e.g. The Bang Bang Club [read here]. Then becoming an active videojournalist in 1994 training and working alongside many photojournalists.  In 2001 I wrote on my other site how videojournalism used a photojournalistic methodology [read here]. In 2005 that led to one international award describing my videojournalism work as "photojournalistic and cinematic".  I have worked with an extraordinary number of internationally acclaimed photojos e.g.Yannis Kontos, a world press award winner,  and more recently my PhD work I'm completing explores an alterity narrative. What Don has here is relevant to the craft of photojournalists - practitioners and academics. Its very special.
Charge of the parade - Don puts himself between rioters and police for this shot

1. How it started
I started off by asking Don how he got down to Tottenham. He lives close by. He had no interest going, but friends and neighbours constantly called him that something unusual was brewing. Then when he got down there, a usual state of play, the police were being uncooperative.

The art of photojournalism - London Riots 2011 by david dg

2. Eye witness account trumps all
Don describes his interview with BBC News 24. What the BBC was saying came no where near to what was really happening, I told them. Meanwhile several photojournalists were being attacked, their gear stolen and smashed in front of them - equipment worth almost $30,000.

London's Burning 2011 Riots - a photojournalists account by david dg

3. The Myth of Photojournalism.
Whilst undoubtedly photojournalism is a craft, it has also perpetuated or disguised a huge myth relating to the flawed geniuses of many practitioners.This is not uncommon of many other disciplines. But as Don so eloquently explains here out of his 2000 shots many turned out to be unusable from a professional display point of view. In Art, that could be a different matter.

The point I want to make here is that for every set of pictures taken a photojo like Don unconsciously and consciously swiftly evaluates their work with references to the matrix of technical data on the camera to the outcome of the photos, the storytelling aspect of quality ( proximity, shape etc) of the story image and whether they are after a narrative or not.

Get the shot before it decomposes. Photojournalists therefore take a series of shots. Each frame is different from the other. Within the shot duration small changes - the man blinking, sighing, head turned a certain away affect the aesthetic quality of the image. What would have happened if Don got to the floor such as the image below by Yannis Kontos? What prevented him from doing so? Listen to the podcast.
Yannis Kontos, award winning photojournalist. This image was taken in Iraq. For more in Yannis go to his website

This section of the interview is lengthy, but deeply interesting for what academic Barbara Kennedy would call aesthetic impulse. Don's aesthetic impulse, like many others, is informed by many factors. But the one I'm drawn to is the lone ranger.

In photojournalism and videojournalism involving live events, there is a shared communion between even rivals to establish a near repertoire of story shots.  They inform each other within a constant looped paradigm.  How do you know what to shoot and when?

Heiddeger one of the west's celebrated philosophers created the word: "Dassein" - a complex understanding at how we think and work, which involves being in the zone. Don's Dassein involves working against the grain. He wants to see what others have not, capture the event before it decomposes and then swiftly move on. Heiddeger talks about moods and how things in this case, the scenes of the riots, articulate something the photojournalists absorbs. It's an unconscious thought and involves an intentionality - your mind directed to a task. Your doing informs how you will undertake future task - what others have called experiential learning.

The consciousness of the aesthetic. There are a limitless number of ways to capture an image. Here the fire burning provides a signification - there is a fire. Don has stooped to the eye level of the crouching policeman. There is a proximity. Forget everything you've learned as a technical exercise and concentrate on the composition. Don is only about 10 yards or less away. Part of the art of photojournalism is a fearless quality of getting the shot. Its what Cappa said and its the reason so many photojos get injured.

A Photojournalist in the thick of the London Riots reflects by david dg

4. The limitation of the 5D and social networking
Don reveals what would have been his favourite camera for the job, but also reflects on the use of social media at the time. It's become imperative thus, for the freelance mini media mogul to make a living, to understand all workflows in media.

The photojos becomes a narrative specialists understanding the mechanics of text. See Hayden White's Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1989). The writer becomes a visualists. See Representation and Photography by Manuel Alvarado et al (2001)

Here too Don speaks about social networking to drive the story and pictures.

Photojournalists in a networked world by david dg

Oner last thing before I sign off. I'd like you to have a look at the two pictures below. One from an old friend which dates back to 1990 - London's poll tax riot - and the one after from a student demo and fees. There's a story in there - and one that Don and I discussed may involve police response to different sets of crowds. 

Student riots 2010

Poll Tax Riots - 1990

Click here for insight into major new findings on

What is videojournalism on the web, in multimedia and offline - a major study and film - and why it matters

Saturday, August 20, 2011

State of Play

Its said everyone has one story to tell in a lifetime.

Not any old story, but one that intoxicates them and the audience; the defining story.

Whatever Spielberg does, he'll always have ET in his first sentence. For Car Bernstein and Bob Woodward, it is of course Watergate.

But they don't have to be epochal stories witnessed first hand by the public. A wedding, a birth, a break up - the resonance of the event is what becomes momentous.

Heiddeger came up with the word: Dassein, to define something special. I like that word.

For the last couple of years I have been trying to unpick a number of locks within the field I so love. For a brief while, it was chemistry - the science of making up things. Today it still is the science of making up things but within a social science of the moving image.

It's been a laborious passion. One of discovery; of nakedness, when I hear myself say I don't understand that; or that those who support me say, it's there - as if they were zen masters and I the little cricket.

I'm winding down now; not because the total end is in sight, but an aspect of building knowledge is drawing to a close. Like the brush strokes on a painting when the painter has to decide - "enough", the main body of my questions is coming to a close.

Doctorate programmes are akin, at least mine is, to an infantry soldier scaling high terrain for a sight advantage, only to find the rain or other impediment has caused them to slip, and they must try again.

Or not!

But you keep going because every small step reveals more, every new author you read is a new discovery, every new thread enables you to assemble thoughts you previously did not have, or even possess the capacity to explore.

The sacrifices you make mean whilst I would want to devote myself to making more films, at this stage I am unable to. But that hopefully will soon change. Soon, being months away.

For the next couple of months, the ideas will be fashioned, the argument honed, and the theory that becomes knowledge hopefully make sense.

A friend who is set to become my penultimate interviewee said today: "Well done. I wish I did mine after my Masters".

I talked her down. There is no well done. There is no gloating, no celebrations, but a matter of factness to reach the end and make a strong case.

That is the state of play.  And the one story? Not quite yet. Not quite yet!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to brief a designer for a website, identity brand etc

I've been scouring the net for something to help with briefing a designer. As so often, when you do find something it takes you on some meandering path where you have to sort out the wheat and chaff, so here's my quick guide for the client, or person (low to medium size) wanting a site.

1. Have an idea what you want. This often comes from seeing a competitor or other sites.

2. Be realistic about the elements that you need and those that could be secondary, tertiary

3. In other words unbeknownst to you, but there are basic needs that show who you are, what you do, etc and then integrated add ons that allow for conversation. Holistically you could count these all as one, but depending on resources, strip it.

4. You may not be aware but wordpress, and blogs may do the job for you, so google : "wordpress" and your area of expertise and see if there's a related site that catches your attention.

5. A designer needs assets to work with and ideally clear direction. This often comes with a brief. But if you're not from a creative background or don't want to bone up on what a brief is
i) get the designer lost of pictures.. lots of pictures
ii) Do you have video?
iii) Very important write something about yourself, your business, what you want, what you want the audience to know - that the designer can work with

6. Be realistic about time. If it's a freebie or no-pay scheme, be realistic about the time of delivery and that the designer may need to get hold of you

7. If it is a paying gig, that's another matter and involves a more rigorous due-dilligence, toll gates etc. - forget about those for the moment

8. If it's a wordpress blog site, do you have the capacity and time to update the site?

9. When you receive feedback from the designer, ask around your friends for feedback - which you can then communicate back to the designer. But do that at the initial stages, when being flexible is easier

10. Help your designer to help you: Remember it's a favour, or might be, so work out clearly what you want and don't think because s/he's a designer, they ought to know your thoughts

The Unreality of Reality

Release (Director's Cut) from Kendy on Vimeo.

Webby's Gala Opening Sequence 2008 from Rob Chiu on Vimeo.

Two entirely different visualists: Rob Chiu and Kendy. Rob Chiu I have had the pleasure of knowing since the early 2000s. Kendy's work I stumbled across watching Channel 4's Urban theme: Concrete Jungle.

What unites them is a visual DNA, and also scores not too dissimilar to the undiscerning ear: Hecq and OBNY.

To their fans the two are way different, but all highlight a growing tendency in our visual culture: the unreality of reality.

In Sontag's epochal book On Photography, and if you're a theoretician in photography and you haven't read it, it's the equivalent of a playwright ignoring Beckett, Sontag pokes at the unreality of reality.

A photograph or image draws us to a realism in which more credence is attached than sometimes the real thing. In the past citing Gombrich she notes the image and its real thing were indistinguishable.

Today, our heightened sense of visual pleasure, brilliant colours, flares, noir has made cinema our reality.

Strangely, we'd rather watch the two videos above and marvel, than being given the rawness of the real thing. More so for a generation born into cinescopes' reality: games; films, music videos.

The Retwitter Show titles - journalism 2046 from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

My work researching a doctorate draws some ideas, such as the reinterpreting, or reversioning of an event to heighten its affect; not for the sake of a 3 minutes of wanton pleasure, though that does happen, but an approach to burrow into your psyche - to disturb you or make you feel happy.

When those grey-suited men conceived of news and the recording of events in scientific mode - a stipulation that freed it from abuse - they did so as the nannying statesman protecting us from the deviance's of others e.g. yellow journalism, fakery etc.

Unless however the event ( news) is more gratuitous than the former its grapples fail to hold us, so in feature news e.g. docs, visualisation and sound scaping are designed to lock us in. By the way visualists have been doing this from time re:art movement to art movement. Note how the impressionists usurped the realist in the 1900s.

The unreality of reality sees TV being emasculated by 3dtv, composited form driving out what was its referent, by illusions overcoming physical states.

The unreality of reality was at the heart of the schism between classical film theory and post structuralism. In years to come it will become ever more crucial a factor that delimits our view of events.

And as the visual language grows, we can just about be certain, that a next generation's use of fluttercuts, flashframes, crushed blacks and the rest will itself become obsolete.

What then?

Meanwhile I'm enjoying this unreality/reality

Apple- profiled digital filmmaker David Dunkley Gyimah  and  internaional award winning innovator in media presents to industry on media and innovations. You can find more of his own work on and contact him here

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mythology of Media - reforming news and intelligence

BBC Reportage from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

By the evening the level of unprecedented violence using knives and baseball bats had yielded a level of shock that was unfathomable to Television viewers and the police and the people of Brighton.

Geoffrey Cox, the News editor of one of the UK's foremost news outlets received information from the authorities that challenged the very ethos of his ambitions of getting stuck in there and showing the viewers what's going on.

This is what defined his approach to news: "Just remember, its better to be rocketed for something you've done than something you haven't done."

But Cox had now been made aware of something strange, that his broadcasts were being used by warring factions to determine their next strategy, where they would all gather and  fight.

The police asked whether Cox could suppress his coverage of these violent clashes, which might help restore calm. It must not have been an easy decision, but Cox writing in his semi-autobiography: Pioneering Television News considered it and did what he could and indeed the violence subsided.

Of course you might argue there must have been other reasons, but this is how Cox more or less relays it in his book.

Media Replay
That was the 1960s. Fast forward to the events of a couple of days ago - the riots in the England cities - and a seemingly causal link seems obvious.

There was a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham for the shooting of Mark Duggan [ a full enquiry has yet to ascertain the full facts].  It was followed later by anger against the police. On TV the police looked either powerless or out of sorts. The next day through copy cat or an escalation, matters took a turn into  the darkest side of human behaviour.

Twitter, Facebook - all manner of Social Networks have garnered their attributional share to how the rioters functioned, but now what about television?

As a hypothesis, no more powerful an image of the police seemingly looking on idly can act as window of opportunity for impressionable misguided minds of the young or disaffected. Seemingly, because perceptions, rather than what actually happens, is a powerful message.

Or consider the point where news reported London was drafting in extra police from other forces. It did not say where they were from. But that night when riots happened in Manchester there were reports Manchester indeed was one of the forces that had gone to the aid of London - and perhaps now caught short.

So, just as the rockers had used television, Britain's unruly mob had found television's alterity.  To paraphrase the Sun newspapers headline - it was television wot won helped it. You might even look back to the cause-effect of the Rodney King beating - LA Police acquittal - riots. This from the BBC's website:

 In March 1991, the beating of black motorist Rodney King caused outrage around the world and set off a chain of events which culminated in LA riots ...

This raises an important spectre and a qualification I believe in as much as anyone interested in news, but it deserves to be talked about nonetheless.

The spectre that television news played a role, in merely doing what it does. The qualification that  in today's liberalised, capitalist  society, no one would dare ask any network editor to tone down their coverage or would they? Not unless it constitituted a matter of national security (needs defining). And just how can you blame television? I'm not I'm drawing threads between what mobs do watching television, as they television people go about doing their jobs with the highest of integrity.

I believe I'm not being naive, neither should you hopefully think I'm trying to intellectualise this, but a couple of things become evident.

The Rhetoric of the video image ( courtesy Roland Barthe)
It's highly unlikely with any scenes of last week a news editor would relent from showing pictures when their neighbour and competitor and the thousand of social networkers or citizen journalist will search for the dramatic, sometimes with little thought to the consequences.

So there has to be fresh thinking into media-affectivity. How what you're seeing can be used as intelligence, not just news ( an impartial semi-scientific recording of events).   This entails the need to:

a) Understand the power of "video journalism" - the image's message, both obvious and hidden. If the police or politicians hadn't seen it, thousands of media professionals did. Like many I said as much last Saturday when news broadcast showed the peaceful march of  Mark Dugan, fatally shot by police. The family standing outside the station being ignored said something. The clash with the police later communicated something else - as the police looked on seemingly helpless. Semiotics!

b) Authorities need to sufficiently boost their inhouse levels of knowledge to include methodologies and social behaviour (the code) to the dissemination of information, both in a classical and modern sense. This is not about knowing how to set up twitter, but to understand from people on the ground and those in the know how mobs behave with these tools. It's akin to how militarists study wars. It's simply not enough- even after their non-apology for the executive branch of the police to say we did not expect what happened.

c) How coincidental was it that mobs attacked brands. Is there a new social governance and visibility that such brands should be expending to the social provenance and not just balance the sheets of their share holders. And if believe they are doing that already, then something, somewhere is wrong.

d) Greater use of media as social understanding. I know this isn't news remit, but this happens to be one of the failings of a new post modernism media. That it still reacts, as you might claim it should, to events, before it falls of the screen without trace and something else occupies it.

e) An understanding that they haven't solved the problem. It's just gone underground and could manifest itself in other ways, where vunerabilities are shown.

 The video showing above is from 1992 - one of the BBC's seminal youth programmes that I worked on called Reportage. Then as now, youth were running amok. Perhaps, one of the failings of "videojournalism" as a new model has been its inability at a network level to redefine how TV traditionally addresses issues, as news.

The above can either be construed as impracticable based on semiotics of what we expect, or a chance as so many other innovators are looking for, enact Thomas Kuhn moments to reshape news ways of understanding and contextualising media.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London Riots 2011- Robust reponse ?? and Criminality !

A man is shot dead.
The police claim they acted to protect the community.
A peaceful protest takes place to the Police station to seek answers.
Protesters are kept waiting for hours.
It’s no ones jobs worth to speak to them.

That night, a riot ensues, and the next, day and the next...

Today,  the catalyst that has put the UK into mob rule, has all but been forgotten. It should not.

Politicians have found new words to give themselves wider girths. Words, now slogans which have become meaningless. " this is criminality", "we will meet this with a robust response", criminality, robust…  Thank the good Lord for the word "robust".

Simon Israel, Channel 4 News' crime correspondents  revealed last evening that a preliminary examinations by the authorities, the IPC, investigating the shooting, say the man shot dead, Mark Duggan, 29, did not fire at police.

Tragic doesn’t cut it. This is catastrophic. How could the police get it so wrong?
Not just today, but on every incident that has involved a public death: Tomlinson, de Menezes, the police’s policy seems to be defend the badge, rubbish every one else's account.

Except for this recent event included a crass act whose repercussions were so obvious that a school boy lesson on public relations and communications would have sorted this mess out.

Five hours the protesters waited and either through arrogance or ineptitude, the police did not see fit to supply answers to the family.

The stations police chief was on holiday. Whoever was left in charge and you have to wonder about the communications team or family liaison officer, they’ve been found imbecilically wanting and should be reflecting on their conscious.

No one watching the riots and looting with a scintilla of decency will not be hurting. The riots that have followed encumber a range of reasons, which politicians, themselves have shown to be out of sorts understanding, what to do.

The powder keg is now seemingly distant; the airwaves now filled with one group or another classifying the state the UK's in with analyses which can sometimes make you weep.

The causes are there, and the solutions by no means easy will require attention and resources governments are often loathe to give, or cannot give. In the heat of the moment, the sentiment is the obvious - arrest and prosecute - as well one should.

Many of the perpetrators may be first time offenders, the punishment they'll receive will only serve to expose the UK's criminal justice system. A substantial number will not be locked up. 

If they are their term, which could amount to 8 years for rioting may be worked down to 4 years. You serve half the time for a number of mitigating circumstances. The prisons will not be able to accommodate the swelling numbers, so the authorities are stuck where to put offenders.

And those that do get banged up, may well thank the circumstances: 3 meals a day, a gym, x-box, some order to their lives and now their own badge of honour.

I reported from within Wormwood scrubs - one of London's notorious prisons a good while back, and then as now, governors will tell you denying the freedom of an inmate is the punishment, not what constitutes their rights to lead a life.

Its chaos here, because the foundation for how civil society functions has been undermined by solutions that are outdated. Rich, poor, the privileged, the down trodden, the haves and have nots, and in between these strata the grey areas where many people live and want to make a living with the creed of looking out for one another in decent ways.

In a couple of weeks time as politicians, and those who are hurting, seek answers, we'll begin to hear about the human rights of offenders and what they are entitled to.

The European Courts will have a say, those who are in the business of liberty will be anxious society doesn't seek and get what they deem to be inappropriate.

How we got here is an issue that's going to need forensic handling, where we're going will need imagination. What to do today is the issue to hand, and frankly no one's got much of an idea.

At the very least please can we stop using the word "robust"