Thursday, May 22, 2008

Video journalism's anti-aesthetism

Video journalism's anti-aesthetism short from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

I went for a run from my hotel in Chicago and shot about ten minutes of tape.

My goal was to produce a piece of work which in effect captures the essence of video journalism.

The theme emerged as I stepped out of the lobby.

The morning light was still, somewhat melancholic.

And as I pounded the path I went about catching images.

When I shoot I'm observing how movement and composition affect the type of story I'm producing.

News editors will say videojournalism editorialises, which it shouldn't. The camera should just record what's there. The reporter should remain neutral.

We can be impartial but being objective forces a philosophical debate: whatever you shoot introduces its own editorial bent right there.

One of the few times when academics/professional might argue less about the editorial nuance is when an event unfolds in front of you such as an accident, a riot, - all you need to do is point and shoot.

In effect this is the argument for Citzen Journalism: On the scene - point and shoot. The construct the preserve of the citizen trained as a journalist is a more complex matrix, involving deciphering complex matter in minutes and deciding how to move it on with pundits.

It's still an inprecise science, because oour choice of pundits can in itself be coloured. Objectivity huh!

Video story telling and journalism
TV News' early strength, its safeness and comforting images, even in emergencies (You are advised the following shots are graphic) made it tea-time friend.

But not solely for the last point, but our own heighten visual literacy, changes in visual grammar, has created a new dynamic with what we percieve as "polished" news.

It was hollywoodised when it emerged and still is now, with immaculate looking people and aesthetic sheens which can often cut against the visual message of an item.

Often as a TV reporter I'd place you in a visually aesthetic setting that would match the prerequisite mis en scene.

In the townships of Katelhong whilst being scared out of my wits as we entered the killing zone, my role as the reporter was to process and rationalise before delivery. There were many time when my thought bubbles just went F***, F***, F***.

When I emerged from that story I swore I'd never do it again.

The one place I can say that, without being ticked off might be the newspapers, but it's dfinately in this 3d medium of narrative writing - blogs.

Video dilemma

And when we can't find an appropriate backdrop for video story telling, we reach for the proverbial potted plant to give "colour".

News. Video is life - people's stories, and the settings are what they are.

My idea of videojournalism captures the mood and scene as is. It is a mixture of on-the-fly documentary, but to undershoot

My ratio for a 3 minute film can often by 6 minutes. The students I work with often come down from 40 minutes to 12 minutes.

The scenes do need directing in the construct package: "where do you want me to stand?" is the usual refrain".

I try to be noncommittal.

"How do you know what to film and when and how can you edit on the fly?", a delegate asked in Berlin.

Whilst talking to her, I threw her a ball. She caught it whilst still talking.

In Minority Report, a similar question is asked of Tom Cruise's character about pre-cog.

He rolls a ball and his adversary catches it. Expectation can be instinctive, but also conditioned.

In other words it's by training and repetition that we learn this thing called video journalism. There's no smoke and mirrors to it.

Self Filming
The shots of me running across the street give space to the scene. The A1 is small enough for me to place it somewhat clandestinely against a backdrop.

Though I am scouting to ensure no one with trainers or passing me a fleeting "lucky" look is in the vicinity . LOL

Digital can penetrate shadows and even when it's dark, so often I don't carry lights, most definately when I'm running, and to build up authorship; my judgement of the scene, I will either desaturate or adjust my blacks.

These can be found in FCP's colour corrector palate.

Here, I'm pulling up some sickly greens and browns. It's an anti aesthetic look: the mood, characters and visual dialogue are now instinctively captured to tell the story, even without actual dialogue with this case.

I've cropped it to 950x380 which gives it a more filmic sensation.

The music yes is important, but equally natural sound could have done the job.

I still believe it's an editorial call of using music in news packages, however we should pass the no-discussion approach.

This is a creative form, and if the signs of viewers abandoning news is anything to go by, and that's not entirely all down to the product, we'd do well to consider upping the anti on visual story telling, to be more compelling, more aggressive, subtle, in the thick of it when we tell stories.

These cameras can do things that beg fresh thinking and packaging processes.

Video posted on
size 6.5mb at 400k/sec reduced from 500mb using double compression technique.


Anonymous said...

Your piece on anti-aesthetism sparked thoughts about the way formal composition in paintings holds and communicates emotion. This seems to be something that people understand instinctively: reading the subconscious message. On a simple level, images that are composed on a broad-based triangle convey calm and security; invert the triangle and the emotion is uncertainty, danger. Might the video-journalist be unconsciously (in terms of the intelligent unconscious) composing on the fly to communicate the emotions s/he is feeling?

alison williams

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...

Alison, Oh my, yes.

Though this might be a wee anathema to traditional news editors.

There are strong elements of film language and design - the Gestalt Theory- in video journalism.

And so our visual grammar, how we inadvertently communicate with light and composition indeed instinctively drives our actions.

I'd say video journalism has a lot to be thankful for from artists up to and beyond Giotto di Bondone.

Peter at Shootingbynumber s posts some wonderful finds in this area.

Please lead us to your site or posts so we can read some more.