Formulating the grammar, aesthetic and style of multi-media

During my recent time at the Maine Media Workshops there was much discussion about what is being called “convergence.” The idea is that in the future, still images, video and audio are going to converge into one common media. With nearly all communication moving to the world-wide-web, that logic is largely irrefutable. The works that results from this mixing of media is currently referred to as multi-media. The faculty, staff and students at the workshop spoke often about that. I have been making such multi-media pieces myself, often for this site. To me, one of the most interesting things about multi-media is that as a new medium, we have a unique opportunity to formulate the grammar, aesthetic and style of this new media-in-the-making.

My own thinking on multi-media has been continually evolving. Like any professional photographer, I keep up with the trends in the marketplace that pays me. From the earliest days when I was working with black and white negative film, through my years using color slides and now with digital capture, I have always tried to have the skills needed to get the paying work I like to do. Along the way I have worked with large format, and medium format cameras as well as SLRs and rangefinder cameras. Now I am working with the ultimate mixture of still images, video and audio. On one level, it is largely the same because it is about what I see and the story I want to tell.

On the other hand, sound and moving images offer many new storytelling opportunities (and potential hurdles.) Understanding how to use the former and avoid the latter is key. That was part of my thinking when I recently replied to a student who wrote me:

I took your class on multimedia. I really want to learn more and use Final Cut Pro software. Do you have any suggestions for courses or programs?

I replied:

I have been pondering your question trying to decide if I could offer a useful answer. I am not sure I can, but I would say briefly:

The big issue is that many classes on Final Cut are for video professionals and not for still photographers. Video professionals and still photographers have VERY different ideas about multi-media (and how the two use Final Cut is completely different.) I just Googled “Final Cut for photographers” and found a few things. I would suggest you do the same, but be careful because most of what you find is aimed at folks using DSLRs for video not doing multimedia with stills, which is what I am interested in.

Before spending money on a class, the other question I would ask you is how do you learn? I learn by tinkering with the program and by making 1,000 mistakes. I am a visual learner NOT a book learner. So when I hit a wall, I Google my problem and so far someone, somewhere has answered my question. I then read what they have written, apply it to my work and that is how I get through a problem (and learn a software.)

One photographer I know who is starting to teach the class that I want (which would be titled something like, “Final Cut Pro for still photographers”) is Stefanie Dworkin. She is an Apple Certified Final Cut Pro Instructor and teaches Final Cut Pro classes. You can read more about that at: http://stefaniedworkin.com/Site/Final_Cut_Pro_Training.html If you are in contact with her, remind her that what you want is something like “Final Cut Pro for still photographers.”

In terms of looking at multi-media work, The people doing the most with that are at: http://www.mediastorm.com/ I would poke around their site and follow out the various links.

Here are a few other resources to get you thinking about the grammar, aesthetic and style of multi-media:

Ed Kashi’s Iraqi Kurdistan multi-media piece http://www.mediastorm.com/publication/iraqi-kurdistan

Lens, the photojournalism blog of The New York Times http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/

MediaStorm’s Ten Ways To Improve Your Multimedia Production Right Now http://www.mediastorm.com/blog/?p=709

Multimedia DSLR Buyers Guide online http://www.thinktankphoto.com/BG/buyersguide.html

Multi-media page of The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/pages/multimedia/index.html

Winners in recent multi-media competitions:

http://bop.nppa.org/2008/web_sites/winners/?cat=BMP&smc=INDE

http://bop.nppa.org/2009/web_sites/winners/

http://bop.nppa.org/2010/web_sites/winners/?cat=NFP&smc=INDE

http://www.nppa.org/competitions/monthly_multimedia_contest/winnergalleries.php

The resources that I offered the student who wrote are a good starting point in terms of thinking about the grammar, aesthetic and style of multi-media. However they should not be the end point in the discussion.

That discussion is very much in flux, as I was reminded when I was in Maine and I shared some of my multi-media pieces. The pieces I have made are less like the linear narratives that I used to make in my political photo-essays, which are at: http://www.davidhwells.com/docu/projects.html The pieces I showed are more visceral and atmospheric, like the light studies I love to make, which you can see at: http://www.davidhwells.com/light/projects.html Some of my favorite multimedia pieces can be seen at: http://www.davidhwells.com/multimedia/projects.html

In talking with people and sharing my work in Maine I realized that while the grammar, aesthetic and style multi-media are in flux, they are increasingly coalescing around a widely accepted approach that we are familiar with, that of television. While that is one aesthetic, I certainly hope it is not the only one. I am interested in how multi-media can shift the way we perceive and experience time, space, place and of course, sound. The flat, linear approach of television does not allow for this.

To me, the larger question is, will the grammar, aesthetic and style of this new media-in-the-making be new and unique to the media itself. Or, like so many other things, will it end up being eaten alive by the overwhelming, mindless, smothering aesthetic that dominates so much of television?

In a visually driven world, do we need more of the kind of talking heads and prepackaged story lines that dominate the media? I think not. As the people who will shape the grammar and style of this new media, it is up to us. I, for one, am waist deep in doing my part and making my small contribution to the future of multi-media.

To put this in context, if you look at the history of all media, physical or electronic, you will find that the arrival of a new medium initially sounds the death knell for its predecessor. With the arrival of photography, painting was said to be doomed. More precisely, Paul Delaroche, one of the foremost painters of his time, upon seeing an early Daguerreotype said, “From today, painting is dead!” Yes, the business of representational painting, particularly portraiture, was all but decimated by the arrival of photography. On the other hand, photography’s arrival also forced artists into a new form of expression. Many art historians argue that the arrival of photography freed painters from the limited aesthetic of representational imagery and led to new aesthetics such as impressionism and later abstract expressionism.

So, is still photography dead? I think not! Will it be redefined in the wake of the explosion in multi-media? Undoubtedly! Will photographers “choose sides,” casting their lots with one medium and steering clear of the other? Of course! Will new masters appear in the old and new disciplines? Certainly. Will some photographers find great satisfaction as they working in their chosen discipline as they are creatively renewed in the process? Lets hope so.

PS: All of my recent work and traveling have got me to thinking about how to use my time most wisely. With that in mind, as of September 1st, I will be blogging once a week rather than twice a week. I have a long and growing list of topics to blog about, but what I am lacking is the time to write them out properly, so cutting back on the volume of entries will increase the quality of the ones that I post each week.

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