Following research my Final Major Project split into two different responses, one of these was the ASL image set and the other is a supporting documentary which would investigate the dynamics of online culture using people’s real experiences and thoughts. My inspiration came predominately from researching avenues including the Channel Four shorts, ‘5000 Feet Is The Best’ by Omar Fast and ‘Conversations With Myself’ by Karen Brett. As my Final Major Project addresses a subject that is part of the developing digital culture, I felt that I should produce work that not only operated in the space of an exhibition but also in an online space. This would be extremely important in order to engage with the audience in which I am attempting to address: digital natives. These individuals are literate and highly active in online spaces therefore by producing a piece that works digitally I stand a better chance at engaging and interacting with my intended audience. I will of course be transforming my images set from the exhibition to work in an online space as I feel this is extremely important too.
I wanted my video to be formed out of interview type responses, similar to that of the Channel Four short ‘Tofu’ and ‘5000 Feet Is The Best’. I didn’t have a specific criteria for who to interview however I was aware I would probably get the most appropriate and useful answers from interviewees who are digital natives. For this reason I wanted to try and interview university students as it would mean I had easy access to them and they wouldn’t have to travel a long way. The only real constrain was finding willing participants because other students were either occupied with work or simply didn’t feel comfortable taking part. However I did manage to find some willing participants so I set to work conducting the interviews. One thing I noticed about the interviews I had seen in the short documentaries was that they kept the background constant for each person. In response I chose to shoot the interviews in the photography studio so that the background and the lighting could be consistent, the photography building was also a good, neutral place to meet as opposed to conducting the interview in personal spaces as this could make people feel more uncomfortable about taking part.
Once I had started arranging the location and seeking participants for the interviews, I needed to establish what sort of questions I would be asking them. This could be a fixed set of questions or it could be a starting question with instinctive ones following it to get different answers out of the interview. I outlined a few major questions that I would ask and determined I would read the tone of the interview and ask intuitive questions based on the responses the participants gave.
My initial questions would be:
- Do you communicate with other people online?
- Have you ever communicated with someone anonymously online?
- Do you think you communicate differently with people online than you do face-to-face?
- Is there any danger to communicating online?
- What advice would you give to someone who was going to communicate anonymously online but hadn’t ever used the Internet before?
The last question I held back as it seemed like a good finishing question to round the interview up and provide closure. This also brought a sense of morality and responsibility as the participant had to consider the physical and emotional safety of this hypothetical person, bringing it back to my original Final Major Project proposal as I wanted to reunite the audience with feelings of responsibility.
With everything arranged for the interview I then needed to carry them out, I had three people scheduled to take part before Easter and I planned to secure many more during the Easter break in order to carry them out in the early moments after coming back. When carrying out my first interview and examining the footage afterwards, I came across a few challenges. I had used the microphone attachment on the Edirol sound recorder because I wanted a more focused sound however it was hard to get the right input level without getting the microphone in the shot of the camera that was also recording. I ended up with some noise on my sound recording however I was able to remove it by opening the file in Audacity and using the tools available. I used the microphone again on my second interview and was able to counteract the problem slightly by having the participant hold the microphone so I could stay behind the camera and control the proceedings but have good sound at the same time. On the third interview I tried without the microphone attachment, just using the in-built ones on the edirol recorder. Although these are usually to record ambient sound, I tried recording the interview with it because the studio was very quiet therefore it the edirol would only pick up the talking and it wouldn’t search for ambient sound because it had the voice as a dominant source to focus on. This sound recording turned out to be much better, I decided that my interviews after Easter should be recording using the internal microphone rather than the microphone attachment because it gave me a better quality sound recording.
With some footage taken both an audio recording and a moving image recording from a camera, I then wanted to start putting some footage together into a video to explore the potential dynamics and structure. I imported the sound and visual footage into Adobe Premiere Pro and started marking out sections of speech that I felt was effective. In using the footage I found that I liked listening to just the sound, not hearing the person behind it. For me, seeing the person while they are talking was too simplistic; one of the main reasons why I found ‘5000 Feet Is The Best’ and ‘Conversations With Myself’ so effective was the non-linear and experimental dynamic and structure which meant the audience wasn’t spoon-fed the information but instead had to seek an interpretation for themselves. I decided I wanted to try and balance the simplicity and straight-forwardness of the Channel Four shorts with the sense of mystery, experimental techniques and more artistic approach taken by Omar Fast and Karen Brett in their moving-image pieces. After deciding on different visuals for my moving image, I needed to begin filming visual footage to go along with the audio recordings. Taking some inspiration from Martha Rosler and her work on representation, I didn’t want the visual footage to be an obvious representation however I still wanted it to compliment the interviews rather than challenge and perhaps deconstruct the content. I’ve also noticed that some of the effective music videos like Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ that I have related to have been following a story in the visual sense whilst the music explores perhaps the same concept through sound. It is this approach I want to take when producing my moving image documentary and in response I need to work quickly to produce the visual content as well as the audio.
When researching moving image and documentaries I came across the release of a new Channel Four fiction drama Cyberbully exploring the concept of bullying online. I was really interested in the way that it was filmed, with only one central character seen and the entire piece taking place in one bedroom.
This example of following a singular story is definitely appealing and I think the constant surroundings of using one room would keep the visual content simple enough to not overwhelm the audio. Taking inspiration from this program I wanted to try and use my own bedroom and myself as the study for my visual content. I wanted to try and concentrate down on my own physical mannerisms when using online communication without actually showing my face, keeping the idea of anonymity in my documentary. Filming aspects like me moving my feet and fidgeting with my hands and coupling it with generic shots of the keyboard, the computer screen and other personal aspects of my room would build up the idea of a character whilst associating it with online communication.
One of the suggestions from the formative feedback review in relation to my documentary was that I could interview anonymous online users as it would give me a different perspective to the subject, perhaps more insightful because it is those individuals who are using them so I can better understand their motives. I decided to go back to the anonymous chat room I used to conduct my initial research and ultimately where the concept of my ASL image set came from. I then proceeded to enter a chat with an individual with the view of finding out more about who they were psychologically and their motives behind this form of communication. In hindsight I began this chat in the wrong way, it was unethical of me not to ask permission before communicating with the individual, so naturally at the end when I asked if they were alright with me using their responses they felt a betrayal of trust. This was an important lesson for my project as it revealed how exploitative these chat rooms can be when the individual invests trust in the confidentiality and the fleeting nature of the communication. Most individuals enter this form of communication because they don’t expect what they say to be taken outside of the chat room, therefore it allows them a sense of freedom. In addition to this, my research of the online disinhibition effect suggests that an anonymous or pseudonym format allows an individual to be more expressive, either in a positive or volatile manner.
Moving on from this first encounter, I decided to start another chat however straight away I asked the individual whether they were comfortable for me to ask them questions and for me to use their responses in my final major project as anonymous quotes. For those who were comfortable I progressed with the interview, for those who weren’t I thanked them for their time and ended the chat to avoid any further discomfort for them. In the chat sessions with the willing participants I asked the following fixed questions with any additional intuitive questions, similar to that of the face-to-face interviews.
- Why do you do anonymous online chatting?
- Do you think you communicate differently online than you would face to face?
I started getting responses that correlated to the findings of the research papers that I had read, that anonymous chatting allows the user to express themselves in a way they might find difficult in person. Quite a common instance was that a male user would find it much easier and more comfortable to communicate to a female user online as there was less pressure on the conversation than there would be if it was face-to-face. For some people it was just a tool to continue their love of communicating people however being anonymous meant that they didn’t have filter their personality as their responses couldn’t be associated with their identity. This wasn’t necessarily just for volatile or adult conversations, for some individuals it was simply because their personality isn’t one that is considered to be the ‘social norm’ therefore they might feel they can’t really be their full self in physical interactions. The responses from these online interviews complimented and in some cases contrasted the responses from the physical interviews I conducted. I definitely wanted to include some of the online interview responses as quotes as I felt it added depth to the investigation and provided a different viewpoint.
Using online interviews adds a sense of conflict and corruption because there is the chance that the anonymous user could have lied about their motivation and given me false answers. However as explored in one interview face-to-face, aside from the obvious factors like gender and age, to some extent an individual can lie to you just as much as an anonymous user. Challenges to truthful representation and depiction have also been considered heavily in the practice of photography, this relates quite well to the premise of deception in online communication. Whereas the typed word is one form of communication, the photographic image is another.
Although I had made some substantial progress in the making of my video documentary, I realised that I wasn’t as enchanted with it as the images I was making. Having revisited it several times, I identified that I was still unhappy with some of the audio and was having trouble matching visual clips to it and achieving the desired effect. Following a talk from two employees of the film company DuckRabbit I realised that making a short documentary in itself is a task that requires a substantial amount of work; by trying to focus on two different projects at once, I was limiting myself and my work from reaching the full potential. I decided that I should postpone the making of my video documentary and not include it in my final major project. This would be a project that could revisit in my time after university as a long-term project which would enable me to spend the time and effort which it deserves. The research and the making of the documentary, the ideas that it uncovered will inform my decisions surrounding my photographic work as they engage with a dystopian future and also the concept of identity.