A Two-sided Interview. Ed Kashi & Robert Gumpert muse about the details of a Multimedia Project

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Thought this was an interesting conversation about multimedia projects and the digital age as a whole posted on Ed Kashi’s blog…

Earlier this month a project on RESOLVE, liveBook’s blog, posed the question to it’s readers, ‘What will photobooks look like in ten years?‘, and it got a lot of pretty great reactions. Today, Ed and Robert Gumpert, who’s work you absolutely need to look at, had the following conversation. This is not canned, and with the exception of the timestamps and polite salutations at the end of the thread, nothing has been edited. Read on to get some fantastic insight into what it means to be a photographer in the changing world.

Ed,

I’m the photographer that has been doing work in the SF criminal justice system under the title “Lost Promise”. I thought you might find the new website and related project interesting. It’s called “Take A Picture, Tell A Story” (takeapicturetellastory.com).
All my best,
Robert Gumpert

Dear Robert,
Thank you for sharing this work. The images are powerful and stunning. The audio is strong and adds more dimension to their stories and reveals deeper meaning. My only critique has to do with the structure and pacing. The images are so static on the page and I find it hard to keep viewers connected and engaged when there is one image up on the screen while audio of any length more than 10-20 seconds accompanies it. Secondly, the navigation of the site is not as fluid or takes advantage of the creative ways web pieces can be “read” now. Having said all that, I realize I sound like I’ve drank the kool aid of the digital revolution :). I often wonder, as I and so many embrace the future of media and technology in an attempt to tell important stories in a way that people will absorb and respond to them, what are we losing? Your site is reminiscent of a “printed” approach to seeing photography, text and audio. Nothing wrong with it and for some possibly much more comfortable and manageable. Brings up interesting points of how our minds and ways of absorbing visual storytelling, and reading in general, are dramatically changing. I am not convinced it’s for the good quite frankly, but what I see is that it’s the reality and I don’t see us going backwards.

Best, Ed
Ed,

My thoughts follow below.

First a bit of what I think of new journalism and new tech in general. Foremost, way too many people have decided that tech equates to content. And that’s true whether the subject is image or words. This is a continuation of the push in papers towards ever shorter articles and trivial stories. It was said shorter, punchier was the way paper journalism could compete with TV. Of course the printed page could not compete with TV. What the papers missed then was they shouldn’t have tried – they should have looked around for what papers could do and TV couldn’t. But instead the mantra was shorter and shorter until even the trivial and personality pieces became shorter and shorter. Now we have the web and in spite of all the talk of a new media, new model, all we really are doing, in the vast majority of cases, is producing TV pieces. Sometimes a bit longer but still TV. Or we produce incredible but self indulgent pieces – amazingly produced and shot which say next to nothing but their sheer beauty and artfulness not only take our breath away but lull us into forgetting to ask what’s it about, how is our understanding of the world increased, what have I learned?

Tech is a delivery system for content. But mostly today we all talk about tech: on the blogs, to ourselves and in the schools – we talk little of content. Tech will not fix journalism or documentary. As David Simon, the ex Baltimore journalist and producer/writer of The Wire has said, it’s all about content. As Dave Eggers said in an interview this last week about the latest Mcsweeney’s,The San Francisco Panorama – papers shouldn’t be chasing the web, they should be pursuing what a paper can do that the web can’t. That would be long thoughtful pieces, extended interviews (The Guardian of London used to run 4000 – yes that’s four thousand) word interviews with interesting people, and investigative journalism.

There’s more but I’ll leave it at that and go on to my thoughts on the site.

“My only critique has to do with the structure and pacing. The images are so static on the page and I find it hard to keep viewers connected and engaged when there is one image up on the screen while audio of any length more than 10-20 seconds accompanies it. “

This site is a response to a problem I’ve had with this project, a problem I’m pretty sure all photographers working on their own with a long project and/or doing a lot of new tech presentations, have. I’ve done perhaps a thousand interviews with more every week. I don’t have the material to sustain 2-10 minute slide shows even for a tiny number of these stories. If I go with pans, zooms, crops, etc., by the time I have put up 5 of them, the style is old and redundant. My feeling is people listen to radio all the time, for extended periods. Using only one or two images is an attempt to do two things: 1) keep the site simple, in a sense styleless (the style become invisible) and 2) highlight the audio.

Because the site content is simple and the site is easily refreshed by me, the material can get changed often. And this is important to meeting one of my commitments to the people who have been generous enough with their time and trust to sit with me and talk.

“Secondly, the navigation of the site is not as fluid or takes advantage of the creative ways web pieces can be “read” now.”

Not sure what the word “fluid” means here. As to all the creative ways web pieces can be read – you’re right it doesn’t. But just to hammer the point again – I don’t want the tech/style of the site to be the first thing people talk about. However I have encountered a phenomenon with website, including with myself, people don’t fully read and seem dependent on the “creative ways web pieces can be read” to take them through the material. It is for this reason that I have stopped looking at most journalistic sites’ home pages. Now I depend completely on either their rss feeds or their “mobile” version. Very simple presentations of the information I came to the site to find, in an easy to use and read format.

“How are you? Still in SF”

Still in SF, circumstances. Am doing OK, better than many in our business I suppose. But then I have not done journalism in a number of years, even when I was getting work from the papers. I have found a way to keep myself going, do my projects and not feel like I’ve made compromises I would find difficult to live with. Much of that is due to understanding family and a very understanding agent, NB Pictures in London.

Thanks for taking a look. But more thanks for actually thinking about what you saw and writing me about it.

Give a call next time you come through SF.

Bob

Robert,

thanks for the excellent and thoughtful rebuttal, and now what i’d like to do, if it’s ok with you, is post this whole dialogue. First a link to your piece, then my comments and and then your rebuttal. I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. Sometimes I worry that in this headlong push to “multimedia”, which is really just short documentary films using stills, we’re going to unwittingly destroy the use of still photography in the editorial process. While I’m absolutely enjoying the creative possibilities of this new form and loving the way I can increase my authorship and give my subjects’ a voice, I have also never loved and appreciated still photography. It’s a conundrum, as we would probably agree that to have lived out our lives working only in stills would have been quite fine, thank you! But times and media are a changin’ and I for one don’t want to lose my ability to tell stories and reach people, in whatever form that might be.

As for the overuse of technology, please don’t read my comments inaccurately. I am not advocating the tech part, just the utilization of spoken words, movement, ambient sound, music and all the other raw elements that can be used to make a compelling story.

Let me know your thoughts about doing some kind of posting. I also want to be able to facilitate other people seeing your great work.

Best, Ed

This cuts right to it: the struggle of how to balance multimedia’s content. There’s a good deal of food for thought here from any angle you read it. I think it’s hard not to come away from this conversation without having learned something, or at least some questions of your own to reflect on. I hope you enjoyed reading this.

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