In the fourth year of Brightworks (2014/2015) we studied three forms of familiar media: Photograph, Book, and Movie. What ties these things together is the simple idea of story. Where would you start if you set out to explore the idea of a photograph? With Louis Daguerre in the 1840’s with his incredibly toxic chemical processes that involved chlorine, bromine, and, to fix the image, bathing the plate in mercury vapors? Or perhaps you would consider that the act of composing a photograph might be analogous to writing a book or movie and that cropping, dodging, burning, and the pantheon of darkroom and desktop effects are likewise analogous to editing? Or that the pages of a book could each be works of art and that taken together they are like frames in a movie? Or…?
What also ties each of these topics together is that they each deserve a lifetime of exploration. While that could certainly be said for any of the recent topics (salt, fairness, clock, mirror, etc), these are particularly expansive and each present a soaring and sometimes treacherous mountain with no obvious or singular approach. So we come to the crux of the challenge of 2014/15; for each of the collaborators to find a path that makes sense of the mountains. We chose story as the connective thread because it unifies the three without dwelling on the technologies or the minutia, which, in the same way that measurement tied 2013/14 together, is not meant to exclude deep dives and rich digressions but rather to act as a touchpoint and easy place to call home.
Year 4, Arc 1: Photograph
The photograph is an instant captured with a mixture of electrical, mechanical, optical, and chemical technology. The light that it captures cannot be seen until it is bathed in chemicals or processed by a computer, yet the image that is revealed can only truly be understood, appreciated, made sense of, by a person. Each frozen moment, a slice of time, reveals hints of what happened before and carries implications of what comes after – a story told in a single frame.
Photographers have captured the best and worst of humanity, created infamous hoaxes, and revealed the biggest mysteries. Though there may come a day when face and object recognition algorithms will be able to project and extrapolate from a single frame the way that we do, and the connection that we make with a powerful image is personal and unique to each of us.
During the Photograph arc, students examined light in a new way by studying lenses, comparing how they work in a camera with how they work in the eye. They took field trips all over the city to see what they could capture with both digital and analog film. They visited a darkroom and made prints of their work, learned about the chemical process of developing film, talked about the rule of thirds and composition of photographs, and thought about saving memory in a photograph. As one student said, “The lighting and the wind is always changing things; the shadows are always moving. As soon as the shutter closes and takes the photo, it is frozen and there for almost eternity.”
Year 4, Arc 2: Book
The book is a collection of pages bound together. In essence; a physical representation of the thoughts of a human being, the tangible implementation of telepathy, words arranged in a specific sequence designed to put an idea into a strangers mind. The revolution of moveable type revolution, started in China almost 1000 years ago and later adapted by Gütenberg, accelerated the rapid spread of ideas and narratives (locally and globally). Books have proved remarkably long-lasting as artifacts, and centuries of their effectiveness can be seen in the hundreds of examples of history changing manifestos and tomes. Books have been banned, embraced, and banned again. They have been esteemed and reviled; pages filled with words arranged in such a way to move the heart and mind.
The Book arc opened without books, during the Book Ban of 2014, where we learned the importance of the freedom of information and the value of a world without censorship. The arc continued in the same vein, with an emphasis on limiting censorship and learning the implications that a lack of books has on a culture or a group. During November’s National Novel Writing Month, students wrote novels from beginning to end while studying the structure of stories and making their own typography. Projects during the Book arc ranged from writing and design to book art and text adventure coding.
Year 4, Arc 3: Movie
The movie is a sequence of still frames played in sequence to simulate motion – it combines the technology of the photograph and structure of the book to create something altogether new. It is a story told in scenes and moments, visual by nature and emotional in delivery. An on-rushing train drove audiences from their seats in the earliest experiments and when talkies were first introduced, audiences would argue with the characters on screen – reality suddenly became mutable on a massive scale. The spectacle and the intimate drama both became popular. Movies defined culture in countries around the world.
More about the Movie arc coming soon!