Plugging away this gorgeous spring

So…. I was derailed from my winter 2015 timeline because of broken ribs, my broken ribs (5 of them, 5!!). Totally out of left field, and about a month of pain and recovery. After that, it was about 3 weeks of getting into the rhythm of a (temporary) new position at my university, and then March came and I got back into writing up data findings.

Now, we’ve set a deadline, quickly approaching, to get this baby done. What this means is barricading myself from my house and my son, for increasing periods of time, to be able to write and organize, write and edit and rewrite, and organize and cut and write some more.

And it’s hard, when the neighbourhood looks like this:

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetLast year, I didn’t really give up things to try and work on grad studies. I leaped into new experiences and a wonderful Americana road trip and some tinkering with a new camera, and didn’t really FOCUS on getting school work done.

But now I am doing what grad students have done since time immemorial – giving up parts of the fullest, most interesting, selfish life, in order to move forward and make progress in their studies.

Thesis, unravelled

So I had this vision of the overall SHAPE of my thesis, formed in part by books on grad school and by mandatory 100-level grad classes on Methodology and various theories, all helpful and well-intentioned.

Roaring out the gate after coursework, my starting point was, ideally, something like this:

thesis, storytelling

After a year plus of compiling, branching out, note-taking and reading, this model dissolved into something quite different.

thesis, storytelling, midway

Later, I found that mapping individual chunks helped with understanding the different sections.

mapping placeIt has been this, mapping and moving, over and over, for the past 2 years now. Is it like this for everyone working on a grad thesis? Do others have an easier time of sorting through their articles, of keeping their sections clear and streamlined?

The distinctions betweens theories, methods and related ideas sort of got fuzzy – there were a lot of similar ideas, overlapping ideas, adjacent ideas, and I am still parsing through which are intended as my framework for analysis and which ones apply to my reasons for selected method. This is the work I am doing now, sorting and organizing and narrowing the different bubbles.

What I long for, to borrow from my favourite genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, is to get to a point where I can get the different sections correctly and clearly aligned, and to narrow them all down like:

tony stark, vibranium

and have a neat, little product, fit for submission at the end:

tony stark, vibranium

I would love to hear how others map and organize their notes and ideas over the course of their grad studies.

Back in the saddle, a new year

Well HELLO 2015 and a new year!

It’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this blog. It’s not that my reading and research have been on hiatus, it’s more that things have become rather messy as the notes and papers have compiled and I was daunted at getting that heap of words and theories and the growing, increasingly tangled mass of ideas into a succinct, mashable format, fit for, god-forbid, reading by the public (when it was hard enough to even submit to my professor!).

Well, maybe it’s time to update and write again.

A friend told me about an experimental course happening at Thompson Rivers University in January, all full of things I’m rather a fan of: a new open (yes), online (yes), narrative- (yes), visual- (yes) story-telling (yes, yes!) course that will be available, well, for anyone.

The course hit all the “try me! try me!” buttons, but I wasn’t (still not) sure how to allocate time to this new course versus working on my remaining grad work.

I had a conversation with one of the course moderators/instructors, and he mentioned that the narrative aspect may fit well into my encapsulating/summarizing/sharing of the PROCESS of my current research, and maybe sharing the findings, if I wanted to make an online portfolio. This sounds do-able, This sounds like something that I could do in adjunct to my work, but that wouldn’t take me TOO much off course.

path

The (academic? knowledge-seeking? knowledge-building?) path is right in front of me. It just SEEMS like the end goal is far away and a bit unclear. But I want to clarify the process of DOING the work. Maybe the thinking/writing/shaping/sharing exercises in this course will help with this.

Seattle and the northwest*

I recently returned from a visit to Seattle, Washington, about 6 hours by car from our town. The purpose of the trip was to investigate and document The Darkroom Series 3.0, a photo exhibit/show of northwest-based photographs taken solely on mobile phones. The show was held at Zeitgeist Coffee, near King Street Station in downtown Seattle. Part of my objective was to gauge the sense of the northwest* as expressed by mobile photographers and by residents, and also to gain a personal feeling and experience for myself.

Seattle is a city I’ve visited many many times – and I love it every visit. This time was no exception. In fact, not having been for over a year, I loved it more – the big city, the green spaces interspersed with the urban centre, the Pacific Ocean, the bustling creative markets and shops – these things felt like welcome to me, with its similarities to Vancouver, which I still miss since moving away.

seattle northwest

So there was familiarity, but also a sense of freshness. This trip, I focused on what #northwestisbest might mean. This was the focus of the Darkroom show, and is the phenomenon that I’m looking at for my thesis. There is clearly a perspective of rural, landscape-based visual expression of the northwest, that might clash but somehow doesn’t, with a city-centred view of the northwest that I previously held. But there was a clearly contrasting (yet complementary) understanding of what the northwest means and looks like, for residents as well as expressed through public photo streams.

One of the strongest impressions I left with is the very vibrant community and activity around mobile phone photography in Seattle. They have Juxt, a very strong Instagram community, and a city news station and channel that itself is actively involved in and supportive of phone photography. These groups are key to the projects, meet ups and interactions of the public and very motivated, creative individuals centred around phone photography, resulting in palpable energy and creative work coming out of the northwest.

There is more, a lot more, that I experienced during my trip, but I’m still getting my head around it. I wish I could have had another month or two there! I’ll be returning in the next few weeks and look forward to seeing the city and surrounding areas, this time when its a bit warmer.

*Northwest is used here to denote the geographical region of Oregon and Washington, but according to the #northwest, #northwestisbest, #nw and #nwistbest tagged photos and posts on social networks, the term seems to indicate a much broader region extending from Northern California up through British Columbia to southern Alaska.

 

Shift in direction

After 18 months of thinking that my thesis will be grounded in ideas about the tourist gaze (John Urry), it turns out that it is another perspective that ties together the various strands of my ideas about the mobile phone, photography and place. It’s a tiny bit disheartening thinking that months of reading/collecting/reflecting will be “thrown out” – but no, that’s too extreme. Surely the reading and ideas will enrich the depth and lend some alternative views to my current project? (And imagine: my project is only a master’s thesis, whereas I know and read of PhD students who’ve had to discard YEARS and hundreds of pages of theory and lit review from their dissertations – just take a peek over at The Thesis Whisperer for any number of anecdotes and discussions).

I came across some of Urry’s later work looking at mobility (which seems a natural progression from gazing, walking and tourism studies) and then Mimi Sheller’s writing on the subject area, and BAM, my mental world shifted a bit.

Mobility, as I have understood it, encompasses so much more than movement, that is walking and driving. It includes, in its various expressions and articulations in different academic fields, movements of FLOW – of ideas, of technologies, of embodied presence, as well as the movement of bodies in absence through and in place.

It really really resonates and though I was a little sad to step away from the tourist gaze, I am thrilled to explore deeper the ideas of mobility as they relate to the camera phone and to the ways in which we share and consume photos of place.

I took a LEAP – I’m already on the new trajectory – and it’s very exciting!

leap kamloops

About selfies

I was surprised to see how much coverage and conversation took place over the selfie during the last quarter of this year. In just some of the New York publications, for example, that I browse, there were many posts on this subject: the article in the “News Analysis” section of the Times from October, James Franco in the Times just this week discussing why he would rather see an individual’s gallery include selfies than not have any at all, the mildly sensational New York Post post on the selfie-shot that caught a suicide-jumper in-action, and the New York Daily News mention and snapshot of President Obama caught mid-selfie-shot.

It was odd to see the media buzz and interest around something that has been around, well, forever. A fascinating example of a very well-done and interesting selfie gallery that’s been around for a long time and that has itself garnered some buzz over the years is that of Noah Kalina, in which he shares a shot of himself that he’s taken regularly, if not every day, since 2000.

It’s especially interesting how selfies have been taken up by teenagers all over the world – a public performance of self-identity and assertion shared on social networks, in photographic, and more recently, in video format. In all of the photo social networks I belong to or have at some point belonged to (PicPlz before its demise, Eyeem, Instagram, Meebo, LemeLeme, Kakao Story for example), there are countless selfies in the public and private photo streams, noticeably by teens and mid-twenty-somethings who regularly document and post images of themselves, whether the images capture their outfits, their nails, and/or their faces.

I, too, participate in taking pictures of myself, though I don’t share them to a public stream. Rather, I own a very simple app called Everyday, launched in March 2011, whose sole purpose is to allow you to take selfies and then compile them into a time-lapse video, should you wish. Thus, I have a personal gallery of shots of my face that I have taken since October 2011 (when I first purchased an iPhone).

There is the question of WHY so many people indulge and practice taking pictures of themselves, and more recently, posting the pictures to one’s various public and private networks. It’s been discussed plenty on the internet recently (just Google “selfie”) but the point that stands out for me is that advances in technology and software, and the always-on connection to the internet makes possible the fulfilment of people’s secret desire(s) to seen, recognized and known through a visual performance that is vaguely narcissistic and expressive. There’s a whole master’s thesis that can be written on that topic, for sure.

___________

Once in a while, one comes across something very stirring and humane in a self-portrait series. I was recently reminded me of this series of self-shot portraits that I came across on Tumblr and had reposted to my own tumblog earlier in the fall:

Project Pyokko Sophie Starzenski

Shot by Sophie Starzenski, it’s a unique chronicle of her pregnancy and a very interesting and beautiful version of the selfie.

On the Constant vs Decisive Moment

Came across this post today, on the “Constant Moment” vs. the “Decisive Moment.

myTRU,

Author Clayton Cubitt describes the Decisive Moment as “the creation of art through the curation of time.”

But technological development and commercial hardware has made possible the capture of moments, from all angles, at all times, connected constantly with a stream of viewers/commenters/information channels. Cubitt suggests that while such capture of moments is not new to photography, what has emerged is the Constant Moment, which in photography can be understood as viewing and capture that is “as close to a time machine” as we are likely to get, where what has been captured can be seen forward and backwards, from any which angle, and where in it is captured the “billion missed Decisive Moments that previously slipped through our fingers.”

via clayton cubitt.com

Buried in reading

20130531-205244.jpg

Reading, making notes, summarizing and then selecting the appropriate ideas and arguments to forward your own arguments or to set the backdrop of the presentation. What grad student doesn’t get trained in this process?

The top 4 books are vital, fascinating finds in my research process. At least 3 of them were key texts in what I explored in my coursework, and parts of them will be quoted in my final thesis.

While reading up on visual communication, I fell into critical tourism, and in turn in love with critical geography, a field I didn’t even know existed. Ah, the wonder of academic inquiry that leads us down twists and turns of questions and explorations unexpected!

Instagram, still thriving

There has been no other online photographic community that has utilized the mobile platforms made so widespread by Apple and by various Android handsets so well as Instagram.

For all the furor earlier this year over Instagram’s terms of service regarding user’s photographs and rights, resulting in droves of users leaving Instagram and seeking other social online communities centred around photography, no other photographic platform has reached the level of community engagement and viewership that Instagram has achieved, and continues to grow, in its short life. Yes, Flickr has caught on, finally, with a worthy mobile app, but that community was born on the desktop web and only recently been really taken off as a mobile-accessed community (though it’s interesting that according to Flickr’s own camera use statistics, even lacking a decent mobile app until earlier this year, the most “popular camera” in the Flickr community since the summer of 2011 has been the iPhone).

I’ve shared in another post about grappling with my own guilt about staying with Instagram after the appalling terms they released (then shortly amended) after they were acquired by Facebook. That’s not to say I didn’t look at alternatives to Instagram (the top app and community that comes to mind, that is thriving today and a great place to discover great photographers, is EyeEm) but after investing time, history and after finding community members whose photographs and eye I admired and thus followed, it was really hard to switch to another platform when all the good stuff of Instagram – the people, the comments, the conversations, the photos – rested within the Instagram community (the same rationale goes to why it’s hard to switch from Facebook to Google+). I’ve noticed that 3 Instagram community members I followed stopped sharing photographs altogether on Instagram at that time – but their accounts are still active today and they didn’t delete their profiles. Why? My guess is that though they moved to other sharing communities (I know two switched to Path, and another is now primarily active on 500px, and all of them remain active on Flickr) they remained on Instagram because some of the people they followed didn’t leave, and they wanted to remain in touch with them and continue to view and comment on their photographs.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by the mobile-to-life connections that Instagram and Instagram-inspired photo projects (such as Instameets) have fostered. The idea that a little app on the iPhone or Galaxy S2 makes possible a real life social gathering and connection between a group of strangers, motivated by a shared love of photography and visual capture, all over the world, is pretty incredible.

Yesterday a post about filmmaker Paul Tellefsen’s senior year project that turned into a full-fledged short film popped up in my feed. The film is called “Instagram Is” and it’s an interesting look at what Instagram means to some people, and a glimpse into what an Instagram-centred community looks like. It also shows what people in this community actually do.

 

Consumption everywhere

For part interest and part grad work, I’m reading and really enjoying Juliana Mansvelt’s Geographies of Consumption.

consumption, Manselt

She seeks to demonstrate that “consumption is intimately related to the production of space in everyday life.”

Sometimes I’m fearful of the extent that this is true even in our private lives in our homes. One glance at the stuff around us that belongs to our 4-year-old (sunglasses, pajamas, bathing towel, toys) shows me that so much of what has been given to him and purchased for him has been influenced by what is “current” and “cool” for kids in his age category as defined by big media. For example, how prevalent is the invasion of Marvel superhero paraphernalia into the daily lives of boys all around us! How the toy makers and clothes manufacturers and food producers have made their way into our supermarkets and how we like to go to Wal-Mart because of their lower prices. It’s really hard to “escape.”

Adults are not immune: we are consuming constantly throughout the day on our Android and Apple devices in our house.

Corporations are so savvy and so plugged into how people think, and in shaping our desires, that if we were never aware of their deliberate influencing strategies, we may so so easily become the super-consumer that marketers want us to become, and that a lot of us already are.

What I want to do is to protect personal spaces, those private spaces, and more than that, see if there are ways that we can deliberately counter the space-shaping practices of consumption with practices of CREATION. There is room to not ONLY consume, but to consume and then use products and services in manners that do not only shape our spaces and our lives in ways that are intended by the manufacturers, broadcasters and corporations.

Part of what I hope to contribute in my graduate thesis is to point out some ways that people and communities can and in fact, do, use their smart phones (a consumption device to the nth degree!) to visually and creatively create projects and communities that re-think how we gaze and interact with the places around us. We do not have to be consuming tourists in the places we inhabit when we take hundreds and hundreds of photographs with our phones: we can actually engage in visual and creative practices that present those locations in ways that help redefine or contribute to what community and place mean.