Umm, Erm, and Hmms: Audio Problems Abound

I’ve unfortunately had less time to listen to podcasts as the semester continues and more work piles up but I have continued to be a regular listener of the BBC News Hour.  It’s a great program—I get to catch up on the international news during my twenty-minute drive to campus.  I’ve been paying more attention to how they use audio clips since we started thinking about our script.  News Hour often has a correspondent report where the reporter narrates the necessary backbones of the story and then includes witness interviews.  I want my podcast to follow my format so I’ve taken note of how they break up the audio, how questions are phrased, etc.  Now that I have one of my interviews done, I can return to script writing and editing with these tips in hand.

I think writing the script without the interviews made the process difficult because I don’t want to say something that could be said by my interview subject.  For example, I wanted to talk about the cultural and economic divide between NOVA and the rest of Virginia.  I said something to that effect in my script but then I got a great sound bite from my dad about how “Virginia is basically Northern Virginia and Richmond with Alabama in between.”  That’s way funnier and more likely to stick in my listeners’ minds after they’ve finished listening.

The relationship between writing the script and producing the audio is frustrating for me.  I feel more confident in my ability to write an interesting script (though I have a far way to go with my current draft), but I’m not well-spoken.  I worked on my introduction and imagined what I want it to sound like in my head but then I had the typical problems—I stumbled over words, mumbled, stuttered, etc.  I’m going to have to set aside a lot of time to record my audio because I’ll likely need a lot of takes and possibly just go paragraph by paragraph.

The Story We Create

Szarkowski argues that a photo cannot tell a story but should instead be interpreted as symbols.  I agree that the moment a photographer selects cannot tell a narrative without seeming overly contrived or posed on their own.  Instead, I think the viewer brings the story to the image with their life experiences and knowledge.  I’ve included Nick Ut’s photograph image from the Vietnam War.  This is an image I have seen many times but never read background information about.  That being said, it still tells a story to me.  I have been told that it’s from the Vietnam War (so I admit to slight cheating) but without further knowledge I can assume these people are Vietnamese and the soldiers are American troops.  The children look like they’re very scared and in pain, and there is a cloud of smoke obscuring the skyline behind them.  This makes me think that they’ve been with some kind of chemical agent which is causing the pain.

The composition of the photo highlights a sense of helplessness and lack of agency on behalf of the Vietnamese.  Everyone is fully contained within the edges of the frame.  The Vietnamese, mostly children, are in front of the soldiers, walking towards the viewer.  The soldiers in the background look like they’re herding them forwards.  The smoke in the background hides whatever is in the horizon, limiting the depth of the photo and keeping the viewer sharply focused on the people.  It also prevents the viewer from knowing what time of day it is.  Further emphasis is given to the Vietnamese because the soldiers are wearing darker colors that almost match the smoke.  When I view Ut’s image, I immediately focus on the look of horror and pain on the face of the naked little girl.  She is almost in the center of the frame, slightly left.

I believe Ut used the horror and anguish of the children to represent the pain of the Vietnam people during the Vietnam War.  U.S. soldiers are not the heroes in the photo.  Instead, they are responsible for the suffering of children.  This dismantles the mythic idea of the U.S. defending people across from the evils of Communism.  American viewers might see this image and question their role in this imperialistic venture.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Children Playing in the Ruins, Seville, Spain, 1933” does indeed highlight Szarkowski’s tenet of time.  This photo was taking during the Spanish Civil War.  The opportunity to take a photo like this only happens after the ruin of a battle or a bombing.  The composition of the image is fantastic.  The hole in the wall meets the edges of the frame.  Children are both in front and behind the hole.  There’s a group of six children in the foreground.  One child is physically stepping out the hole, joining the viewer at their vantage point.  Like Ut’s photo above, the children are coming towards the viewer.  There are also children playing in the background and middle ground.  Their faces are obscured by distance but it’s clear that they are playing—one child has his hand raised like he’s about to throw something.

I’m unsure what tone or message Cartier-Bresson was trying to convey.  On one hand, it’s devastating to see young children in such a violent setting.  It means that these boys do not live in a safe place and their lives are endangered.  Some of them likely faced loss recently, whether of material or familial value.  On the other hand, the image does speak to the endurance and vitality of youth.  These kids are stuck in a terrible place, yet they continue to play.  They adapt.

Week 9 Blog Post

This week we will take on images and sound, reading John Szarkowski’s exhibit catalogue from The Photographer’s Eye.  This was an exhibit at the MoMA, so it is light on textual interpretation and requires a good deal of visual scrutiny, which is appropriate for a work of visual rhetoric.  However, I have also made available a chapter on photography in pdf form from the Oxford History of Art series in the Canvas files section.  This is optional but recommended to help give you some background on the transformation of photography — technologically and culturally.  Fixing an image permanently on a surface through the imprint of light began in 1839.  Throughout most of the 19th century it was difficult and not standardized, mostly the province of tinkerers, professionals, and artists.  The development of celluloid film (replacing glass plate, which replaced daguerrotypes) and mass production of cameras, led by George Eastman, helped democratize access to film photography, which reigned throughout the 20th century.  The 21st century brought almost the complete transformation to digital photography, with a small countermovement for traditional photo techniques and practice.  (Lucky students will learn about these in my fall grad public history course).

For your blog post this week, I want you to choose two images — one an image from outside the class and one an image from the Szarkowski text —  and give us an analysis and preliminary interpretation of the photo.  Who is the photographer, what is the composition, what is the tonality, what is the depth of field, what is content depicted, what is the time of day and location, and what is the message or feeling that the image is supposed to convey?  Include the images within your blog post.

Listening

You should continue your listening through these weeks of production, and your interest should increase to include thoughts about the logistics of sound recording and editing.  Before your interviews, you should know exactly how you are recording, using what equipment, and how you are storing or backing up your files.  If your audio file(s) exist(s) only in one place, it may as well not exist, because any storage medium can be corrupted in a second.  Get it in the cloud ASAP.  If you are doing an interview over the phone, it requires different equipment and practice — what models do you draw on for this?  If you are using skype or a google hangout, what are the recording options?  This is for you to explore and practice before you sit down with the informant.  In many cases a podcast will have an FAQ or some section devoted to their logistics, so you should read or listen about these to get a sense.  One of the most important things is to minimize the echo-ing sound that comes from too many hard surfaces.  Get an external microphone in some fashion and make sure it is positioned away from a flat hard surface.  If you only have a table, cover it with some fabric — a tablecloth, a coat or a sweater, whatever you have.

During class I will give an introduction to editing in Audacity (30-45 minutes).