I have had to step away from things. I am still exhausted from the discussions in New York, and their implications. These trips always leave me excited but also overwhelmed. In some ways the new projects have been clarified, in others ways they have become more demanding. Some days I am ready to sit and write prodigiously, and on other days I just want to retreat from the tasks ahead. At this moment, I am in the retreat phase. But, some transformations are taking place as I wrote in my last post. The new image – text structure is being worked on and it has simplified much, and offered new possibilities for future works. The Pakistan project work is being redesigned into a new image – text structure, and it is starting to look like this:
Of course, the first challenge is the need for an information management tool and database. The active tags associated with each image have to be written, tracked, and archived for other images as well. At the moment I am working with a simple spreadsheet structure that allows me to keep track of which tags have been used with which image, and also gives me a good overview of the data set I am working with. But I can already see a more detailed design structure for a tool that would make all this easier and more manageable. For the moment though, as I write new text entries and essays, I update the spreadsheet and can quickly see what testimonies are relevant and can be linked to it. The next challenge has to be review the testimonies and mine them from more details, and information. Finally, the text – the short essays based on readings or personal essays, itself has to be prepared and mapped. The individuals reveal, through their personal life stories and experiences, the consequences and outcomes of broader political, economic, and legal decisions. These links, these inter-relationships have to be extracted by constantly going back and forth between what one hears and what one reads, and how those are mapped. Its a bit tricky, and at the moment I feel rather unprepared to do it. But I know what has to be done.
By working purely on the project website I find that I am already dealing with three levels of information – the subject testimony, the associated active tag text, and the detail essay. This is of course arbitrary, and can be detailed differently. However, these three levels gives the viewer options for how they want to interact with the image. The testimonies can simply be read and the reader can end there. Or they can read further on the pop-up windows and explore key questions that I raise. And finally they can click and move to the website to read a longer piece, a third-party research report etc. if they want to explore more.
A fourth level of information has also been added with the project now being posted on Instagram.
The Instagram feed features my personal diary entries that document the experience of tracing and meeting the families of the men in Bagram for example. These are first person accounts, and I am using them to reveal the human, frail, fallible process of gathering evidence and testimonies that underpins so much of what we call journalism. I have grown tired and unconvinced of the faux-objective voice that most photojournalists adopt. That third person voice where the journalist and photographer is removed and where the supposed ‘authentic’ voice of the subject is allowed to come there. We all know that none of this is true – the process of recording influences what is and can be recorded. The journalist’s presence, questions, demeanor, mood, attitude, and relationship affect what is offered and what is taken away. In the diaries I leave that false pretension to the ‘professionals’, and reveal the struggle to do this work, the obstacles faced, the doubts that inform so much of it.
The major implications of all this are that I have had to revisit the entire information architecture of the Pakistan project work. This is a fancy way to say that I have had to re-think how to write for the projcet. And worse, I have to design an information architecture for a new project where all the images will be interactive, and where we will move away from pure portraiture to also include landscape and other subjects. And before we think that I consider all this a burden, let me point out that it is in fact a very exciting experiment. Unlike previous efforts, I am working from an entirely new place i.e the information structure and the issues, arguments, perspectives, and concerns that the images will reveal and debate. That is, rather than pure photography, with text as an after thought or an appendage, I am proceeding into the photographic spaces aware and sensitive to the meaning of what I am seeing, and its relevance for what I want to argue. The challenge is to do this without the images becoming paint-by-numbers. That is, to remain creatively open, and responsive to the environment, but to do so by also being intellectually and factually aware and cognizant. On a broader level, and I have not as yet explored this further, this could have major implications for how I design future photo projects and photo stories. But more on that once these experiments are done.
I want to have much of this sorted out before coming back to New York. I know that those who helped inspire the thoughts have expectations of further development and ideas. Ideally I can have at least one new image from the new project mapped to the information structure. Lets see how this goes, and where it can go. More soon.