A PechaKucha is a presentation in which 20 images are shown for 20 seconds each. This is the one I did for communications class. All of the music featured for longer than 30 seconds was found in an old video game, and some of the music doesn’t seem to be found anywhere else. As far as I know, it’s not copyrighted. These MIDI files were not pre-recorded either, as they were synthesized by my computer.
Ah, Flash Player. This little browser plugin has been shaping the web for over 17 years, and while its power and support are dwindling these days due to open video standards, HTML 5, and the Canvas element, it still powers most of the online multimedia that we experience today. Anders Fagerjord’s “Multimodal Polyphony” analyzes in depth a certain type of Flash powered content: the Flash Documentary. Born in the early 2000’s out of bandwidth concerns, a Flash Documentary is a presentation of still images and voice-over narration that mixes elements of TV and still photography. It’s kind of an enhanced slideshow, a PowerPoint presentation with a narrator. The Flash documentary that Fagerjord focuses on is National Geographic Magazine’s “The Way West,” the first of their Sights and Sounds series.
A Flash documentary uses still images, but not all images are the same. The window is a fixed size, just like a television screen, but some images may be different sizes or have different aspect ratios. To get around this problem and also to add extra excitement and interest to the presentation, Flash documentaries apply TV style effects to their images.
Ken Burns Effect
I didn’t make the above video, but it serves as a good illustration of how the Ken Burns effect works. Basically, you take a still (or moving) image, zoom in so that it is bigger than your frame, then slowly pan and zoom so as to show only a part of it at any given time. With these tools, you can create other effects, such as revealing a part of the image that was previously unknown to the viewer or pointing the viewer’s attention at a specific spot by zooming into it.
Supplementing the visual portion of the presentation is audio, which can include music, background ambient noise, sound effects, and narration. In the National Geographic presentation, you hear the sounds of the old west before the presentation starts to get you in the mood. Music and visuals together can greatly increase the immersion that you feel when watching one of these presentations, even if you’re staring at a small Flash window and the images themselves are still.
We’re going to be making a Flash documentary style video soon as part of the class. Stay tuned!
I’m working on building an electronic piggy bank style box like this one I’ve seen that will count my spare change, and I wondered if I could make it more interesting. I thought back to coin-operated arcade machines and thought that I could make a pretty cool video poker software that would read my piggy bank and let me play poker with my change as well. I decided to learn a new language to do it: Microsoft’s C# (sharp).
A few good friends of mine use C# in their jobs, and its an interesting choice because it’s a .NET language and the same code can be used on the Windows desktop and online using Microsoft Silverlight.
I ported some old Python code I had over to C# to learn about what makes it different, and after a bit of searching through the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) I found out the correct ways to do some things, and after some more tinkering and learning WPF, the Windows Presentation Format, I had my application.
Now, I don’t want to break any gambling laws so all the “credits” earned are 100% virtual, and have no cash value. In the future I can wire this up to the coin acceptor I’m building to accept more credits into the machine, but once they’re there, they stay there. I did make a rudimentary user account system that saves ones balance in-between sessions, so I can reboot my computer and I can still play later.
I still need to learn how to cache the card images somewhere, because every time I draw the cards the images are pulled from my server again and again.
To the web!
As I said, I’ve heard that Silverlight makes it easy to cross-compile applications for the web. It’s true for the most part, but there are some discrepancies. First, some controls such as the Label that work in WPF don’t work in Silverlight. Also, any Class Library DLL files that you’ve compiled for the desktop won’t be able to be added to Silverlight, so make sure if you’re compiling for both that you save your .cs files!
I make a few changes to my application since that screenshot was taken, and have made a web-playable version. This lacks user accounts, and you’re awarded 100 credits every time you visit the page! If you go below 0 credits, I don’t know what happens, but I think you just go into the negatives. It’s a prototype, and it’s controlled entirely via the keyboard for now. Make sure to click the blue background before using the keyboard to make sure the program has focus! I might improve it later, but my focus is on the desktop implementation for now.
I’ll be on Spring Break for the next week, but I’ll update once I get back!
Ah, listening. We do it all the time, and unlike watching television, we can do other things while we listen. Listening tends to leave a lasting impression as well. Can you often remember what you were doing when you heard a popular song for the first time? Do certain pieces of audio bring back memories and feelings from the past? Susan J. Douglas explores what makes listening so powerful an emotion in Listening In. Douglas focuses particularly on radio, and what makes it stand out from visual communication such as television and print media.
Radio differs from TV in that, lacking visual material to accompany the audio, we need to fill in the missing visuals with our imagination. Douglas cited a study involving two groups of kids in which the first group watched TV and the second listened to radio, and found that “the children who had heard the story created much more imaginative conclusions than those who had seen the television version.” I know that my dad told me as a kid that he had to listen to all of his hometown baseball games on the radio, and he’d need to imagine how each game went. This active engagement with the material rather than sitting and watching it unfold made it a lot more exciting.
I’d very much agree with the strong emotions that sound alone can conjure, as I’m a horror story junkie. I can’t get enough scary stories in my life, and nothing is scarier than listening to an episode of the excellent Nosleep Podcast just before bed. Douglas nods at the ability of radio to creep people out, mentioning Cantril and Allport who said that
“When it comes to producing eerie and uncanny effects,” they added, “the radio has no rival.” They noted that even in the early 1930s, listeners would “enhance this distinctive quality of radio” by sitting in the dark and closing their eyes so that “their fantasies are free.”
In addition, radio is much more effective than print media because of the fact that it is a live stream of communication. Radio can be heard by everyone at exactly the same time, and it builds off of the newspaper culture in which everyone reads the same stories. Now everyone can experience the same thing at the same time.
It’s assignment time again in communications class. This time I am to make a Flickr slideshow of exactly 20 interesting images that tell a story. Since my overarching theme for the semester is to highlight my computer science work, my slideshow focuses on how I set up and ran an event for the department in which everyone got together and played games. The party took a long time to plan and three weekends to really get set up, but it paid off in the end.
We had to use Photoshop to enhance five images and post the before-and-after pictures too. Here they are.
In print and online, you can’t really have text without a layout. You’re reading this text through a layout right now. I’ve chosen to start the post with a picture, and followed it up with wall of text. In a previous post, I left-aligned my first image to give the post a magazine-style layout. Chapter 6 of Gunther Kress and Thed van Leeuwen’s Reading Images discusses various properties of composition, “the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art, as distinct from the subject of a work.”
The three properties focused on most are:
Let’s talk about each of them.
Looking at the fictitious web layout on the right, what is the most important part of the page? Probably the big bright green box that takes up most of the top of the page. Indeed, in web composition, the biggest thing is usually the most important. Blogs are generally in a 2-column format with the main content on the left, and a smaller sidebar on the right with other, less important information.
The huge green box jumps out at you because it spans 3 of the 4 columns in this layout and is much bigger than any other element. The bright green also stands out in terms of contrast, catching your eye. Kress and van Leeuwen define salience as “elements… made to attract the viewer’s attention to different degrees” and is is often done through “relative size, contrasts in tonal value (or colour, differences in sharpness, etc.)” The low contrast blue on black of the four columns below the big green box don’t attract your attention as greatly as the box does.
The last few paragraphs between the horizontal lines can be used to demonstrate another principle of composition: its information value, or “the placement of elements… endows them with the specific values attached to the various ‘zones’ of the image” which are depicted above. In particular, the left and right zones are used. Kress and van Leeuwen define the left zone as Given, while the right zone is New. Given information is presented as something familiar, and this case the blog text was given. New information, on the other hand, is unfamiliar and prompts special attention from the reader. The graphic in the example was unfamiliar and placed on the right because it was a departure from the familiar textual format of the blog. The graphic therefore required special attention and was placed on the right.
The third aspect of composition is framing, which “disconnects or connects elements of the image, signifying that they belong or do not belong together in some sense.” This blog post utilizes framing devices to separate each of the different topics I’ve talked about. Take a look at its dissection on the left.
I used horizontal rule <hr> tags to separate each term from one another, and bold titles to make the divisions more prominent. The spacing that I used and the placement of images also helped to break up paragraphs and to make the post more appealing to read than if it was just a big wall of text. Putting big images in between text causes a break in the flow, and also signifies the end of one section and the start of another.
Even in this section, paragraph breaks show you what belongs together and what doesn’t. This sentence and the one before it are both in the same group, while the ones above are not. In the graphic on the left, I used color to highlight the different groups on the page, which is another technique that framing provides.
In conclusion, I hope that you’ve learned something about composition through the visual and textual examples I’ve put above.
Interpellation: hailing viewers as individuals. In chapter 2 of Practices of Looking, Sturken and Cartwright discuss various forms of advertising and why they are effective.
Successful advertising draws people in by connecting with them directly. Consider the ad on the left for example. It was designed of course to be viewed by many people, but it speaks to each viewer on a personal level. No matter who “you” are, this phone “gets you.” Mobile phones are very personal goods, usually you don’t share them with anyone, and this type of advertising make it seem like HTC designed the phone with you in mind.
One of the tricky things about advertising, though, is that the interpellation effect of images is best achieved when one is already a member of a “social group that shares codes and conventions through which the image becomes meaningful.” For an image to personally touch someone and for the punctum of photography to be effective, the photo should be designed with you and people like you in mind.
The idea about advertising is to try and draw everyone in, regardless of social group or ideology. Even if an ad isn’t targeted at you, it should capture your attention and attempt to interpellate you anyway.
Take Super Bowl ads for instance. Not every ad in the Super Bowl is targeted at everyone watching, but all of them do a great job of getting your attention and sticking in your mind. Utilizing the shared ideology of Americanism, the Super Bowl ads speak to not just sports fans but to the largest possible audience. Even if you aren’t planning on buying a car, you can probably relate to the Jeep ad above which emphasizes American patriotism and supporting our troops. This isn’t by accident. Most Americans watch the Super Bowl, and thus the ad is made to target “most Americans.” If the Super Bowl was held in another country, the ad wouldn’t be as compelling, but it still tries to interpellate the viewer through other aspects, such as the importance of being home to raise a family.
As far as how images achieve their punctum, Sturken and Cartwright define aesthetics and taste. The aesthetic value of a photo is the “pleasure it brings us through its beauty, its style, or the creative and technical virtuosity that went into its production.” Taste, on the other hand, is “informed by experiences relating to one’s class, cultural background, education, and other aspects of identity.” Images that are in good taste are commonly put in museums, but the problem is that good taste is then defined by the museum curators. The fact that something is in a museum sends a message to pay attention to it, that it’s an example of what is good.
Behold! Robbers have stolen the Furman bell tower. This is a photograph. A representation of real life. It’s truth! What, you don’t believe me? You should. Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright’s Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture explains that “throughout its history, photography has always been associated with realism.” As I discussed in my last post, though, it’s possible to change the meanings of photographs simply by cropping out information. Sturken and Cartwright also allude to this, saying that choices made by the photographer “are invisible to the user.” In a sense, anything existing outside of the frame might as well not exist.
These days, how can we know what’s true anymore? Any image can be shopped enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software, and thus we must take what we see with a grain of salt. One example used in Practices of Looking is a mugshot of OJ Simpson when he was accused of murder. Time magazine and Newsweek magazine both had access to the photo, but Time darkened it artificially to make Simpson appear more threatening. Be aware when looking at images, they may not be what you think they are!
Bringing your ideology to the table
You can’t really mention photographs without mentioning the cultural values which people knowingly or unknowingly carry with them when looking at ’em. Someone’s ideology, or “set of ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions” is very important in influencing one’s perception of an image. For example, the moon landing image I have above. Conspiracists would say “Ha! I knew the moon landing was faked!” about this image, while the rest of us would probably just say “meh, another crazy conspiracy.” Pictures of George Washington might be universally recognized here in America as an icon of patriotism and freedom, but his face might be less well known in other countries, or he might be known as “that guy on the American dollar.”
Sturken and Cartwright present several images, including the protests at Tienanmen Square, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe poster, and a mother and child during the Great Depression to highlight different icons, or “an image that refers to something outside of its individual components, something (or someone) that has great symbolic meaning for many people.” Icons are thought to be universal, but our perception of them is always colored by our ideologies.
Overall, when looking at an image, you need to be aware of the fact that both you and the photographer are defining its meaning. Photographs don’t necessarily imply truth, and even true photos can be taken out of context or have their meaning changed through cropping. Entirely false photos can be generated and can still look believable too. Watch out!
Today’s reading covered the realm of action sports photography. Chapter 6 of David Rowe’s Sport, Culture, and Media discusses the subjectivity of photography at first, then delves into the differences portraying sportsmen and sportswomen. Let’s examine the former first.
Cropping for effect
Rowe points out that any picture can have it’s meaning changed just by taking away information from the audience. “Photographs attain meaning only in relation to the settings in which they are encountered.” Just like in regular journalism, you can manipulate the truth in photojournalism by omitting facts or playing with the size, positioning, or captions in the photo. Rowe also says that we as individuals see meaning in photos in regards to our own personal circumstances. “When looking at a sports photograph, our response to an image of a despondent athlete will be largely conditioned by our relationship to them,” since viewers are the ones who give photos their meaning.
The great gender divide in sports photography
Take a look at the two pictures I featured at the start of this article. In the men’s tennis shot, you see an action shot, and the women’s tennis ad is obviously more passive. Rowe shares a study from 1979 about Sports Illustrated that shows that “60 percent of all photographs of sportswomen showed them in ‘passive, non-athletic roles’ compared with only 44 percent of all photographs of sportsmen,” and I chose those two pictures to illustrate this point. In general, women in sports always seem to be objectified and passive, as if they don’t matter as much as men. In contrast, men’s sports always seems to be a serious matter, and men are usually shown to be active participants.
Pictures are worth a thousand words, and photojournalism uses these theoretical “words” to tell stories. Stephen Quinn and Vincent Filak define photojournalism in Convergent Journalism: an Introduction as a medium “not restricted to still pictures or film cameras or any location. Photojournalism tells stories about life.”
In video, pictures are displayed as part of a larger sequence, and frames aren’t really meant to be viewed on their own. Photojournalism tries to find that one image that tells the best story, and can be examined in great detail. Quinn and Filak use the example of sports photography vs. sports TV to show how much more detail you get in the still-frames of photojournalism, and how sequence oriented TV stills are.
Back in the day, you needed a whole bunch of equipment to take good pictures, and a completely different set of technology to take good video. In the modern world, all you need is a smartphone. Quinn and Filak mentioned the first known photojournalist, Roger Fenton, and how he kept a truckload of equipment with him on his quest to capture the war. He brought back a few hundred pictures in a few months. Today, some Instagrammers that take a few hundred pictures in a week. Old time photo exposures took over a half a minute to complete, so you couldn’t really do moving shots. It’s also why people never looked very happy back in the day. (You might not have anything to smile about after 15 minutes of sitting still.) With the latest cutting-edge technology, in contrast, you can record video and extract 15 photo-quality stills from every second of the action.
Quinn and Filak discuss various image presentation styles, such as the single hard hitting image of a newspaper or the sprawling magazine spread, and how successful web photographers can combine these styles as well as draw upon slideshows and other interactive features that print media isn’t capable of, as well as utilizing the almost unlimited space on the web for photo galleries, videos on demand, and content for which no extra room exists in the paper or on TV.