Thinking Visually

Due tomorrow at 8am is my proposal for my final project. The assignment is to “Tell a compelling story through the use of still photography and words. Use of music and video is permitted but not as the main focus of your story. Use Powerpoint (or other presentation platform) as your delivery method. You’ll show the presentation in class then engage in a Q&A with your colleagues. You will get 25 photographs to tell your story, supplemented by single words, if desired.” 

Maybe it is because my life is currently on hyperdrive where I am focusing on completing tasks, but I don’t see a lot of interesting stories happening in my life right now. Which means, I’ll have to find a story somewhere else to tell. Which means I’ll have to slow down long enough to see a story going on around me.

Maybe it is because I was an English major in undergrad, or maybe it is because of all those books I read, but I don’t think I think visually. I think I think in words. I have a very visual memory, but it is more natural for me to present a story through prose rather than visuals.

I am approaching this project from the mindset of the graphic novels I read last quarter. Maybe there is something there that I can use here.

What AM I passionate about right now?

The biggest challenge here is finding something physical to take photos of. At least with writing when you need something you can just create it out of thin air.

A story should be more than progression, so watching the birds build a nest in the tree and then hatch their babies isn’t really a story, it is just a timeline. Something interesting should happen.

My office is moving buildings soon. Maybe that would be an interesting story. Still, there is risk we don’t move and then I have nothing. Or, maybe the story isn’t interesting at all.

25 photos is a lot. I think of photojournalism and unless it is a huge event, there are rarely this many photos and often a lot more text attached to the story than a few words “if desired.”

Do I have any events coming up? No…

Maybe I’ll tell the story of the Midsummer Renaissance Faire. That could be perfect. Maybe there wouldn’t be a “story” per se, as in maybe there wouldn’t be an arc. On the other hand, maybe I could craft one out the photos I take while there.

This is what I finally turned in:

I will be attending the Midsummer Renaissance Faire in early August. I think this event will contain fascinating stories of a time long past and how modern-day people pay homage to that time. I know that people dress up for this event, there are reenactments and other performances including, arts, magic, dancing, equestrian acrobatics, and more. I will spend a day at the faire absorbing everything it has to offer and clicking away the camera. Throughout this, will be able to create a story of pounding hooves of Knights horses, clinking of mugs of ale with the Ale House Wenches, puppets performing magic, thundering booms of pirate’s cannons and dancing faeries! I too may be transported to another time and place throughout the day, eating foreign foods while listening to foreign music and tales of another time. If the faire isn’t enough, just the drive to get there will be an experience! I hear a vital road will be closed and we will have to navigate our way through unfamiliar Bonney Lake. We may even have to stop for refreshments or fuel. The tale is not yet told, but will surely be a day to remember.

Now we wait to see what she thinks of my proposal…
To be continued!


March: Book One – A review of color, style and storytelling

The tone of March: Book One, the graphic novel of the first part of Congressman John Lewis’ life and role in the Civil Rights Movement,  was primarily depicted through the way the design of the pages, the location of the words, and the stylistic decisions made throughout. These stylistic traits really crafted the experience and feeling s of the story while reading. First, the whole book was in black and white, immediately highlighting the differences and separation between the whites and black in society at the time. The fact that there was frame around the whole story and that John Lewis was telling the whole story from first person but to an audience drew you in as though you were those little boys in the office talking with the congressman as well. This frame also ties the novel inseparably to the speaker, Congressman John Lewis, and his life story.

The imagery in the book was dramatic with dark shadows further darkening the black and white on the pages. For example, on page 93, when they are describing one of the sit ins, the whole page illustration while they are all sitting at the bar and there is just one word “klik” resounding throughout the day. The anticipation builds as you take in the whole scene. In this frame, you see a lot of black filling the page, which is interesting because it contrasts what the environment would likely literally look like. Instead, the diner is likely brightly lit, the darkness highlights the tension, the insecurity, and the fear that is present in the room. You also see fear and determination on the characters faces who are participating in the sit in. In the background, you see the white people who are angry, standing with crossed-arms and formed almost as a wall, a resounding force in the frame as well.

Contrasting that, when the congressman is talking in his office with the boys, there is a lot more white on the pages and a lot more humor throughout the language. In fact, this is the only place where humor pears in the novel throughout. It is presented through the naiveté of the small boys with the questions that highlight how far the society has come since the Civil Rights Movement. What is also apparent, is the aging that John Lewis has gone through. The book of course, only covers the first part of his life and his entrance and rise in the Civil Rights Movement, so the distance in time is even more apparent. While John Lewis is more than willing to share his story with the children and mother, he also appears very strained while telling the story, very exhausted. This shows how his work in the Civil Rights Movement has worn on him, it has become a part of who he is, it is apparent in his outward physique.

Why Congressman John Lewis chose to present his autobiography in a graphic novel is an interesting thought. I didn’t do research to find his official answer on this, because I wanted to first consider what benefits he could take advantage of. First thought that comes to mind is the idea that this format stands out amongst other biographies, however, I do not feel this is enough of a reason to publish in this format. Maybe, the main advantage is this style makes the feeling, the experience, and the tone all very experiential. Like discussed above, you feel drawn in to the scene, you see the emotions, the colors (or lack thereof) tell you what the scene felt like instead of depicting what it actually looked like. This is very difficult to accomplish through words on a page, especially in a typical auto-biography which can be very dry and lack that same descriptive ability.

One other note, I wanted to mention, I read the book on both the iPad and in a hard copy and I feel that that the intensity of the imagery came through substantially more dramatically in the hard cover version. Part of it was due to the tactile aspect of holding the pages, but the main effect was the intensity of the illustrations was more impactful. The back lit screen of the iPad removed the darkness from some of the scenes.  And the technology added a layer of detachment from the time period being described.

Overall, I thought the choice to write in a graphic novel was very effective and the stylistic choices made throughout only added to the experience of reading. The fact that this is only book one, and the story cuts off somewhat abruptly, builds anticipation for the next book. However, this also left you with a sense of lack of closure. On the other hand, this could have been intentional, as Civil Rights is still an issue in many parts of our society. The work is not done. The story is not over.



This is not art for art’s sake anymore

Photo: The art of Frank Wright

Icarus: The art of Frank Wright

Andy Fife is the Director of Shunpike and an Independent Consultant for Art Strategy and Innovation according to his LinkedIn profile. From reading the title alone, you may not fully understand the philosophical depth of Fife’s work and the impact he has made through successful integration of this philosophy.

I was able to hear Fife talk on Saturday at the University of Washington and was thrilled to gain a deeper understanding of his perspective on art and strategy as well as learn more about what his title really means.

From my understanding, Fife believes that the integration of art is intrinsic and absolutely necessary for a project’s ultimate success. Without it we will miss something valuable. In his philosophy “art is the how not just the why.”

This means we use the culture we already have around us to inform our decisions on business, health care, or transportation. We need to do this because people are making art every day in their homes, in their work, in their communities. It is on a small scale, not an opera house or a theatre, but in parlors, offices and public parks.

With this in mind, Fife believes “we can create something together and you do not have to have all the answers in order to create something beautiful.” The art is part of the process and the process illuminates the culture and the decisions that must be made.

Fife’s talk paralleled the thoughts within Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception. Godin proposes the idea that everyone is an artist and that it is our responsibility to ourselves as well as our society to break free from the comfort zone we have been taught in order to create art. This art isn’t something that hangs on the wall, Godin clarifies, it is something that stretches us beyond where we currently stand in order to impact an audience we are trying to reach. Ignore the crowds, Godin says, the crowds are always wrong.

Fife’s work is along these lines. He is creating his art by weaving art into questions generally unassociated with art. It is not art for art’s sake, it is art for a reason. Godin’s art has purpose too. Godin specifies, if your art is not connecting with your audience, you have failed. If you have created art and it is never published, you have failed. For both, art is for change. And for both, art is within every person. There is no scarcity of art in our communities. We just need to harness it and make an impact!

Networks as “Organic Behavior in a Technical Matrix”

Think of Bees

Photo Credits: justus.thane

Photo Credits: justus.thane

In this Saturday’s class, Brent Friedman went over the details of his online creation, Valemont. What is most intriguing about this was, based on the premise of the story he was able to build a community of people so engaged in this world who were willing to put their time into building alternate personalities and creating relationships with other people doing the same thing. He created a network around this show. And, what was so interesting was the show was also based on a network – a physical network of cellphones hosted on Verizon and an abstract network of people connected to one common event, the death of a main character.

The success of Valemont was not the show alone, but the ability to create a community of invested individuals. This is an obvious point, though. What is less obvious is what made it so attractive to the demographic? What need did it fill for these people?

“The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.” -Kevin Kelly

This is the secret sauce. And one that needs to be constantly reevaluated. Today it might be Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and cell phones. Next year it might be Tablets, smart gear and social network that we haven’t discovered or a new way to use one we already have.  There is no durable mutation on the Internet. This is where “organic behavior” really takes effect on a “technical matrix.” Ultimately, the networks we target are made of people, and people are finicky, bored easily, and distracted by the dimmest of bright lights. Catching this changing mob is like trying to contain a swarm of bees, not only would it be almost impossible to do, they get really angry when they realize what is going on.

But bees are also probably one of the most organized networks in nature and can be highly predictable when equipped with the right knowledge and tools. This is how a networker and communicator must think of their audience.

We know they are changing, we know they are suspicious, we know they have needs and are more than willing to engage when given the right set of ingredients. But we must not allow ourselves to ease into assumptions of what they will do or what they want, and to ensure that we don’t we must listen, even more that we communicate or produce content, we must listen to what the networks are telling us.

The Whole Point

In this blog, I wish to post the first assignment for the University of Washington Graduate Program I am in titled Masters in Communication in Digital Media, or MCDM. This assignment was to outline our “Terms of Engagement.” Why are we here? What do we want to become? What do you want to be when you grow up? This is the whole point, right?

Well, maybe in one fraction of my life, this is the whole point. This is the whole point of my professional goals. And I have to admit that there isn’t much I wouldn’t give up to pursue these as far as they can go.

At the end of the quarter we need to rewrite them to see if we have learned something about the program, industry, ourselves, our writing, our communication. One piece of feedback I do believe was very justified by the leader of the program, Hanson Hosein, was that I need to consider the idea that the digital and the real are no longer separate, the barriers are melding together. Digital is so present in real life that is has become our real life. Touche Hanson, perhaps I already have one edit for the end of the year.

Technology is changing at a ridiculous pace. Ridiculous in that it looks ridiculous if you step back and watch – like shoppers on Black Friday crawling and scrabbling over each other in attempt to be the first one to grab the item of the year.  As a communicator within the raging river of technological development, I must take into account not only how the medium changes but how the audience’s relationship with each medium adjusts. It has been noted that with the evolution of social media, consumers who previously had little power, now easily voice their responses to an equally large audience. Now, potential consumers talk, yell, praise and most importantly, listen to other consumers. This is not a river that cannot be navigated. With experience, observation, preparation and creativity even the rapids can be successfully crossed. I would like to be recognized for this ability to navigate the changing organization-consumer relationship and develop strategies that bridge this ever shifting gap.

Ultimately, the organization is still a public speaker proposing an idea to the masses with hopes of influencing individuals to take some action. In this way, I need to master communication as an artful address, or, in other words, by using the Rhetorical Tradition defined in Em Griffin’s “A First Look at Communication Theory.” Using this tradition as a foundation for developing the skills I will need to be successful, I will learn to evoke emotion through storytelling and micro-stories. I will learn to create a voice of expertise, empathy and problem solving that will build a relationship with the audience just as Aristotle emphasized replicating friendship bonds between speaker and audience.

However, this specific tradition does not fully encompass the current organization-consumer relationship. As previously mentioned the audience now responds without hesitation and without regard for the speaker. Therefore, I will need to expand this theory to include elements of the Phenomenological Tradition, also referenced in Griffin’s book. This theory is defined as “communication as the experience of self and others through dialogue.” Social networks, because of their existence primarily in digital form, present unique challenges to communication unfamiliar to a speaker in a public setting with a live audience sitting before him. There is constant and high danger of misunderstanding in digital communication. After all, how often have we received a text message from a friend that we have severely misunderstood due to lack of contextual clues? Therefore, the communication between organization and consumer over digital platforms must not only rely on one-way messaging but strongly on those responses from the audience in order to learn and understand their perspectives. This mastery is depicted well in Hanson Hosein’s “Storyteller Uprising: Trust and Persuasion in the Digital Age” in an example the final section of the book when he references the U.S. Army’s campaign “Army Strong Stories.” As Hosein describes, this organization was able to allow the audience powerful voice while still staying in command of the overall message sent to the masses. I imagine, based on this description as well as personal experience, this campaign not only affected people while online, but also inspired action in real life, including changing opinions on the organization as a whole, changing option of the members of the army as individuals and shifting potential soldiers away from hesitations and towards passionate enlisting.

This brings me to my personal Action Idea for my time in MCDM. Online Social Networks are generally underutilized for their greater potential to impact real life. I want to develop an understanding of communication and storytelling strategies to become a recognized innovator in building social graph connections to drive inspired engagement that affects the audience beyond the digital world in a positive or revealing way.


Thoughts on what else I should consider before my time is up in this first quarter?