Snapshots from an Unfamiliar Album

‘Like haiku; [the snapshot] will ask us to complete it.’
–Douglas Nickel

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Consider these photographs. They were all collected from various locations, various countries. All were purchased—none were inherited. None of them interrelate beyond the fact that they are products of similar technology; societies of ‘consumption and disposal’ (West 81-2), and perhaps the result of the same purpose: to capture a context and meaning, too soon lost.

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Consider how many words each image is worth. It would be quite a game of ekphrasis to invent stories to pin to the background of these scenarios, these times, these people, who are no longer of this life but of an afterlife; there relegated the instant their impression settled on film.

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Consider this afterlife. This one, now, as the photographs appear on the screen before you; the processes that these snapshots have come through to reach a stage of digital display, of internment.

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Context; capture—sometimes highly orchestrated—meaning; loss.

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‘Once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of posing. I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.’
–Roland Barthes

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Consider the layers, indiscernible when looking across, that create a depth when looking down.  Rediscovery; recollection; reformatting into an album, into an unfamiliar sequence, set in or sharing a page according to a new context, a different aesthetic. Then re-photographed, re-calibrated into pixels, then uploaded. Then, downloaded. Then again in view, but under the gaze of a gallery of strangers, a global unknown, a new reflection of the people in the snapshots (who is peering at whom?), able to be accessed and copied.

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It is obscene, this kind of invasion of nostalgia. It is a contemporary trend to re-purpose objects—but do people require re-writing? Is this transference to digital form enough of an encoding for an unwilled, unwilling exhibition?

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And yet. Consider not only what is lost in this process but also what might be gained: what new life is this afterlife. Possibly it’s one of nourishment, where we can look from the uppermost layer down and declare that we are learning, or re-learning. Where we attend to the past via this digital resurrection. Where the faces will be reconfigured and their stories, those real and invented, will fill us with wonder. Where they might even, again, be seen.

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‘If snapshots are no longer innocent or private pictures, maybe we need to question whether, in fact, they ever were.’
–Marvin Heiferman

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References

West, Nancy Martha. 2008. ‘Telling Time: Found Photographs and the Stories They Inspire’ in Now Is Then: Snapshots from the Maresca Collection, ed. Marvin Heiferman. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 78-120.

 

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#techaffect: on the Curating Affective Technologies Un-conference

At one of those temporary junctions where the lines of life start to intersect, the first week I started as DWIR was also the week I attended the Curating Affective Technologies un-conference at the Flinders in the City campus in Adelaide. Organised by Julia Erhart, Sonja Vivienne, Tully Barnett, Alice Gorman and Julian Meyrick with the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities, the un-conference forms part of a year-long investigation of the theme ‘Technologies of Memory and Affect’.

What is an un-conference? I had no idea. How do you curate affective technologies? Also no idea, but I wanted to know more. It turns out that an un-conference is a collaborative, open structure, in which participants are encouraged to suggest and guide content, making for a warm and interactive forum. At our un-conference, participants were not passive, but asked to nominate key themes drawn from the ideas presented and discuss, in groups, the possibilities for collaborative articles.

After a day of intriguing ten-minute presentations, I am still working on a description of what ‘affective technologies’ are and how you curate them. I saw it happening; I contributed to it, but the topics spoken of and disciplines represented were so varied and the ideas connecting technology, affect and memory so many that for now I’ll slot in an explanation supplied by the Technologies of Memory and Affect blog:

Memory and affect are notoriously subjective and transitory concepts. Technology, from the printing press to the camera to the internet, affords opportunity to make these notions discernible and sometimes even material, in objects, words, images and a digital trace. However, while communication in the digital domain is searchable, persistent, replicable and scaleable, memory and affect remain ephemeral and contested.

Intersections between technology, memory and affect can be–and were–emphasised through diverse topics; pulled in multiple directions. Larissa Hjorth, RMIT Distinguished Professor and digital artist/ethnographer, guided the un-conference with her talk on ‘Visualising the Mundane: Technology/Memory/Affect’, discussing ways in which technology forms and deforms structures, reaches audiences and can, in the case of mobile phones in particular, tell stories of intimacy across cultures, become tools for mobilisation and create networks of witnessing. Alicia Carter, describing the technology of the Kodak Super 8 as a tool for familial forms of remembering; Martin Potter, pointing out that familiarity with media enhances rather than enslaves, and Ruth Vasey, declaring the Trove database a means of building multiple narratives within history, also drew on this idea of technology as witness and collator. For Carolyn Lake and Petra Mosmann, talking respectively about cultural memory as represented by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the feminist movement through (the symbol of) Faith Bandler’s gloves, public records became issues of affect; for Susan Bruce, who showed several of her short films, technology preserves the personal, tactile and textural. Listening to Deb Matthews speak about curating memory within the remix community CCMixter; Catherine Adamek on the performance of dance; Gillian Dooley giving renditions of gender ambiguous songs from Jane Austen’s manuscripts, and Daniela Kaleva discussing cabaret and the transmission of cultural memory, performance was also explored as a way of evoking and creating memories.

To capture moments of the un-conference as it unfolded, tablets, laptops and mobile phones were used to upload fragments to Twitter and Instagram. The event of the symposium–or the rarer occasion of an un-conference–was amplified through digital media recordings of discussion as ritual; through a simultaneous exploration and performance of curation to create, distribute and enhance memories, contributing to present and future perspectives on the fascinating and expanding field of technology and affect.

The Origins of Drinks

When I applied for this digital residency, I had to propose a project that aimed to be creative, innovative, community-minded and fulfil the brief of the people reading: I came up with Friends with Drinks. You can read an actual excerpt of my application here, or you might have read the snappy version on the Friends with Drinks tumblr before you sent your submission (haven’t done this yet? Please do here!):

Merging the everyday rituals of making friends and taking drinks with the digital zeitgeist, Friends with Drinks is a creative collaborative project that aims to share different experiences of drinking and place worldwide.

By way of online communion, Friends with Drinks signifies particular spaces through full and fragmentary texts, images and sounds that together create a map of what we drink, with whom and where—whether it’s morning coffee in Milan, midday chai in Lucknow, an afternoon beer in Prague, an evening martini in New York or a cup of hot milk before bedtime in Accra.

The possibilities for joining minds, locations, words, inspirations, snapshots, actions, sketches, music, clips and destinies are as infinite as the networks that draw us together. Please submit, share—and salud!

Although I had jotted down a vague outline of Friends with Drinks in my notebook to float at the earliest opportune moment, it wasn’t until last week, in the course of writing content and setting up websites and Facebook pages—tasks that seemed far removed from the pencil-scratched origins of the idea—that I remembered what had prompted Friends with Drinks in the first place; what had given the concept enough personal meaning in order for me to pitch it with a degree of sincerity.

This time last year, I was living through a sultry July in Bangalore, India, while working on a project; in the same month, I met a handful of mixed-media German artists who had come to Bangalore to complete residencies. Among them was Stepan, a tall drink of draughtsmanship who became, in the way of Melissa Bank, an ‘insta-friend’. A month later, Stepan left Bangalore with a bang and departed from my analogue life in a way you have to grow accustomed to when you travel, or else perish from the stranglehold of sentimentality. (One of the definite advantages of the digital age is having the opportunity to keep our friends in the frame of our lives, even at a strange, unquantifiable distance.)

One night I was muddling through some sentences, longing for distraction, when I heard a ping! It was Stepan, via Messenger. This is what he wrote:

S: I am already accosting the Old Monk [famous Indian dark rum] on this hot Berlin afternoon. It’s good!

K: Classic flavours travel well…and the bottle made it in one piece! Excellent. What are you mixing it with? Oh yeah, I’m glad you made it in once piece too.

S: Pure, already drunk. Feels good in the white Berlin heat.

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K: Lovely. Surrounded by white light, consuming golden redness…

S: Feeling a bit blue. I met so many lovely people, and still wearing your Ganesha band with pride—Ganesha himself has vanished already though.

K: I understand how you feel. Homecoming isn’t easy, especially after India. The people who found you lovely here miss you already! Ah, that Ganesha, always giving people the slip. I have a drop of Old Monk here in my flat too. Let’s drink together.

S: Haha, cheerio dear girl! to your health and welfaring! And to meeting again somewhere!

K: Old Monk on my work desk. Cheers to you, bhaiya! Speedy recovery from jet lag and remember: Bengaluru waits for you.

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S: I put all my Indian novels on the shelf and go to bed with Gaiman’s American Gods for now!

K: And I shall listen to Lana del Rey and write about Nepal. Sweet dreams.

S: And I will listen to Lana del Rey as well.

K: Ah, it’s just like we’re in the same room.

I wrote in my first post that digital media are machines for contortion—they certainly are, but perhaps they are also a means of intimacy, of a type that we don’t normally expose, which is perhaps an excellent reason why we should. Last week I met an artist/academic, Larissa Hjorth, who makes a study of digital intimacy, but more on that later. For now, I request that you go forth and engage in the ritual of drinking (anything, with anyone) without forgetting to record (and possibly submit) these moments—across neighbourhoods and cultures and countries. However you come together as friends with drinks, via digital methods or analogue, there is enough meaning in every communion to make each worth remembering.

Special thanks to Stepan for giving his OK for me to share our dialogue.

Machines for Contortion

Here I go again transforming my analogue self, Kathryn Hummel, into a digital version (see one of my other incarnations here): a version with the tag SA Writers Centre Digital Writer in Residence. All media are machines for contortion; to have some kind of presence on digital media seems increasingly necessary for writers, even if our engagement with it is sometimes unconscious.

When I step back; log off; shut down, I am surprised by the shift in my focus from digital to analogue and the ease of my hybrid existence between both realms. I don’t find them mutually exclusive. As a writer, I connect this hybrid to my motivation to carry on arranging words and images into creative patterns—firstly, for the pleasure of satisfying my compulsion to do so, but also to contribute to the culture surrounding me, to the zeitgeist of a digital age, and to send out words into the void, hoping for a response from Some Other Unknown.

One of the great pleasures of engaging with digital media and its various platforms is coming across a diverse group of creative people who balance their individual quests for immortality, using the creative processes particular to them, with the collective aim of developing digital writing as a genre. This kind of pluralism is one I support: one sympathetic to the assembling a few thousand disparate, peculiar and beautiful fragments belonging to the present into the grooves of one record, for a united sling back and launch. If the result is the intangible one of sending data off across a physical/digital/unknown universe, it is also one that will fracture the tendency to look too far inwards when immortality becomes a solo pursuit once more.

I suspect that the SAWC Digital Writer in Residence program will provide me with a present space from which to explore all types of artistic work—to share and expand on my skills as a digital and new media writer—and to meet (virtually) other people who unwind it. Here’s how:

  • through Friends with Drinks, a new worldwide creative collaboration mapping responses to what and where we drink. Submissions are now open at the Friends with Drinks tumblr and Facebook page
  • by finding out more about you, your work and your engagement with digital media
  • by sharing and discussing ideas and innovations involving digital approaches in writing and hybrid forms
  • through finding out what people harnessing digital approaches in their work are hoping to achieve
  • tracking the themes that emerge

The karmic chain of support between creative strangers extends worldwide and as the SAWC Digital Writer in Residence for July-August 2016 I will gladly receive and pass it on.

Only 4 more sleeps…

…until I hand over the digital-writer-in-residence guernsey to someone new!

Socks(I thought the pic, left, of my rainbow bed-socks and pretty-in-pink book might be appropriate considering my mermaid story, the mermaid/unicorn hair trend, and Adelaide’s wintry mood.)

I have to admit, before taking up this digital gig, I enjoyed social media as I would chocolate. Sparingly. A little bit, every now and then, went a long way.

Since beginning my Mermadelaide digital story, thanks to the SA Writers Centre, I’ve been checking in on Facebook and Instagram daily. And I’ve found both positives and negatives from my self-imposed social media overload (I came up with the schedule!) – particularly from Instagram, which I’m relatively new to.

The negatives:

  • The ‘fakery’ – from spammers to people with ridiculous amounts of (bought) followers, and Instagram bots that automatically ‘like’ and ‘follow’ certain hashtags for businesses, regardless of the content…it can be hard to find the real among the digital world
  • The paranoia of watching the numbers – from seeing yohelpur follower numbers dip to the nail-biting wait for a picture’s likes to hit double digits … argh, the popularity contest feels like I’m back in school!
  • The distraction of having Instagram open on my phone and the urge to do ‘likes for likes’ and ‘follows for follows’ and trying to keep up with it all
  • The jealousy – so many people’s lives look magazine-worthy online, and the peeps so hip. It can be overwhelming seeing a world’s worth of (filter-enhanced) photos on your phone, like migrating from school to uni and suddenly feeling like a little fish in a big pond. Although, funnily, when I walk down the street, everyday life just looks the same as always to me… (Did I also mention ‘Instagram shoulder’, brought about by constantly hunching over my phone?)

The positives:

  • The eye-candy – we are built to appreciate beauty, and why should magazine stylists and big brands have all the fun with flat-lay pics and out-there photography? So much to visually feast on!IMG-2
  • The inspiration – through Instagram ‘likes’, I’ve discovered the pages of everyone from a Russian ballerina in New York to a globetrotting paddleboard hula-hooper. Makes you want to try harder to live your best life, and as a writer, the fly-on-the-wall aspect offers plenty of creative inspiration!
  • The connection – it’s another way to keep up with the goings-on of your friends, family and acquaintances, and can even lead you to developing more of a bond.
  • The fun of using your sense of humour or creativity online, and sharing it with the world – instantly. (Even better that you can ‘tweak’ your words a little, after the fact…)

Once ‘Mermadelaide’ ends – THIS SATURDAY, June 25! – I will, admittedly, be switching off from Instagram for a while. And going back to just dipping into Facebook a few times a week.

But I’ve found the experience invaluable – thank you, SAWC! – and if anything, it’s confirmed that my usual relationship with social media works a-okay. That is, letting it add a little somethin’-somethin’ to my life, but not running it. (Oh, and it’s also inspired me to write a short story involving a social media-obsessed heroine.)

Let’s hope more creative storytelling can cut through the look-at-me, product-flogging digital ‘noise’ in future (even better than I can attempt!), and really make an impact – offering something refreshingly different.

(To check out Luna the mermaid’s journey, visit http://bit.ly/250WENP or http://bit.ly/1R9xZwN pretty please.)

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Luna’s stuck in the city – plus, a ghost!

Carla Caruso, author pic, HarperCollinsSo my digital-writer-in-residence gig continues (until June 25!) – along with my story, Mermadelaide. (It’s about a mermaid stuck in the city and is being told via daily Facebook and Instagram posts.)

It’s funny that once you start writing a story, you see symbolism everywhere. Like the below oceanic wall at a play area at Westfield West Lakes, and the fibreglass whale at Mitcham Square shopping centre (which my twin lads are captured wrecking… er, having fun on).

Another funny thing happens when you begin telling a story. Naively, I thought I was alone in this, but now better understand the phenomenon since listening to a Longform podcast with Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. (Did I mention I’m a podcast addict?)

Anyway, what happens is… another story idea sneaks in and tries to demand your attention!West Lakes WestfieldBoys at whale

So since telling the tale of Luna the mermaid, I’ve had another idea for a digital story about a ghost girl, dubbed Ghostelaide, vying for my attention. Here’s how inspiration struck…

I did an interview recently with TV writer-turned-novelist JD Barrett about her debut book, The Secret Recipe for Second Chances. It features a ghost chef and was a little inspired by the 1947 film, The Ghost and Mrs Muir. (My husband couldn’t believe I’d never seen the movie, so nicely got it for me!)

Then I listened to a podcast interview with US romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips about her new novel, Heroes are My Weakness, inspired by gothic clifftop romances (hello Hitchcock’s Rebecca). And I realised I loved films like that, too, and all things ghostly. At the time of listening to the podcast, I was going for a run, which took me past Mitcham Anglican Cemetery. I went in and discovered it features heaps of cool headstones from the 1800s.

So I started imagining another photo shoot for a story, comprising lots of black, and cream lace, and red velvet, plus misty roads and grey skies in our wintry City of Churches. I began to wonder if I could even start my own business, telling digital stories like this for time-poor people. Or…

Was it just another crazy idea of mine, which I’d soon discard like my on-trend oversized winter vest?

Elizabeth Gilbert had this to say about the writer’s muse on the Longform podcast, and what can happen mid-project. “The tricky bit [with beginning a new story] is that you have to start from a place of: ‘This is what I’m most excited about, this is what I’m most curious about.’ And then you have to recognise, and know, what will happen is that six months into it, it’s going to feel very boring and tedious, because making things is often boring and tedious.

“And another idea is going to come along very seductively and do The Dance of the Seven Veils in the corner of your studio and say: ‘I’m a much more interesting, much more exciting idea. Why don’t you abandon this project that you’ve been working on for six months [Carla – or even less than six weeks!] and come and run away with me to paradise?’

“And you have to be smart enough to know not to do that, because six months from now, that project will also be dull and boring, and another idea will come and seduce you. And you have to be able to stay with it through the boring part and get to the end… When those other seductive ideas come along, you have to tell them to take a number.”

Point taken. So, Ghostelaide, take a number!

Pic: Ghosty inspo for me at the Torrens Arms Hotel recently.

Hello from the newbie digital writer!

Carla Caruso - author picHi, I’m Carla Caruso, the new Digital Writer in Residence at the SA Writers Centre for the next six weeks!

The idea for my project, Mermadelaide, started as a weird obsession. Peculiar fixations can strike us writers at any time! One day, without warning, I had a sudden interest in mermaids.

I’d never watched The Little Mermaid before or even knew about the ‘mermaid’ pastel hair trend, but I started googling the sea creatures and borrowing books on the subject. I decided to just go with the creative ‘spark’ and hope it’d lead me somewhere. And it did … to this residency. Telling a tale online about a mermaid stuck in the city, through daily posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Once I got the tick of approval from the SA Writers Centre, the hard work really began.

First, I had to find someone to play my oceanic heroine, Luna. Cue aspiring Adelaide model Jade Allen, who works in retail and isn’t yet signed to a modelling agency. (I’m secretly hoping she’ll get her big break being discovered via the story!) Her look was perfect, and after an exchange of messages, she somehow agreed to be part of my crazy project.

Finding a photographer was easy – I’m married to one (hello James Elsby). My illustrator sister (Daniella Caruso), who I wanted to ‘fill in the story gaps’ with drawings, also couldn’t come up with a good enough reason to say no. So both were roped in. Next, I scoured for a makeup artist, and Kimberley Bradshaw from The Blushing Creator, though heavily pregnant, agreed to take on the challenge.

Our first shoot day was organised (no mean feat in ensuring everyone was free) – just when a thunderstorm blasted Adelaide. Taking photos was delayed another week – argh! – but the new shoot day arrived, with clear skies, and we think the results were worth the wait. (Thanks also to the mother-in-law for babysitting our two-year-old twins on the day, an adventure in itself.)

Anyway, who says new Adelaide club Atlantis Lounge is the only place you’ll find mermaids in the city? Follow Luna’s journey here (pretty please): http://bit.ly/250WENP and http://bit.ly/1R9xZwN. Until next time!

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