To be brilliant! It’s a simple desire.
There are ways and means. Our individualism is an algorithm of our experiences, real and imagined in a matrix of thought.
In media, we look around us, adopt principles and rules, some un upon us — unconsciously. We attend conferences. Imbibe what others have discovered; a listicle on shooting this and that, creating that and this — mobile video for social media.
If it worked for Al Jazeera or Vice.com, surely it’ll work for us. Hence, we pour over their tech., adopt their standards, publish and, then wait. If our impressions rise it validates we’ve done the right thing. We then become the purveyors of an assumed fresh standard, Gold.
Much of the media works this way and we can’t deny it doesn’t function adequately, if not well, but there’s a ‘but’… In inheriting these processes and established architectures, we contribute to the perception, or otherwise of giving rise to a theory, or a theory of sorts.
For example, take the rule of thirds in design, which trainers didactically tell us, irrespective of circumstances, to place an image to the third of the screen for compositional harmony: an homage to western sensibilities. But the rule of thirds is hardly a rule, grounded in theory, but in line with various autocratic observations this side of the hemisphere. It is at best a proposal.
When the brilliant filmmaker Ron Chiu placed his images on the ‘wrong’ side of the rule of thirds, you could be forgiven for feeling uncomfortable. The stableness and sympathy of the composition in this case had become unsettled. Good! The composition was a young man wrestling with his conscious, about to commit a crime. In Asia, symmetry as expressed in Kabuki (Japanese Theatre) is more readily expressed over any rule to be in a third triad.
In these theories we seek, knowledge is refluxed and secured. We then might seek to build upon this to create our own niche. Filmmakers continually steal from one another, the schema, and then vary it somewhat, leading filmmaker/critic Mark Cousins to riff on an aphorism by Art historian E.H. Gombrich. Filmmaking becomes schema plus variation.
In media and many other subjects we acknowledge, albeit tacitly, that there is no one route to knowledge, but we affect by our actions the notion there is a dominant one. In photojournalism and film, we craft images according to the, ‘West is intellectual, Africa is nature’. Diversity in tech is analogous to analogue. To these new tech super powers, reworking Brit PM’s Harold Wilson’s ‘White heat of technology’, it’s old Skool. Aren’t you bored of this?
Unconsciously or otherwise, there is also a preference to knowledge via mimesis, Steal like an Artist. Questions follow:
- Why do we learn to make films with one camera? Why not three or four reinforcing the notion of post human spatial editing and raising awareness and diminishing subjectivity. That’s what 360 filming is asking of us — cubism and multiple spatial framing? Can you abandon fixed perspectival compositional framing, so brilliantly handed down from one master e.g. Michelangelo to another e.g. Hockney?
- Is increased connectivity across social media platforms a boon or a bust for the relentless harnessing of our data for commercial reasons ? If you use Uber, it knows more than you know about yourself.
- How can we trust what to trust?
- How do you create an award winning film? Just what do audiences want?
A colleague recently asked me how I keep up with new trends and introduce them into lectures. It’s a challenge, I answered, particularly if we fix our deliverables to the modular system we’ve mainly inherited in education from the 19th century.
Each course is designed by specifics. It works. It’s like going to the grocers. You pick a course, you see what’s on offer, you make your choice. But then what happens when Amazon comes along abandoning physical space to provide a virtual pick n’ mix — that offers more, making use too of your data to offer you more.
In the last few years in particular, but by no means new across different industries, we’ve begun in the media to look at structures and processes in a more critical and non deifying way. And the approach in itself draws on different heuristics i.e. the way we might solve problems.
Taking the BBC as an example, it has its regular output, visible, dominant and process driven. And then working quietly away in another wing is its alchemy side. The lab, the right side of the brain — artistic, creative and sceptical. It’s job is to experiment, invent, fail, acknowledge and then start all over again.
The history of tyre manufacturing illustrates how, like many other events, the industry, or even an individual laboured to find that one thing, often serendipitously and everything then changed afterwards. Our knowledge is finite only at that moment and time.
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”, said the renowned hockey star Wayne Gretzky. But how do we know where the puck’s going?
Gary Lineker, a presenter on the BBC’s Match of the Day was a previously successful goal scorer in his days. How did he do it? It certainly wasn’t luck. Like Gretzky, Lineker learned to read where the ball was going, but he could only convert a goal, if the ball was delivered. Lineker made run after run, that did not bear fruit. Chancing yields results, yields, knowledge.
Within the BBC, its use of interactive media, verticals used in mobiles, and social media usage emerge from the lab. The lab approach in itself, as the history of one of the most famous lab shows, MIT, is not linearly defined. What they all possess is a thinking process that encourages people to look beyond what is current, and even acceptable, and solve a new problem — accelerate the future.
In September 2017, we launch our first lab, as a Masters module. A course designed around digital and interactive storytelling to challenge the status quo, to look at problems anew, to ask ‘why, why, why’.
In ways that vary in degrees, this approach is already adopted in education. At the Masters level on journalism courses it exhibits itself at its most acute in final project submissions.
In PhDs it is the process, with the pedal down on maximum. The pursuance of knowledge is achieved by testing assumptions. Nothing is sacred and like Dunlop trying to perfect tyres, the story of Al Jazeera devising their award winning style, or the BBC’s many successes and the ones you don’t see or hear about, the journey reveals an actualisation of the brilliance and frailty of thought and pragmatism.
That’s what my colleagues and I are bringing to the LAB, a passion for science, storytelling, interactivity, journalism, the arts, technology into media, with an equal passion to communicate them in ways that are easy to comprehend, and challenge perceptions whilst strengthening memory.
In practice, our approach is to frame our subject areas, and let our minds explore, go to work. In the studios of the University of Westminster, Louis from the House of Hippies goes to work, free-styling, a lyrical modern day Brit flaneur, psycho-geographicing himself across hermeneutic and thought terrains. His Iambic metering has me mesmerised as he rehearses with his group, readying himself for the stage, BBC stage next week.
He doesn’t know this yet, but I’m about to ask him to do a lecture in writing and journalism. His patterning is the stuff that draws the mind in closer. He doesn’t know this either, but whilst he was rehearsing, I was rewriting the nose of this post to his rhythm. Play it below and read from the start.
How can I produce something that goes beyond what is current? We’ll need to explore established ideas and zone in on contemporary ones , accessing practical works and literature e.g. Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitables, or Lindiwe Dovey’s Curating Africa in the Age of the Film Festival.
Dovey’s title may be a glaze over for you. What has it got to do with media, journalism or storytelling? However, this brilliant book unveils a multitude of reasons, how we, as storytellers, confer by legacies, perceptions upon those we write and film. What is aesthetic she writes citing Kant, who transcribes it to be in the eye of the subjective beholder.
Areas for exploration in the LAB. Whose purpose, as a critique, does the product serve, and should we be cognisant of its impact, and should we care? If you happened by Grenfell Tower, the scene of a national tragedy; pause for a moment to think that through.
Skills and knowledge — the two pillars that underpin craftsmanship and craftswomanship. But they don’t occur in a vacuum. They envelop people, cultures, and societies. That’s the ethos of the disLAB.
Time to go to work. Time to be…
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah, a designer, digital entrepreneur, and digital journalism cum filmmaker. He is part of the disLAB with colleagues Dr Sandra Gaudenzi and Dr Massimiliano Fusari. Apply/ join us here.