Raw footage from our film project.

For our video assignment, our group decided that the piece we had initially decided to film might prove too difficult to complete in the timeframe we had. We chose to scrap the idea altogether and start again from the beginning.

Katie suggested that instead of doing a documentary-style piece we should focus on a simple narrative piece inspired by the Nico song “These Days.” It’s a melancholy song about a woman whose lover has left her and the ways in which that loss colors her daily life as she walks around the city. We were interested in exploring the ways in which the environment in which we live comes to mirror our internal emotions. I’ve discussed with friends the ways in which New York City has this remarkable ability to reflect your feelings back at you so that you are constantly being confronted by yourself.

With that in mind, we mapped out our storyboard and shot list. We knew that there were some locations we were set on filming: Coney Island, a coffee shop, a corner grocery store, etc. We also knew that new ideas would reveal themselves to us along the way and so we started the shoot with an open mind.

I should add that Naoki and Katie decided I should play the part of the young woman in the film (gahhhh). Here are some highlights from the footage:

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Overall, I think that Naoki, Katie, and I got fairly adept at adjusting the settings on the camera. We were able to adjust the aperture and ISO in a hurry by the end of the day. I felt so much more confident by the end that I could use the camera well and that we had gotten some really good shots, especially at Coney Island.

It was difficult to capture all the scenes we wanted in one day so we are planning to record some additional footage this week. We have a good sense of the narrative structure, but one goal for this week is to nail down, shot by shot, what the film will look like.

Homelessness in Greenpoint: Initial storyboard.

The homeless population has always had a persistant presence in New York, but in the past several years homelessness in the city has skyrocketed. According to recent reports, the number of homeless in city shelters has risen from 53,000 to 60,000 during mayor Bill de Blasio’s term.

According to de Blasio, people are increasingly losing their permanent housing due to a perfect storm of plateauing income and a hot real estate market reaching into new neighborhoods, like Bushwick or Greenpoint, where landlords once accepted homeless families and their subsidies. Simply put, many families can’t simply keep up and end up in the shelter system.

With that in mind, our group is interested in examining how the homelessness crisis is playing out in one particular street corner in Greenpoint, Brooklyn: the intersection of Milton and Manhattan.

There are two churches on the street, one of which sponsors a daily food pantry for the neighorhood’s homeless population. Alongside the lines of homeless people, however, are the vestiges of gentrification: designer coffee shops, a CVS, boutiques, and a bank. This is just one of the battlegrounds where New Yorkers are increasingly losing their housing and entering the shelter system.

Here is the initial storyboard for the 3-5 minute film we will make:

 

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Sunday Mass: An exploration of religious ecotones in Bed-Stuy.

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetThe interior of a Baptist church on Fulton Avenue.

I moved to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn three weeks ago, knowing very little about the religious landscape of my neighborhood. On my first night, I realized that there is a synagogue on my block in which the congregation is composed entirely of Ethiopian Jews. Three blocks away is an unusual Egyptian temple, where a small sect of black Muslims who call themselves the Nuwaubian Nation (a group that developed concurrent with the Nation of Islam) continue to worship. My second night, I heard the call to prayer sounding while I was at dinner a few blocks away. Religion is part of the culture and it’s what holds the neighborhood together.

With that in mind, I was interested in exploring how the different religious communities in Bed-Stuy meet, worship, interact, sing, and pray. I decided to call these liminal spaces religious ecotones. In ecology, an ecotone is a transition zone between two biomes. In other words, it is the space in which two communities meet and integrate.

In our audio recording, Katie and I sought to capture what worship sounds like across religions in Bed-Stuy. Each congregation has its own form of “mass” – a meeting in which the members pray and listen to their religious leaders speak. We captured some sounds from a Catholic church, a mosque, a Baptist church, and a Jewish friend during their different periods of worship.

The outcome was a patched-together narrative of what worship sounds like. Here’s the outcome:

Interestingly, I found that this project proved to be a good complement to this week’s reading, the short sci-fi piece “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster. The story explores a post-apocalyptic world in which humans are dependent on technology for all their needs, including social interaction. People in this world have a huge network of friends, many of whom they haven’t met. The story effectively predicts the rise of online culture and social media, as our generation increasingly flees traditional centers of community (such as religious spaces) and creates new, different communities online.

IMG_9731Fatima in the women’s section of a mosque on Fulton Avenue.

Churches, mosques, synagogues, and meditation classes are spaces in which individuals have in-person social interactions. They are also gathering places for religious communities in which intergenerational conversations can take place. I think our society needs both types of meeting spaces – those that occur online and those that are located within our communities.

Combinatorial creativity. Or, why everything’s a mashup.

tumblr_nrlebbS26B1qme9tao1_1280Painting by Kyle Jorgensen. From the Bootleg Bart art exhibit, in which local Salt Lake artists produced art based on the Simpsons character. 

As a society, we are enamored with wrapping our heads around the creative process. In Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson suggests that each of us is developing our own personal microculture: the accumulation of every book we’ve read, every conversation we’ve had, every movie we’ve seen, every piece of art we’ve seen, and every song to which we’ve listened. Design legend Paula Scher echoes Gibson’s thoughts in an interview in which she describes the creative process as a “slot machine” that remixes the collection of experiences you’ve amassed in your life. Combinatorial creativity hinges on our ability to actively cultivate this private microculture.

If we all agree that influence is vital to the creative process, then why do so many people resist a “remix” culture?

In a Harper’s article entitled “The Ecstasy of Influence,” (h/t Harold Bloom) writer Jonathan Lethem tackles the complicated subject of plagiarism in art. While acknowledging the role that copyright law plays in a market economy, Lethem falls into the same camp as Gibson and Scher, advocating the type of “open source” culture in literature and art that exists in jazz/blues music, for instance.

We are ultimately shaped by the writers and artists who came before us, argues Lethem. When some of the notes or coloring written by others leak out into our creations, it’s a normal part of the creative process. He puts it so eloquently:

“Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”

One of the major ideas underpinning postmodernism is that nothing is truly original. Everything is parody or imitation of something else. Probing this idea further, Lethem argues that most everything that’s ever been written or said is plagiarism. We receive everything secondhand, drawn from hundreds and hundreds of other sources that are imperceptible to us.

On an anecdotal level, my first introduction to some of the best pop culture and film was through parodies that appeared on The Simpsons (who can forget the brilliant Kubrick love letter ‘The Shinning’?!) My first brush with classic literature was watching a dog play Cyrano de Bergerac, Faust, and Tom Sawyer on the television show Wishbone. When I’m working on a visual project, my first impulse is to flood my mind with poetry, art, and photography.

So again I’ll ask the question: Why resist an “open source” culture?

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 1.24.46 AMArt by Alexa Hall. From the Bootleg Bart art exhibit.

The ethics of creative license can get murky. Artist Joy Garnett shares an interesting anecdote in which she was accused of copyright infringement for modeling a painting on a documentary photograph without giving attribution. The photographer in question – Susan Meiselas – offers up her side of the story. The man in the photograph was a Sadinista rebel hurling a bomb at the Somoza national guard in 1979. Meiselas says that she doesn’t object to reappropriation of the image, but she does object to the degree to which duplication has decontextualized the photograph from its original meaning.

“History is working against context,” she says. “We owe this debt of specificity not just to one another but to our subjects.”

Although combinatorial creativity is inherent to art, artists enter a gray, murky area when they choose to riff off of others’ work. When it comes to telling stories from cultures that differ from our own, context matters.

My undergraduate studies were focused on a specific geographic region and culture – the Middle East and Arab culture – and so I’m sensitive to the ways in which Western cultures have chosen to represent (and misrepresent!) conflict in the Middle East. Often when dramatic images from the news circulate, they are ripped from their context and therefore lose their meaning. For instance, this week the Internet reacted to shocking pictures of a Kurdish refugee child whose body had washed ashore in Turkey. While many articles sought to educate the public about the Syrian refugee crisis, the images themselves converted the boy into an emblem, a victim of broad conflict in the Middle East.

So where does that leave us? I’m not certain. Like Lethem, I’ve been influenced by writers and artists in my own creative work and I think that as a society we should continue to cultivate a “remix” culture. On the other hand, I want the art that is being created to add to the conversation, not detract from it.