Week 4: It's Not All Iso, Aperture and Shutter

Week four was all about photography. After having interviewed and paraphrased an interviewee's musical experience, we were now asked to focus on visualising that experience through the medium of photography.

Next to the work there's still time for some fun in the student's kitchen. Doris, Marcel and me prepared an Alpen-Fika for the whole class on Friday. I can proudly say that our Kaiserschmarren (with 27 eggs!) and Pflaumenkompott was a huge success. 

Next to the work there's still time for some fun in the student's kitchen. Doris, Marcel and me prepared an Alpen-Fika for the whole class on Friday. I can proudly say that our Kaiserschmarren (with 27 eggs!) and Pflaumenkompott was a huge success. 

The process kicked off with a workshop last week, in which we would focus on the aesthetic values of a piece of music. After splitting up into groups of four we got a rather unusual track to listen to. And an envelope of background information that we weren't allowed to open until the second part of the exercise. So while the music was playing – a pompous german march – we grabbed some post-its and each tried to come up with adjectives to describe the music. We established the groupings «Tempo», «Atmosphere», «Purpose», «Projection» and «Meaning». Then we tried to collectively graph the musical intensity over the duration of the song (the x-axis being time, the y-axis being perceived intensity). Finally, we each rated the piece of music according to its efficiency, emotionality, and other factors to put together a collective spider graph. The background information later revealed  that we had been listening to the  german military march 'Alte Kameraden' (Old Comrades) written 1889. Contrary to our expectations, this piece wasn't used by Hitler in his attempts to glorify the third reich. It was often played in the aftermath of World War II. Curiously, it is still the presentation march of the Chilean Air Force and was used as the opening tune of the Royal Thai news program between 1980 and 2004.

After this exercise I was given the interview text of last weeks exercise of another student. My objective was to describe the experience of the song using three adjectives and shoot photographs that convey these adjectives to me. On friday morning we then presented our results to Nicklas Wolkert, one of the first UID interaction design alumnis.

The song I received was Zikr – Call of a Sufi – Call of the Heart and immediately I was stuck. What on earth could I possibly do with this very – let's say – "foreign" sounding music. I started by trying to learn as much as I could about the lyrics and the musical background. It turned out Sufism is called the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam, while Zikr (or Dhikr) is an Islamic devotional act that consists of reciting the names of God. My thoughts kept circling but I just couldn't really come up with anything that would describe my feelings towards this particular track. Maybe because it was just too religious for me, or maybe just because I didn't feel like it related to me at all. But then I remembered that this is about the experience of another person, not the music itself. After applying much of the same methods described above I came up with the three adjectives illustrated below for the musical experience. 

The photograph I chose to represent the adjective distant. I really like how this photograph seems both warm and cold to me in the same time.

The photograph I chose to represent the adjective distant. I really like how this photograph seems both warm and cold to me in the same time.

I chose 'distant' because the person described his or her experience as something that completely engulfs the mind. The experience is about deep reflection and meditation that doesn't allow for other tasks to be present in one's mind. I felt like this shot really captures that feeling of dizzying immersion or trance that was hinted at. Looking back, it may also describe the feeling I had after listening to the song for the first time. I have to admit that this was kind of a lucky shot that happened after trying to capture a passing cyclist in seconds while having the camera set to it's macro mode.

The photograph I chose to represent personal. Note the voyeuristic elements and the arrows on the street.

The photograph I chose to represent personal. Note the voyeuristic elements and the arrows on the street.

The second adjective I chose was 'personal'. Since the topic is meditation and reflection it quickly becomes obvious that this is a deeply personal subject. There's an obvious tension to the adjective 'distant'. For the photo I tried to play with the viewer a little. I tried to keep with the 'house' theme, as they are inherently personal places. This time we are much closer and we can actually see what's going on inside. There's something voyeuristic about it. This mirrors my feelings while taking the photograph, too. And yet there's more contrast with the large arrows directly in front of the house, suggestion a highly trafficked street. One arrow is even pointing towards the house as if it were an invitation to enter.

The photograph I chose to represent quieting. Tying back to the Islamic notion of the song, the prevalence of the colour green is interesting.

The photograph I chose to represent quietingTying back to the Islamic notion of the song, the prevalence of the colour green is interesting.

The third and last adjective is 'quieting'. The story describes the form of meditation as a means to quiet one's mind. The photograph's depth of field illustrates that. The person in the picture is able to find pleasure almost regardless of the environment around her. Also the colours really bring together the other two photographs. Interestingly, this photograph got the most critical feedback. People remarked on the visible "Nikon" logo that I refused to retouch because I decided to keep the photographs raw (as in straight from the camera). Also some people thought that the smile distracted from the message I intended to convey. I agree in some way, but then again I still really like the upbeat element the smile brings to the picture.

Overall this has been another interesting week for me. We didn't learn much about to improve our technical photography skills, but I actually enjoyed that we focussed on thinking how to convey emotions through the medium. I found out that it's pretty hard to do without showing the faces or postures of people. In other news we discussed how various philosopher's tackled the topic of aesthetics over the years in our weekly literature circle. And we all took our interaction workshop license test that gives us access to all the goodness that is in the interaction workshop. I found myself soldering for the first time in 8 years. I passed. More on the workshop another time.