We now live in a world drenched in data, providing a new seam of content for documentary. Both ‘Big Data’ sets and social media traces left by individuals are rich sources of information and stories. With the latest version of the web coding language HTML5, data can also now be connected to video content in new ways. So how are documentary makers responding to these creative possibilities? What forms of storytelling are emerging around these new resources? What are the challenges in this arena?
This panel will bring together Caroline Oh (18 Days in Egypt), Laura Kurgan (Spatial Information Design Lab), and Fabien Streit, (Upian), who will present contrasting examples of work with data. The conversation will be facilitated by Mandy Rose who is working with social media data in her latest work-in-progress, The Are you Happy? project.
Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) was founded in 2004 as an interdisciplinary research unit in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. The SIDL is a think- and action-tank specializing in the visual display of spatial information about contemporary cities and events. The lab works with data about space — numeric data combined with narratives and images to design compelling visual presentations about our world today. The projects in the lab focus on linking social data with geography to help researchers and advocates communicate information clearly, responsibly, and provocatively. We work with survey and census data, Global Positioning System information, maps, high- and low-resolution satellite imagery, analytic graphics, photographs and drawings, along with narratives and qualitative interpretations, to produce images.
Laura Kurgan is Associate Professor of Architecture at Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University, where she is Co-Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) and the Director of Visual Studies. Her work explores things ranging from digital mapping technologies to the ethics and politics of mapping, new structures of participation in design, and the visualization of urban and global data. Her recent research includes a multi-year SIDL project on “million-dollar blocks” and the urban costs of the American incarceration experiment, and a collaborative exhibition on global migration and climate change. Her work has appeared at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Whitney Altria, MACBa Barcelona, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, and the Museum of Modern Art (where it is part of the permanent collection). She has been selected as a Game Changer by Metropolis Magazine for 2012, she was the winner of the United States Artists Rockerfeller Fellowship in 2009, and named one of Esquire Magazine’s ‘Best and Brightest’ in 2008.
Founded in 1998, Upian has a dual activity, being both a new media production company, and a successful web agency, specialized in the design of media websites (Slate.fr, Vogue.fr, Lesinrocks.fr , French National Public Radio etc.). Upian has been producing web-documentaries since 2002, and its first creation was thanatorama.com. Over the last few years, Upian has produced some of the most notorious web-documentaries, among which are lacitedesmortes.net (2007), gaza-sderot.arte.tv (2008), havanamiami.arte.tv (2010).
In 2011, Upian produced several new creations: An innovative satiric web documentary called happy-world.com ”Happy World, Burma: the Dictatorship of the absurd”, where two journalists passing as tourists take a fresh look at the goofiness caused by the junta regime, a couple of interactive, web documentary based programs for notorious brands, like SNCF (mixed fiction/webdocumentary) and La Francaise des Jeux.
Upian is currently working on its latest project, an interactive confession of a former member of one of the most violent gangs in Guatemala.
18 Days in Egypt is a collaborative documentary project which aims to tell the story of the Egyptian Revolution through the media produced by those who were there. The creators, Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat along with a small team in Cairo, developed an interactive documentary website through which Egyptians can give their own minute-by-minute account of the events through their own personal media — their footage, their photos, their e-mails, their texts, and even their Tweets and Facebook updates. 18 Days in Egypt aims to create a gateway to the larger story of the revolution and to showcase the power of crowd-sourced storytelling. The 18 Days in Egypt website is powered by GroupStream, an innovative new platform for group storytelling.
Caroline Oh is a graphic and interaction designer based in Brooklyn. After the 18 Days in Egypt site launched in January, Caroline joined the team to help develop the overall visual, social and narrative experience of the collected stories. With a background in both film and design, Caroline is particularly interested in the role of narrative in design and is excited by recent explorations in new media and documentary. She has also acted as the lead designer of award-winning interactive installations and iPad apps for the studio Potion for clients including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the New York Public Library and Smithsonian Channel, which have been recognized by organizations including the American Association of Museums, ID and Communication Arts magazine.
Mandy Rose is a Senior Research Fellow at the Digital Cultures Research Centre, University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. Her practice-led research looks at the intersection between documentary and the Social, Semantic and Open web. She is investigating the role of the producer as context provider, catalyst, curator in documentary projects. Rose is interested in the social, political and cultural potential of participatory and collaborative forms.
Rose’s involvement with DIY and alternative media goes back to the 1970s. She was one of the founders of COW Films, a feminist film distribution group, worked with the punk band The Slits and at Four Corners Film Workshop in London’s Bethnal Green, and was one of the editors of Emergency Magazine. Her current practice-based research, The Are you Happy? Project revisits Jean Rouch’s seminal documentary “Chronicle of a Summer” in the context of global collaboration and the web, and explores the potential of HTML5 for the “creative treatment of actuality” (Grierson’s early definition of documentary).