After the wonderful panel yesterday, I had some people ask for more details on what I’m doing. Here is an abstract:

Historical glitch: Understanding digital media through the photographic lens, explores the intersecting media ecologies of social media, digital heritage content, and culture. Specifically, this project focuses closely on what a digital project that takes advantages of the formal changes inherent in the shift from analog to digital media looks like. The project highlights how social media can be used as platforms for change and also looks at their limits and potentials for knowledge and culture when such media are used to construct alternate historical narratives. The case study for this project, Vintageblackbeauty, which was digitally born on the social networking site Tumblr, puts digital tools into practice by disseminating historical photographs of black women in their everyday lives from across the black diaspora. The effects of this experiment are theoretically understood through the works of Fanon, Hurston, and McLuhan. Additionally, a digital performance piece that analyzes the effects of this practice, informed by Dada art practices, puts the theoretical implications into motion by placing the digitized photographs gathered on Vintageblackbeauty in conversation with media from the same time periods. Through exploring this ecology, I posit that we can gain a better understanding of some of the differences between digital and analog media, their different potentials for change, as well as the inherent limits they pose. While digital media do allow for greater access and dissemination, they are still tied to a screened experience and held to ethical standards determined by various stakeholders who are often ephemeral or evolving and in contradiction with how we have been trained to conceive of knowledge production.

I’m currently working on two things for two courses(my Duke 21st century literacies course, and a required course in my home department) that have me asking myself why I am doing what I am doing. These things are also demanding that I explain my reasons. This post is my mini-through experiment as I start thinking through why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.

DISCLAIMER: You are about to read un-edited thoughts. You have been warned.

While I suggest that the medium of both photography and the digital is light, the way light is used between the two is very different. The message of the photographic medium is stoppage while the message of the digital medium is movement. McLuhan maintained that as new media come into being we will see them cannibalize the older media they are enhancing and/or replace. We have seen this with photography. The movement of photography from being experienced on a piece of metal or paper that might be tarnished or fade over time, to a screen made of moving pixels that contain the illusion of an infinite number of both still and moving images becomes a great playground for understanding what the big changes of digital media are. Specifically, the changes on our environment, expectations, and ways of knowing are most fascinating for me. Further, because both photography and digital media are understood for their memory storage capabilities popularly, and epistemologically they are seen as information storage and processing devices that go above the capabilities of humans on their own, the importance of understanding the move from stillness to movement becomes more important. When we begin to think about it in relation to speed, where photography is still and the digital is movement at light speed, we can begin to get a glimpse of the new potentials that are built into the medium as well as the accidents.

Another difference of the digital versus photography brought on by movement is when things move they can turn into different types of waves.* As such, even though at a base level photography and social media are both light, digital can move between moving images and sound, and can be rendered through seamless dots of color and through sound processors that turn the patterns in the light stream into sound. We can push this so far with our current technology that we can take digitized photographs and turn them into soundwaves. I’ve included a tutorial above that shows a program that does this. Someday when I’m not a poor grad student maybe I’ll be able to purchase the program. I would say 3d rendering is new, but I am not sure it is because of stereographs.

*pseudo-scientific I know, but let’s go with it.

Also of interest: How to Turn a Paper Image of a Record Into a Beautiful Music

It’s been about a month since I made my initial post on the Trigger Warning that appeared on Sociological Images.  Since then, they’ve posted another post with the exact same trigger warning and issue.  It has been very generative for me to experience this.  I am working through what it means to face oppression the way that we do.  I think I am almost comfortable with my thoughts on it, which is good because I have a final presentation/performance thing for my last performance studies course ever on December 7th and that is what I wrote/am writing on.  This is what I’ve come up with so far (aka iteration/draft 1) for my digital installation:

I might play with it a bit more… I might even try to play with popcorn.js, but I am happy with where it is.  Popcorn Maker was easy to use.  Working through this  allowed me to let go of that second post.  I think I don’t need to comment on it. But I will add it to the list of things that make me shake my head and push me to do my project.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a Whispering Gallery. It is a 40 foot long sroom covered in metal. The thing is, when you stand at one end, you can whisper the quietest whisper you can manage, and the person at the other end can HEAR you as though you were speaking right into their ear. That moment when you realize that your little voice has made it to the other side, because the other side replies and you experience what happened to them when they heard your whisper, is a moment of glee. And then you keep doing it until other people show up because even though you may have heard that voice before, you know get to hear it as breath, a whisper, loud and clear. Digital media, for me is like that whisper. There is loud talking about what it means to be black and what it means to be a black woman and what the black experience is supposed to feel like, look like, sound like, taste like, etc. that we have a hard time letting it just be. When I say be, I mean it in terms of being a state of becoming.

Ghana 1881/1895

Ghana 1881/1895

Digital media is the place where I can’t see the other side of the whisper room, but I know it is there. I hear the whispers that make their way to me, across time and space, through cables (as light, yay fiber optics!). Digital media is the space where I can find a photograph and post it with the whisper “did you know she was this beautiful?” and I can hear back “she really is”. And while yes, she might be and/or represent all those things that define the black experience, in fact, I may be even placing her as “the Black Woman” at that moment of whisper, we are allowed to just see her and see that yes, she was, is, and will always be beautiful. And we are allowed to see her and say yes, she is and will always be, like me.

I go into my project knowing it is not a critical mass project. However, I know how whispers affect feeling and how seeing affects world making. My only hope is that by sharing these photographs of women who were here before us, I help keep their images in mind. Having that image creates a new world. This is, of course, the moment when things move from media to performance.

This post brought to you from the confines of my humanistic little heart.

I am in the midst of an interesting internal debate with external consequences. I think I don’t like History.  I am also so/so on history. Actually, I am probably currently rejecting any kind of historical derivative as well. Despite this, I am in love with the idea of looking at the past.

This line of thought started a while ago, but came to a head with the following image.

(I created a mini-project around the recent conversation/thoughts I’ve had and am having about this photo:

Here is what is happening. History feels like myth to me. There are too many (w)holes and the narratives are to totalizing for my comfort level. I was speaking to someone about my project, and they said that they can never see the image in a photograph as separate from the history the photograph was created in. This meant that any photograph of black people they see are read as part of a horrible historical narrative regardless to the image in the photograph. [I am thinking of photograph as the thing and image as the read because it is easier than explaining Barthes].  This meant that, for said person, black people in the United States had no existence outside of the confines of a History of (violent) slavery.  And, as this person was a black American, their existence was also articulated by slavery.  I acknowledge that the legacy of slavery still exists in our social structures.  However, that is not all black people are, nor has it ever been.  If this is what history is doing to people, I don’t want it.  But I knew this.  I have major issues with the type/time (I wrote time initially when I meant to write type, but I think it works too. Yay Freudian slip) of empathy historical narratives of trauma create. I have a whole map of this system that I was not going to include in my dissertation (I was using it as a way to keep the work I am doing on track), but now I think I have to because I do not want this reaction.  Nor do I want to be pulled back into the space of everyone always only being an agent of history.

There is quote that I commonly see attributed to Harriet Tubman that I thought of as I was going through all of this. I have no idea if it was really said by her or not, but I get the sentiment of both the speaker and the”not knowing” subjects being conjured.

I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

So, I move to the past. The hinge of how I think of the historical past is not History, but a temporal separation. I am playing with coevalness and presence, and the freedom that the speed of digital contact gives us. I am not saying we need to end History. I think we need it and it is necessary. I applaud anyone who can spend their life’s work looking at traumatic imagery and narratives. I am thankful they are able to write about it, theorize it, analyze it etc..  I am thankful for those who are out there writing counter narratives and working on understudied H/histories. I am thankful that those people exist, because I can’t do it. And if those people weren’t doing it, I couldn’t do the project I am doing. Histories need to be known.  But we also have to accept that the past for many people was just that.  Many people just lived their lives, just like we are.  That is where I find beauty, at times tinged with sadness. It is beautiful none the less.