Creative Project – Artist’s Statement

I have always been an artist. My goal in artwork that I create is not to convey a certain message to the viewer, but to instead explore a certain aspect of a topic that interests me, and to then challenge its dynamics in unconventional ways. I began by re-reading Lessig’s “Remix” and picked out a quote that resonated with me: “What’s important here is that the technique has been democratized for anyone who has access to a fifteen-hundred-dollar computer. Anyone can take images, sounds, video from the culture around us and remix them in ways that speak to a generation more powerfully than raw text ever could. That’s the key. This is just writing for the twenty-first century.”  This quote brings to light something that most of us are usually not consciously aware of: almost every form of media published in the 21st century is a remix! Because of the vast amount of information we have on the internet, every image, song, video, and even electronic device either begins as a remix of a previous one, or is eventually remixed by the online crowd. From gaming mods to musical synthesizers, our modern society has come to accept remixes as occupying a majority of our virtual web space. I wanted to look specifically at the medium of the image. This medium, often remixed through Photoshop, CGI, and collages, tries to give the viewer the illusion that it is its own real object, and not a remix of multiple projects, ideas, and media. I wanted to create works that bring the ‘remixed’ nature of the image medium to the forefront of the picture.

I had never used Photoshop before, so figuring out the ins-and-outs of the software was eye-opening but also quite time consuming. I began to learn how the different layers worked, and their versatility in creating intricate collages. After messing around with most of the basic controls on the software, I decided on my plan of action: I would find the images I was looking for online, crop them through MS Paint, and finally connect and overlay them in Photoshop. I began by creating my ‘fist’ image. This was an attempt to use a software I had never experimented before, to create a ‘remixed’ image that explored the power of collages in creating images that pack a strong message, and/or address a paradigm shift of 21st century technology. I wanted to convey to the viewer the level at which technology has been integrated into our daily lives and our biology, such that it has now become the integral tool for cultural shifts, changes, and even revolutions. Although this piece helped me better understand Photoshop while also discover the versatility of .PNG files in creating remixed images, I wanted to explore the power of collages to structure narrative in new and unconventional ways, without necessarily having an overarching critique or message.

A picture is a snapshot of time. Although a picture does implicitly tell a story, it is all in that one snapshot. What if I could use the technology of the 21st century with the limitless participatory media on our Web 2.0 make one image that was a mixture of different snapshots that each told their own story, all while creating a grander narrative based on their similarities and differences with each other? Using Chris Roos’ 24-hour time slices of the Thames, I began the exploration by building multiple spatial and temporal narratives within my two ‘monument’ pictures. These sites were two of my favorite monuments from my hometown Paris: the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees. I wanted to not only create time slices, but also perspective slices of the space I was showcasing in my work. With the Eiffel Tower image, I began with a focus on demonstrating how the ground and the horizon might look when looking at the monument from different perspectives. I added in the park on one side, the fountains on the other, the road at the back, and the marble floored viewing platform at the front. Shifting my attention to the visual components above the horizon, I decided to showcase how the sky around the monument looked not only during different seasons, but also during the defining events of the countries’ history, e.g. Bastille Day, Toussaint, Fete de la Musique, etc. I wanted to create a discontinuity of time above the horizon, and create a discontinuity of space below it. Overall, this image was an attempt at creating a picture that speaks a thousand words and truly tells a story, by showcasing all the ways it can be viewed through time and space, while also highlighting the ways it is viewed at different points during its lifetime.

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With the Champs Elysees piece, I attempted to challenge myself even more by bringing in images that explored perspectives that challenged the coherent layout of the entire image. What I mean by that is that, when looking at the image, it is much harder to discern a single image out of the collage. What I like about the excessive chaos and incongruence present in this piece is that, instead of focusing on a single image, it emphasizes how ‘remixed’ the picture has become.  The only one concrete perspective that the viewer can notice is that all the components of the image converge towards the central monument: the Arc De Triomphe. This special continuity is heavily juxtaposed by depicting the road at different points of time such that they seem like totally different environments. I wanted to contrast a seasonal spring-like environment (right of image), with the leafless trees and celebrations of winter (left of image). I wanted to bring together the perspective of a street clogged with traffic and slices of fast-moving highways frozen in time, right beside it. In my final edit of the image, an impulse made me add in a section of the Eiffel Tower, it an attempt to further create spacial inconsistencies with the central monument, while also creating an implicit spacial connection between both images of the monuments. The main challenge I faced with these two images was altering the exposure of each image directly in Photoshop. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I instead opted to use Adobe Lightroom to do most of the color correction for the images (I wanted to increase definition and sharpness in the clouds, and turn a few daytime pictures into nighttime ones). I then cropped the images on Paint and finally imported them into Photoshop to put together into my two ‘Parisian’ collages.

Having explored the power of remixing images to bring into a picture varying special and temporal dynamics, I wanted to shift my attention to the differences in humans, both on the personal level of emotions and on the macro scale of cultural variety in the world. I began by exploring human emotion and expression. With my ‘Scream’ piece, I wanted to take some of the most impulsive, uncontrollable, and powerful emotions humans have: anger, frustration, and sadness, and address and explore how they manifest themselves in the facial structures and emotions of people of different ages and personality types. I mostly used horizontal slices as I wanted to be able to show each individual’s facial components from top to bottom: the way the forehead wrinkled, the bloodshot eyes, and the size of the mouth opened in a gut-wrenching scream. While creating this piece, I also paid attention to the dark and almost psychopathic aura I wanted to create in the image, while making sure the impact of the picture was emphasized by the full range of colors within it. This is why I added the blood splattered wall and the green smoke – to complement the colors already present within the work while to also add an eerie feel to the image. I intentionally didn’t align each image perfectly, in an attempt to draw attention to the “remixed” aspect of the work, while adding to the volatile and chaotic nature of the emotions being demonstrated in the picture.

Although the “Culture in Profile” piece still uses aspects of Lessig’s “Remix”, it was also partly inspired by a quote from Senft and Noble’s “Race and Social Media,” when the text illustrates how “we derive our sense of identity from how we respond to the ways in which other implicitly categorize us through public speech and gestures each day.” What I found interesting was how it was only ‘public speech and gestures’ that were mentioned as the ways in which our identities are built by those around us. Often times, teenagers are more influenced by the environment of their online lives than that of their real one, and I feel that in the age of Web 2.0, it is this online virtual realm that is having an increasingly profound effect on how we build our identities and racially categorize ourselves. A very recent example was a tweet by a renowned spokesperson of the black community during the Ferguson protests: he said that in remaining passive and not choosing to not speak out against the injustice against the black community, people were implicitly already siding against them. This had a lasting effect on me, and made me analyze my own ideological position on the Ferguson shooting issue, and how my lack of participation in the #blacklivesmatter movement implicitly said something about my identity within a divided society, and therefore showcased my identification with one race more so than with the other.

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In making my collage, or “culture slices” as I like to call them, I wanted to create a piece that showed varying cultures, cultural traditions, and races, while not addressing or singling out a specific one from the image. I started with an image of a person in profile, as this is, to me, one of the positions that show the nuanced differences between people of the world, in terms of facial structure, skin color and other ethically defining factors. Another factor that led me to choose a person in profile was that it reminded me of the mugshot picture taken in prison. In creating a collage rather than just showcasing a single picture, I wanted to remove the implicit prejudices that come along with seeing a single person of a certain race in a mugshot position. Whether it would have been a black or white person, a single image of a person carries great amounts of racial baggage along with it, and it is often hard to separate those racial generalizations from the emotionally charged image of a mugshot. Using the idea of ‘remixing’ images and the power of Photoshop, I wanted to create an image that, in displaying multiple cultures and races of all sorts, removed any specific generalization of any one race completely. I hope to have created a piece that removed any sense of categorizing the viewer and implicitly defining his race and/or identity, while presenting the merging of cultures in a single image that is our globalized world today.

Although I feel my pieces accurately depict the explorations and messages I want to convey to the viewer, I believe that they also show my journey in creating my final project. I began by trying to explicitly put forth a specific message about 21st century media through “Fist”, but then shifted to exploring the power of the image medium to instead implicitly highlight juxtapositions in time, space, and human nature. My creative project is not only these images, but the connections I have built between them.

Final Website Reflection

The first question I asked myself was how would someone else who had no idea who I was, what I did, or what my interests were respond to the website? The MOESIA theme is a very simple and intuitive theme, and had the almost ‘corporate’ structure I was looking for. I wanted to stress to the viewer my identity and where I was from, and that is why I want them to see a gorgeous sprawling vista of the Dubai skyline, even before they get to explore the content on the website. They are then faced with a choice of scrolling down and seeing the main reason I made the website, or, if anything in the menu bar interested them, they could follow that path. If someone who had no idea who I was visited my website, I would want them to first see the website as an aesthetic one and know my identity, thus the picture of Dubai. They would then learn why I made the website, but would also know that, if they wanted to explore the site, they could discover and learn more about my professional and artistic pursuits.

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With my knowledge of and experience with WordPress, I believe I reached my goals in building a profession, clean, and functional website to showcase my FILM208 work to my class, and demonstrate my professional knowledge and experience to my colleagues. One of the aspects of website building I discovered was that your theme determines a large part of the functionality, look, and versatility of your website. Throughout my time messing around with adnanbasrai.com, I went through most of the default themes, some very weird looking interfaces, and everything in between. My biggest challenge was finding one that hit the sweet sport between aesthetically pleasing, simplistic, and professional.

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In the future, I want to learn more about WordPress so as to make my site even more intuitive and versatile. I want my resume to open up in a pdf viewer, and not have to need the visitor to download it onto their computer. I want to have my videos such that they consume the screen and dull the background of the webpage when they are played. These and other smaller visual changes are the plans I have in the future for adnanbasrai.com. Until then, I will enjoy my current accomplishment of marking my territory on the internet with my very own website!

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(I hope to have a page like the one above, where my resume is directly visible to the website viewer)

Film Screening: “Drumline” (2002)

In the movie Drumline, Mr. Cannon plays Devon Miles, a talented young drummer from Harlem who attends A&T on a full scholarship. His high regard for his own skills and his streetwise individualism quickly come into conflict with the ritual and regimentation of the university’s program. The lead drummer, Sean, who is threatened by Devon’s gifts, soon becomes his nemesis. Their rivalry, and its inevitable resolution, provides the picture’s most interesting and most sustained drama, though there is plenty more going on.

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The movie’s plot and narrative is neither unique nor complex. It hardly matters, since they have found an engaging lead actor in Nick Cannon. Using the 21st century model of filmmaking, they have successfully backed their movie with a famous actor and a storyline that caters to almost everyone. It has family, drama, romance, and comedy all meshed into a ball of profitable entertainment. But who can blame them? I enjoyed the movie, so they must be doing something right!

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What was very enjoyable to me about Drumline was not only the themes and topics they explored in the film, but also the aspects they chose to not address and bring to the big screen. African-American college life remains relatively unexplored territory in popular culture, and Drumline is aiming to remedy that. It shows us band politics and strategy, gives us a lot of entertaining music, and provides a portrait of a gifted young man who slowly learns to discipline himself and think of others. What it doesn’t do is recycle all the tired old cliches in which the Harlem kid provokes confrontations by being somehow badder and blacker than the others, .This is made evident when, after high school graduation, Devon is seen talking to his father, who abandoned the family, telling him he doesn’t do drugs, doesn’t have a lot of little kids running around, and has a full scholarship to university. This is a movie that celebrates black success instead of romanticizing gangsta defeatism. Nick Cannon plays Devon as a fine balance between a showoff and a kid who wants to earn admiration.

 

Adnan’s Final Project: Early Draft

As always, my creative projects do not go as planned. I start with an idea, refine it, build on it, and then completely throw it out of the window for a supposedly better one. This project is no different. I had not delved into photography for a while, and therefore decided that I would use that medium to get creative and weird with. My aim with this work is to challenge the definition of the standard photograph.

The technological innovations of the 21st century have been so numerous and fast-paced that we as participants don’t always get the opportunity to critically analyse the foundations, the primary media, that have shaped the Web 2.0 generation. One of these media is the photograph. If you were to cut up an average photo into a handful of slices, each and every one must naturally make up a single coherent image, mustn’t it? Additionally, they must all be from the same perspective: that of the photographer, so that the final image makes visual sense. I wanted to challenge these two notions of the medium that we take for granted and assume almost every photo must abide by. What if the pieces combined to form an image that was not the sum of it’s parts, but still looked coherent and aesthetic? What if you could explore multiple spacial and temporal perspectives within a single image?

It was the photographer Chris Roos that inspired my project. His “time-slice” image of the Thames is a photograph that is made up of slices of the Thames at different time of the day – one photo an hour for 24 hours, to be exact.

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You can read more about the process behind his work at http://chrisroos.co.uk/blog/2013-09-15-time-slice-images-of-the-thames

My first choices were notable landmarks from one of my hometowns: Paris. I used a few pictures I had take of the Eiffel Tower and the Arch of Triumph along with a lot of photos from the internet to depict the monuments during different times of day, during various celebrations, and from different angles and perspectives. Now the image truly tells a story! These images carry with them a profound history and personality of the monument, and show how different a place can look based on how the environment around it is structured.

Below are the images I have completed so far. I hope to make a larger series of photographs, not necessarily limited to famous monuments…

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‘Planet Earth’ in the Documentary Film Industry

When we talk about the evolution of both film technology and the Web 2.0 that globalized the spread of media fast than ever before, we rarely focus on the nuanced ways it continues to influence niche industries within film production. Documentary film has grown and changed an incredible amount since technologies for cinematography grew along with the online video epidemic of the 21st century. Using the example of one of the most popular documentaries of the last decade, BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’, I want to show how film technology has given documentaries the ability and desire to produce more complex aesthetic shots, and how the Web 2.0 expansion has made documentaries tell more intricate and profound narratives through their work.

 

The filming of Planet Earth aimed to push the boundaries of cinematography, and this meant that novel equipment need to be created and/or used for its production. One of the most important was the use of the Cineflex heligimbal to film aerial shots of treacherous swamplands and savannahs. Originally developed for military use, this was the first time a helicopter-mounted camera of this caliber was used for documentary purposes in the wild. The camera was attached to the front of the helicopter, had a 360’ turning radius and a 1 mile zoom, and used preternatural stabilization technology. This allowed BBC to capture wildlife on the ground without disturbing them, and film swampland hunts in perfect synchronization with film crew shooting at ground level. The use of this new technology gave BBC unparalleled aerial footage of animals unaffected by the human presence a mile above, along with better ground footage of wildlife. The filmmakers of BBC also created their own camera to film the slo-mo shots of sharks catching their prey above water. By modifying a camera used by car companies for crash-test footage, Planet Earth’s cinematographers created a piece of equipment that was able to acquire essential footage seconds before the cameraman even clicked the ‘record’ button (they added a 2.5 cache to the camera),  and capture it at 1000 frames per second.

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The heligimbal and slo-mo camera are just two of many varied forms of cinematography equipment that BBC built to allow them to capture the footage they had in mind. From attaching tripods to skis to rebuilding a hot air balloon as a floating jib, Planet Earth’s filmmakers set no limitations on what they were willing to do to make sure they got shots that their audience had never seen before. BBC seemed to have a unique perspective in that they did not limit their resources to those within the entertainment industry alone. They used military equipment for the Cineflex heligimbal, took advantage of the auto industry for their slo-mo shots, and still looked in hot air balloon travel and the winter sports industry for ways to produce unparalleled documentary footage. We constantly see recurring ways that the entertainment industry aims to consolidate itself during the Web 2.0 century, but Planet Earth seems to be one of the unique documentary productions that took it one step further, taking advantage of a newly interconnected online world to create connections and bridges across industries. I believe that BBC, in understanding that their documentary encompassed much more than just entertainment in world run by internet media, they weren’t afraid to leave the industries’ confines in the search to produce the best documentary they could make in the 21st century.

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Documentary filmmaking is beginning to evolve and develop its own signature practices due to an immense availability and merging of media forms within film. Many of its filmmakers are starting to make bold, stylistic choices often associated with narrative storytelling in feature films than documentary filmmaking. In in an age where the consumer is bombarded with countless different forms of media on multiple platforms, telling stories in the most unusual ways, conventional documentary filmmakers have to find savy, new ways to engage their audiences. Benefitting from the more regular employment of big budget movies, filmmakers bounce back between feature films and documentary filmmaking, bringing what they learn in alternative fields to the realm of documentary filmmaking.

 

Micheal Kelem, primary aerial cinematographer for a majority of Planet Earth, has worked on movies like Hangover, Captain America, and Man of Steel. Richard Brooks Burton, part of the camera and electrical department and also one of Planet Earth’s major aerial photographers, has projects like Pirates of the Carribean, Pacific Rim, and Jurassic Park under his belt. This extensive experience in two fields that, until recently, structured narrative and cinematography in distinctly different ways allowed members of the Planet Earth crew to flex their creative muscles a little more, and explore the limitless possibilities for telling nonfiction stories on the screen. In blurring the line between feature films and documentaries, the film industry is slowly beginning to recognize the artistic and creative facets of documentary filmmaking, rather than just its nobility, goodwill, or eye-opening qualities. By erasing the artificial boundaries of what used to be considered traditional, documentary filmmakers are stepping onto a level playing field where they can also explore unconventional ways to create and structure their work. This is one of the main ways organizations like BBC have to evolve to allow their documentaries to compete for the eyes of a generation raised on the experimental, subjective, outrageous, and unfiltered videos that can be found on YouTube, Reality TV, and all other forms of new 21st century media.

 

The growth of video-sharing websites like Youtube and Vimeo, along with the ease of online distribution, lower equipment costs, and the advent of crowdfunding have been further encouragements in pushing documentary filmmakers to progress with the times. With $25 million in production costs, documentaries like Planet Earth have to ensure that they are evolving and doing something different from all their predecessors. What is becoming increasing relevant is the question of how viewing habits have changed and what audiences will “sit through” in terms of television running times. People are slowly getting habituated and accustomed to short and dense films, comedies, and shows, and conventional documentaries stand the risk of getting left out of that model of consumer viewing habits. Documentary companies like BBC History (creator of “Planet Earth”) are making sure that they stay at the forefront of the documentary film arena, using all the current media technologies at their disposal to make innovative films that stretch the bounds of the industry.