Archive for March, 2009

Stalker Story Soundscape

Posted in Uncategorized on March 27, 2009 by Katie Heimer

Here is the soundtrack I created to go with my story from the last class. It was a little challenging because my story is so impressionistic and internalized, so I basically chose to create a soundscape as the protagonist would hear it as he walks alone around the city and follows the woman he is obsessed with. To that end, I tried to weave the sound of footsteps throughout all of the “real world” portions, as this man walks through different sonic environments–the street, the subway, a cafe, etc. Unfortunately, my extreme lack of technical expertise means that the footsteps sound a bit more like a record player that has reached the end than footsteps. 

To me, the most successful portion, the portion I am happiest with, is the middle section  which represents the daydream portion, the portion in which he recedes into his mind and creates a life and a back story for himself and the woman he is stalking. I wanted this part, in contrast to the barren, industrial soundscape of the real life portions, so I chose to use a short piece of music to foreground sounds that evoked happiness, home, and intimacy–laughter, a door creaking open and shutting, ice cubes tinkling in a glass, and a brief excerpt of a classic movie (The Way We Were). Though as a whole I was frustrated by the way that my lack of technical knowledge inhibited my ability to create the soundscape as I had it in my mind, I was fairly pleased with the way this portion turned out, though of course it, too, could have been much better.

Here is the full soundscape:

Story Soundscape

Here is the daydream portion only:

Soundscape Excerpt

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Reverse-Engineered Narrative

Posted in Uncategorized on March 13, 2009 by Katie Heimer

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Characters:
Nameless man: lonely guy, living in New York City, feels very isolated, driven slightly out of reality by his prolonged loneliness and isolation. The narrative is told by an omniscient narrator, but is roughly from his perspective.

Nameless girl: everything the reader knows about her is what is posited onto her by the nameless man, who doesn’t, in fact, know her, but creates elaborate scenarios about who she is and their life together. Beyond her physical reality, she is a blank canvas on which he posits his own fantasies and increasingly his self-constructed realities of her begin to supersede her actual, physical reality.

Time: Contemporary

Place: Manhattan, but it could as easily be any big city. While his actual sightings/stalking of her occur in the streets of the neighborhood where they both, presumably, live, through coffee shop windows, on the bus, etc, through his imagination she (and the reader) is transported into other, fantasized locales and realities (the nameless man’s apartment, the home of the nameless girl’s Italian parents, etc).

The Precipitating Event: In a way it is the first moment he sees her, but in another sense, the precipitating event is the nameless man’s depression and loneliness, which set the stage and, indeed, precipitate his descent into delusion.

Rising action: Each successive sighting of her, his mounting fascination/fixation with her and his growing desire to know her, to meld fantasy into reality.

Climax: Finding himself unexpectedly face to face with her on a street corner, their eyes meet and someone seems to say ‘hi”, though he’s no longer able to distinguish between reality and his imaginative fictions.

Denouement: The girl disappears and the reader is not sure if she has merely walked away as the nameless man contemplates the moment, or if, in fact, she was entirely a figment of his imagination from the beginning.

“After You”:

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There she was again, quickening her already-brisk striding pace across the street as the light flickered from yellow to red. He couldn’t remember exactly where he’d first seen her, or why, exactly, she’d caught and held his attention, but, undeniably, she had. Sometimes, he spotted her through glass—while sipping slowly on a cup of lukewarm coffee in a hole-in-the-wall bakery or through the rain-streaked window of a city bus as it pitched and rolled by, jostling its contents like so many eggs in a carton, ready to crack. Other times he would catch a glimpse of her, between the flow of cars, striding briskly by on the opposite side of the street.

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At first, this was enough—to passively observe her, to take in as much about her as he could in the time it took her to pass from view and look forward to the next time, whenever it might be. At first, he was comforted simply to know she was out there, and to leave his next glimpse to chance, sensing that inevitably she’d reappear when he least expected it. Slowly, though, curiosity grew. He found himself wondering as soon as she’d passed from sight how long he’d have to wait before she would reappear, like a junkie calculating the hours and minutes until his next fix.

For a man as isolated and alone as he was to permit the presence of another person, a regular presence, to encroach upon his solitude seemed to have become a slippery slope that quickly escalated into a landslide. For so long, he had lived alone, slept alone, eaten alone, sat alone on park benches, coffee shop stools, and subway seats, that the very awareness of another person, the very perception of constancy that he began to feel for her as she wove herself through his daily experiences like a single bright thread on a loom dressed entirely in gray, was intoxicating.

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He felt, somehow, that he knew her, and before long, he found himself expanding on the reality of her, imagining innumerable personal histories for her, creating and recreating her until the lines of truth and reality began to blur.
For him, she became whatever he needed her to be—she was a recent immigrant and he was helping her learn English, they were watching TV in bed and when someone on the screen said a word she didn’t know, she would repeat it, tentatively, and look to him inquisitively for the meaning. She was a graduate student and every night she would come home and kiss him gratefully, smelling of old books, as she sat down to devour the meals he always had ready for her at 7:30. She was a hairdresser and cut his hair at the kitchen table, in the glow of a single light bulb, running her fingers gently across his scalp, the sound of her scissors softly, rhythmically intruding on the sound of his voice as he read out loud to her. She was the youngest of seven sisters, from a large Italian family, and every Sunday, they would go to her parents’ house and eat and drink until all anyone could do was sprawl across the living room furniture, laughing until they cried. Sometimes her cousin would play the guitar and everyone would sing. She was a photographer, and she would take his picture, gently reaching around the camera to adjust the angle of his face or the direction of the light. Somehow, she found a vulnerability in him that he hadn’t even realized was there, and when he looked at her photos, he would feel exposed, but strangely exhilarated.

Some imaginings were less complete—more like snatches of memory: she was lying next to him on their bed, wearing a blue cotton dress, she was running toward him, smiling, she was drinking tea from a large mug, cupped between her hands.

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These thoughts became more vivid, more colorful, more beautiful, more real than anything else to him. When he saw her walking by, the feelings they evoked rushed over him.

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He became less and less able to see her as the person he had first observed, the solitary figure, walking briskly. For him, the woman moving quickly down the block ahead of him was less real than any one of the thousand versions of her he’d created in his mind. He found himself following her, fascinated, fixated, trying to find a way to break down the barrier between realities, to make the vivid images of their possible lives together real, to give his life the kind of color, vibrancy, and meaning that every imagined moment with her held.

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And then one night, there she was, standing only a few feet away from him on the street corner, suddenly real, in person, once again in sharp focus, and almost close enough that he could have reached out and touched her. She looked so ordinary, so static, somehow smaller, silhouetted against the backdrop of passing cars, with a cacophony of sirens, skidding tires, snatches of mariachi on car stereos, the screeching laughter of teenagers, drowning out her silence.
He inched slowly closer, intoxicated, aware of the delicacy of the moment, scared it would pass before it had begun, but sure she could feel the bond of common understanding they shared. He waited, anxiously wondering what his next move could be, and then she made one for him. Glancing up (could it have been accidental?), her eyes met his for a moment as she scanned down the street, then, returning, glanced back over him. “Hi.” Had she said it or had he? Had it been out loud or in his head? He wasn’t sure, but in that moment as he hesitated, wondering, she was gone, and he was alone again.

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Back To The Future

Posted in Uncategorized on March 12, 2009 by Katie Heimer

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In La Jetee, an unnamed man (the protagonist) has a very strong memory of his boyhood involving a glimpse of a woman on the end of the main pier at Orly airport in Paris and a man falling to his death—the indelible quality of this memory in the man’s mind becomes a motivating force for much of what follows in the rest of the story, making this moment, therefore a precipitating event in the man’s life. After Paris is destroyed in a global World War III apocalypse and people are forced underground, he is selected as a new guinea pig by those responsible for the destruction (the antagonists), in the attempt to secure help from the past and future in order to save the human race from its current state of doom. The experimenters work on the protagonist, stripping away his grounding in the present and sending him into his past, beginning from his strong memory of the Orly pier. On the tenth day he begins to encounter images from the past. On the sixteenth day, he finally arrives back on the Orly pier. In returning to this memory, he is able to find the woman again and on the thirtieth day they meet and he is sure they are meant to be together—along with the transformative childhood memory, this becomes a precipitating event, motivating the protagonist throughout the rest of the story. The woman’s motivations are unclear, though she appears to embrace their sporadic encounters and to feel the same connection as he does. Together they travel to various points in the past—a garden, sleeping in the sun, and later wandering (on the fiftieth day) through a museum of his memory. He realizes she is dead and that they can only be together if he stays in the past with her. But, instead the men who are conducting the experiment decide he is ready to be sent to the future. In the future, Paris is rebuilt and he convinces the leaders of this future world to give him the means of saving humanity—he returns to the present and the experimenters have exhausted their need for him. All of this constitutes the story’s rising action. He waits to be executed but the men from the future come to find him and bring him to the future—he opts instead to return to the past to be with the woman. Back on the pier at Orly, returned to the moment of his boyhood memory, he runs towards the woman, but recognizes a man who has trailed him from the present and realizes there is no way to escape the framework of time and reality—in the climactic final moment, he realizes that the childhood memory of the man falling to his death was, in fact, a prescient glimpse of the moment of his own death. This final moment of realization and revelation is both the climax and the denouement.

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Throughout the story, the protagonist moves numerous times back and forth fluidly between the past, present, and future. The story is grounded in the present of post-apocalyptic underground Paris, with traveling occurring backward and forward from this point. The final moment of climax and denouement occurs in the past, which, however, is in some sense the farthest point in the future, since it proves to be the final moment of the protagonist’s life. The major external conflicts include the struggle of the antagonists to save humanity through time travel, as well as the struggle of the protagonist and the rest of his fellow prisoners to live in their underground conditions and not be killed by the experiments of the antagonists. The protagonist’s primary internal conflict is his desire to stay in the past in order remain with the woman he loves.
I found La Jetee powerful, captivating, and ultimately somewhat unsettling. While I haven’t seen the Terry Gilliam film, Twelve Monkeys, which was supposedly inspired by the story and concept of La Jetee, I was overwhelmingly reminded of the work of Michel Gondry, particularly his 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while watching. The scenes in that film which feature the two protagonists, played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, escaping into their minds, hiding, literally, among their memories in the attempt to save their history together and prevent it from being erased, while not representing the exact same plot line seemed to deal with similar themes and conflicts and present a similarly fluid idea of the chronology of time and the nature of memory in relation to space and human beings. This rupturing of the commonly understood boundaries of time and space, centered around the desperate attempts of the protagonists to stay together and be together, venturing through much the same kind of fragmentary world, their own museum of memories, I found deeply reminiscent of La Jetee.

The use of sequential still images rather than uninterrupted film was very effective in creating the kind of dystopian feeling of fractured reality that was reflected in the facts of the story as it unfolded. It gave the film an episodic feel, as if grasped from snatches of memory, flickering in and out of reality, and helped to enhance the disrupted and disturbing sense of moving back and forth in time, not being anchored in any one state of reality for very long. It also helped to build a sense of drama. I keep thinking back to what Herbert Zettl said about the way in which sometimes very blown out, black and white photographs draw the viewer in more emotionally than more “realistic” photographs where more visual information is present because they invite or force the viewer to fill in what is missing, to invest themselves more emotionally and intellectually in the image in order to fully constitute it. It’s an idea I’m very interested by and one I’m interested in working with in my own work in the future, and it seems to me that this accounted for some of the emotional, visual power of La Jetee.

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Posted in Uncategorized on March 7, 2009 by Katie Heimer
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by Steven Klein for W Magazine, August 2007

The exhibit “Weird Beauty: Fashion Photography Now”, currently at the International Center For Photography, highlights contemporary fashion photography, organized in a loosely thematic way. The exhibit is grouped under Roman numerals, with each numeral (I through XIV) representing a cumulative theme, whether a “common narrative thread, a mood, a style or an allusion”, according to the introductory statement on the wall at the beginning of the exhibit. The photographs are exhibited in their original, intended form–magazine pages or “tear sheets”, which, as the introduction explains represents the fact that the printed magazine page is fashion photography’s “natural habitat”. All the photographs are mounted in a minimalistic, unobtrusive way,  on simple white boards, arranged under the numeral headings and arranged in unevenly spaced rows, the effect of which suggests a giant crossword puzzle pattern of columns up down and across the walls. The space as a whole is extremely minimal–unobtrusive lighting, white walls and simply presented attributions accompanying each photo or series of photographs.

One of the first thematic, content-based things I noticed about this exhibit is that it represented numerous examples of a trend I’ve noted before in fashion photography–the commonness of portrayals of violence of varying forms and degrees enacted upon women’s bodies. I’ve written on my personal blog in the past about this phenomenon and the way that it seems to me that fashion photography sometimes justifies the objectification and abuse of women’s bodies by explaining that it is simply artistic stylization. While I very much believe in the importance of artistic freedom, I don’t think that it is tantamount to a blank check to produce and disseminate images of women that suggest extreme violence like rape, murder, or abuse in order to sell clothes or other products. One of the first images I laid eyes on in this exhibit, for instance, was an image of a woman with a shock of red hair and deathly white skin lying motionless on a linoleum floor with glazed eyes and an open mouth. Out of her mouth are dribbling milk and cereal which trickle across the floor away from her. In one limp hand, she holds a milk-covered spoon.

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Directly above this, an image by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott shows a woman clothed only in nude colored underwear lying lifeless, contorted,  limbs akimbo, eyes closed in the midst of an overgrown thicket. The most remarkable thing in a way is the lack of reaction these images evoke–most of us encounter images equally or more disturbing on a daily basis, and have become desensitized to some extent. I can appreciate the artistry that goes into the creation of each of these images, and the fact that fashion photography like much other art is infused with fantasy and fetish and does not necessarily represent any intentionality. Yet, merely by the mass dissemination of such images, they become normalized, in my opinion, creeping into the public consciousness and the realm of the real. Therefore, I’m not sure that claims of fantasy or artistic experimentation totally acquit the photographers, the magazines, or the brands of responsibility for reifying a particular set of patriarchal values through the creation and dissemination of such images.

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Steven Klein for Dolce & Gabbana

The kinds of objectification and violence of female bodies in this exhibit took all kinds of forms–a photo series entitled “William Eggleston” by Juergen Teller depicts a man lying on a couch with a woman on top of him. The man is holding the woman in a head lock, covering her face with his arm and hand, and, in one photograph holding her head in place by pulling a handful of her hair violently back. In another series by Alas and Piggot entitled “I’m a Marionette”,  the face of a human model is transposed onto the body of a limp wooden-jointed marionette puppet whose body is photographed shoved into a corner, thrown into a box, and draped limply over various objects, lifely, helpless, broken, the embodiment of a fully controllable, soulless human clothes hanger. In the series from which the photo above of David and Victoria Beckham was taken, by Steven Klein, David stands aggressively above Victoria, expressing domination with hands on hips and stern expression, as she lies across the hood of the car, wearing a bathing suit and thigh high boots, eyes closed, body contorted in pain or pleasure. Indeed, the associations drawn between sex and death or violence are undeniable in many of these images. This reminded me of a truly shocking fashion ad I wrote about on my personal blog, for the clothing brand Duncan Quinn (below).

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Interestingly, certain lighting and compositional characteristics seemed to be particularly associated with the more obvious examples of objectification and violence–severe lighting, either strong, harsh, cool flood lighting or extreme contrast lighting with fast fall-off and high drama. The the bodies of the women in these pictures are often broken up, bisected or disected by the framing–sometimes their bodies are displayed while their heads are cut out of the frame. Often, these models are photographed from above, from a position of power, as they lie prostrated, looked upon. Also, the subjects of these photos rarely look directly at the camera, but rather are portrayed with closed eyes, downcast eyes, or eyes that avoid the front, looking somewhere off the side of the frame instead.

Recently, for another class, I read something that discussed coutoure fashions as a means of social differentiation and reification of class, the idea of immobilized women, women restrained by the very non-functionality of their clothing and shoes, as symbolic of a lifestyle which does not require work, or even movement. Many of the photos in this exhibit, in fact, featured women lying down, at rest–even sports or action sequences were frequently stylized into still-life form, with the models frozen in place, far from implying action or motion. Many of these models are thus explicitly portrayed compositionally as art objects rather than beings with agency, bound, corsetted, perched on stilt-like shoes, tied and tangled up in fabrics or other items, and the formal qualities of the images only serve to reinforce this portrayal. They are props through which products are displayed, merely another object within the compositional frame. The photographers, not the models, often seem to be the agents of the message.

These issues are ones I am very interested in pursuing in my future work in media. One of the things that drew me to media studies in the first place was the desire to obtain the skills and expertise to mobilize myself as an agent of change in the context of the women’s movement. While I’ve since found myself branching out in new and sometimes different directions, my commitment to these issues and my awareness of and interest in the particular feminist perspective  remains as strong as ever.

Here are a few other things I’ve written on related issues of women’s portrayals in advertisements on my personal blog:

http://katieheimer.wordpress.com/2008/12/12/dead-sexy/

http://katieheimer.wordpress.com/2008/12/13/ad-nauseum/

Reworked Photoshop Collage

Posted in Uncategorized on March 7, 2009 by Katie Heimer

Continuing to play with some of the ideas and visual imagery of the work of Brian Dettmer, the artist I highlighted last week who works largely with “book dissection”, I’ve reworked one of my collages from last week. I took my original Photoshop collage:

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Then, I cut a rectangular section from the bottom right corner, rotated it to make it a horizontal rectangle, and enlarged it. Then I copied the original image and pasted it onto the cropped section, which was now bigger, serving as the background and allowing me to shift the face to the center of the image and to have a larger background area on which to transpose my scanned book pages. Then, I scanned in several pages from a book which I had cut the center parts out of, in an uneven, fluctuating pattern. I positioned the words around the face, as if the face were emerging from a book, or as if to evoke a kind of dream-like quality of words swirling chaotically, jumbled as the mind tries to sort through them and make sense of them. I wanted to heighten the play on the visual quality of words as well as their literal meanings, and play with the sort of overwhelming cacophony of word and image, of layers of visual interest and meaning characteristic of Dittmer’s work. Here is the final product I came up with:

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Also, here is the black and white version, which has a slightly different feel or effect, it seems to me:

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