Storytelling with a photo walk

Photography fascinates me as another way of telling stories. What does the photo mean to the photographer and what does it mean to the person who perceives it. The convenience of my iPhone overrides my efforts to learn how to use a “real camera”. Therefore, my photos tend to be stories of the moment shared on social media through the convenience of iPhone apps.

My “real camera” learning comes from Wikimedia Denmark expeditions to places that need photo documentation or from a friend who says “let’s walk around somewhere and take photos”. That is what happened today, and that friend blogged about our photo adventures for your reading pleasure so that I can take the easy way out and just link to his blog post!

After about an hour of freezing for the sake of photography, we found a warm café where we could discuss taking pictures, blogging, and the effort of sharing those photos and blog thoughts in a timely fashion. 🙂

Here are a few of my favourite photos from today. Click the photos to go to their Flickr page, or use this link to go to my album of today’s photos.

View of the Copenhagen harbour from the ramparts

Black-and-white photo of the reflections of the trees on the water in the moat.

Capturing the symmetry of the red-washed brick buildings inside Kastellet

A Crowdsourcing Lesson from 18 Days in Egypt

18 Days in Egypt is “a collaborative documentary project about the revolution.” The co-founder of this project, Jigar Mehta, was in Copenhagen June 14th, and I was one of a handful of people who was privileged to hear him speak at Politiken’s Hus.

Jigar Mehta in front of a slide with the name of the project in English and in Arabic.

I was sad that so few attended this talk. He did tell his tale to a much larger audience the next day at another conference, but he had a valuable tale that deserved more listeners of the journalist variety. (News of this talk was circulated in journalist circles.) Here are my brief notes from his lessons learned about crowdsourcing “an interactive documentary of the events in Egypt” that occurred from January 25th to February 11th 2011.

My notes from the talk

Mehta describes how he watched the tale unfold on television. He noticed that many, many people were holding up their mobile phones to record the events. He thought that must be a rich source of material that could reveal many stories from those turbulent days.

Inspiration came from the Hypercities project at UCLA.

You have loads of content from all those who recorded what happened. How do you add context to that? Deep meta tagging is required.

You need to go to the streets to find the stories. In Egypt, only 25% have internet access and the internet quality is often poor. How can people who have content share it in those conditions? What about people who have tales and no devices for sharing?

The team behind 18 Days is teaching journalism to 30 students. Those people, in turn, can help collect the stories. They will learn how to approach people and how to encourage them to share their stories. They will make “pop-up shops” on Tahrir Square and elsewhere. People cannot afford the price of sending text messages (SMS). These pop-up shops are places people can stop by and tell their stories. The plan is to use raw material – nothing prepared. It’ll be all about the tagging. When you get context-rich material, the media will tell the story. The aim is also to highlight differences at various spots.

The goal is 5000 unique stories. Of course, the overall goal is to share this with the Egyptian people. Some people who were hesitant about sharing their experiences became eager when they realized that this could be a legacy to future generations – that they could one day tell their own grandchild “this is what I did during these important days in Egypt’s history”.

On the technology side, they are using Popcorn from Mozilla. Most of their software is open source, but they may have to build some parts themselves.

In the following picture, Mehta is talking about the site “I am Jan 25” that is being displayed in the slide on the screen behind him. It is another example of aggregating information in one place.

Jigar Mehta standing in front of one of the slides in his presentation.

My thoughts from the talk

I was very excited by the way they planned to engage people in this project. Those journalist-trained students will have to tell tales to get tales.

The entire process of collecting content and tagging it properly is a tale unto its own. I noted that they were creating a process that tells story and gives the whole thing a life of its own. “18 Days in Egypt” is the main tale, but a secondary tale is emerging from the entire process of making that main tale.

I picked up some new (to me) terms in this talk: transmedia and cross-media. (PS I also found an article that debunks some myths about transmedia that is worth a read.)

The stories from 18 days in Egypt are very important to tell the world. From a professional viewpoint, I think the process of producing this documentary is tremendously exciting. Anyone in journalism or communication or video/film production can learn a lot from the processes that are coming out of this project. I hope they document that as well.

A close-up photo of Jigar Mehta listening with a shy smile to the introduction about his presentation.

A Tale of Bread

Nic Steenhout‘s photo of fresh-baked bread sent me more than 30 years back in time.

Fresh bread out of the oven. Smells enticing. Where's the butter?

I’ve always loved baking bread. I know I learned to bake bread when I was a teenager, but I have few recollections of those breads. I know some were sweet and most were incredibly flat and heavy despite being baked in a form and using yeast. I may have been heart-broken, but my dad never complained. The bread disappeared completely when in his care. I wasn’t afraid to experiment, either. An uncle was coming over for dinner in my early bread-baking years, and I thought I’d make some special dinner rolls. I added blue food coloring, blue being my favorite color. To my great disappointment, no one wanted to eat them!

Years later, I became more conscious of the beauty of the creation of bread. It wasn’t doing something fancy like adding blue coloring. It was the awareness of the amazing science that happens when you mix flour, yeast, and liquid. I feel like an artist when kneading the dough. Without thinking about it, I visualize the mouth-watering finished product as I blend the ingredients with my hands.

There is a real sense of creation when making bread. I was always fascinated by the power of the yeast. If I added the yeast to a bowl with warm milk and butter, I loved to see the tell-tale bubbles that appeared on the surface of the mixture. Leaving a small ball of dough in a bowl and finding it doubled an hour later is always a moment of magic and beauty.

My Bread Tale from the Past

My best bread-making adventures were on the road to India. In 1978, I traveled overland from Denmark to India and Nepal. Our journey started out in a rush to get out of Europe ahead of a winter that would be one of the biggies. We left Denmark on 1 February 1978 and crossed the border to Nepal from India on 4 March 1978. Most of the time, we were driving all day and all night. Our breakfast along the way was always tea and bread. The bread was baked fresh every morning. Inside our converted 1955 Bedford bus, we had a stove that ran on bottled gas.

I would rise from my spot in the giant bunkbed at the back of the bus every morning at dark o’clock. An important item in our luggage was a 50-kilo sack of whole-wheat flour. We also stocked up on fresh water each day. I prepared the bread using our dining table to knead the dough, and then I placed the dough in a bowl, covered it with a dishtowel and set it by the heater to rise for an hour. I sat with the driver and navigator, watching the road flow by under our wheels, waiting for the bread to rise. When ready, the dough was kneaded and shaped into loaves and put in the oven to rise a bit more. Then, I turned on the oven to bake the bread. It was probably terribly dangerous to have an operating gas oven inside a bus, but I have lived to tell the tale. To top things off, I filled our giant kettle with water and put it on the burner to boil. Open flame inside the bus. Yeah, well, this was 32 years ago. Back when you could eat raw cookie dough…

When the water boiled, I made the tea and started to wake people up. The driver quickly found a place to stop (easily done as we were in sparsely populated areas and there was little traffic.) I could pull the freshly baked bread out of the oven and onto the table, where it was topped with a bit of jam before disappearing into seven hungry tummies – all washed down by tea. YUM!

Bread just out of the oven hits all of your senses. What a way to start the day! Thanks for triggering a delicious trip down memory lane, Nic.