I met up with renaissance man Robert Spangle to talk about telling stories and capturing the everyday and exceptional, as well as the potential pitfalls faced by, in his case, photojournalists. Apart from having much better stories than me, I am not sure in what way it helped the development of my project, but there are parallels if nothing else, that humans are interested in telling and hearing stories, and maybe that no story, no image, no design can tell a whole truth.

We spoke of journalistic integrity, culture only being visible from the outside, and yet also that culture is only fully understood from the inside. He mentioned that ‘parachuting’ in journalists can be problematic for several reasons one of which is a lack of a complete understanding of a story or culture, however, when news outlets use local sources, there can also be problems, mostly that they are too close to a story, that they know participants and protagonists within it and have clear biases.

I also spoke to a Nagamese Woman who told me that when she wants to understand her culture better, she does back to work done in the early 20th century by an Austrian Ethnographer (Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf) as the Naga had none of their own written records.

I also managed to get on a surprisingly long zoom call when a documentary movie producer/maker, who was telling me about a potential project she may become involved with about Chinese Americans in the American South in the early 1900s and the resultant race-relations. She mentioned that the film currently is in a rough draft state because it is filmed primarily/solely from the Asian perspective and includes family members of the director, and this blurs the lines between documentary and memory piece. The interviewees’ statements are not necessarily wrong – they are undoubtedly authentic and sincere, but there being such a narrow focus meant that she felt that the story was not being told in a holistic enough way; partly this could be down to a perhaps unclear intent

We spoke about a lot of things, and about my project and its intent and parallels to other work. And she will ‘marinate on it’ and hopefully we will speak again soon. She seemed most interested in the question of anonymity, bias, and context.

Currently, I see my project as what I am tentatively calling Verbatim Design, in allusion to Verbatim Theatre with a bit of a Koyaanisqatsi approach. But, in some ways, I see it as sampling; sampling, collating, curating to create something new, different, but as meaningful as the original. FKA Twigs-ish.

I think it is impossible to be unbiased in creating work, though I would be happy to discover that I am wrong in this belief. The act of choosing to begin a project, especially a self-initiated one, is already a biased decision. But that does not mean that we should not still do it. The totality of a story, or a place is made up of many small pieces, the more pieces that we create, the more the story nears (yet never reaches) completeness. And we must not forget that there is as much bias on the viewer/reader/consumer side of this communication. The real danger, as I currently perceive it, is not in the bias itself, but in the belief that there is no bias. The myth is the enemy of truth. There is no truth and there is no fiction; it is a sliding scale, either extreme of which is never reached.

I have also started to reach out to find writings of almost any kind that involve the everyday Los Angeles, but I am fairly sure I do not want to request writings specifically for the project; the act of being asked to participate takes away from it being ordinary and authentic. Conversely, I also do not want solely existing writings from the Los Angeles fictional canon, the Didion, Fante, Bukowski, Gattis, West, Chandler et al, though they could/should/might play a role in works, but while I do see them as definite expressions that capture truths about the city, I also see them as backdrops and canvases. This leaves me with found pieces of texts, or unpublished poems or lyrics, even twitter updates, or classified advertisements could be of use.

I don’t think my project intends to tell an unbiased story, I think – currently – it intends, on some level, through juxtaposition to ask any potential viewer to question everything they see and read.

Finally, I am thinking about the ownership of stories, as Errol Morris recounts about his relationship with the focus of his Thin Blue Line documentary, Randall Adams ‘… he felt as though I had stolen something from him. Maybe I had, maybe I just don’t understand what it’s like to be in prison for that long, for a crime you hadn’t committed … but I guess when people are involved, there’s always a mess somewhere.’

Can we own stories, can we own work beyond the legal definition thereof?

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