By Mark Nickolas, on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:31 AM ET
The final project in our Concepts class was a 3-minute video self portrait. My choice was to use Manhattan as the vehicle for my portrait, highlighting the vibrancy of life as one travels from school in Greenwich Village to home on the Upper West Side. If you choose to make that journey above-ground, this is what you might see on any given night as you travel between those two neighborhoods.
I used a Canon Rebel T2i (aka 550 D) shooting high-definition video (1920×1080) at 6400 ISO.
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue May 3, 2011 at 1:47 PM ET
This week’s assignment in our Concepts class was as follows:
Assignment: Find a non-fiction multimedia/interactive project (from the web or CD/DVD) and write one-page report addressing functionality, narrative elements and design principles. Post the links/project information and the report on your blog.
I selected the interactive non-linear documentary film Planet Galata by Berlin filmmaker Florian Thalhofer:
Planet Galata – A Bridge in Istanbul: A Review
Planet Galata – A Bridge in Istanbul is an interactive non-linear documentary film by Florian Thalhofer. The film focuses on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey and its relationship various characters presented; some depending on it for their economic livelihood, while others are passing travelers. The project uses the open-source non-linear Korsakow software system developed by Thalhofer for the creation of database films.
Largely following the principle of database as narrative, as pioneered by Lev Manovich , Planet Galata functions as a series of related scenes that permits users to dictate their own narrative pathway. The film begins with an establishing shot of the Galata Bridge in the left half of the screen followed by a textual introduction in the right half. By clicking on the right panel, the film proceeds to brief video introductions of the characters presented. During any of these introductory scenes, a user may choose to learn more about a particular character by clicking on the right frame and additional scenes are played.
Following the completion of each scene, the user’s journey through the film’s narrative continues as he selects from four images presented (each with simple titles) as the option for the next scene, a process which repeats itself until conclusion. In doing so, no scene is offered more than once, and the narrative appears to develop logically to its end through selected sequencing established by the filmmaker. However, there is no evident path to go backwards, nor does there appear to be any way to pause the film that the writer could find.
The design of the film provides for simplicity of navigation, consistency in the scene sequences offered (technically and aesthetically), as well as clarity and harmony in how the unity of sequences help to logically construct the overarching narrative of the film.
 Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. Print.
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 6:59 AM ET
The Week 11 and 12 assignment in our Concepts class was as follows:
Assignment: Video document of a location or character. Working in a group of three (3), find a location or a character to portray. Develop a scene or sequence consisting of a minimum of 10 shots. Use static shots, different angles and/or following moves to construct the reality you observe. Consider classical film language such as details of cutaways, establishing shots, reverse or alternate angles, leaving/entering frame, etc. Running time should be no more than 3 minutes. Due in two weeks (Apr. 12)
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 12:52 PM ET
The Week 10 assignment in our Concepts class was as follows:
Assignment: Shoot a Lumiere-like, 1 min. single-shot video. No sound, no editing, no camera moves. Just a fixed frame that captures a three-act story. The story must unfold naturally and cannot be staged. Post the video to your blog.
The following is my video taken at the Union Square Farmers Market yesterday:
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 3:28 PM ET
Our Week 9 assignment in Concepts is as follows:
Assignment: Create an artificial soundscape using sound effects and manipulation editing techniques. Work with the audio you previously recorded or collected, or use new material. Aim for a specific mood, something unusual. Finally, add still images to illustrate the soundscape you constructed. Total length should not exceed 2 minutes! Post the final clip on your blog and bring to class.
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Mar 8, 2011 at 11:55 AM ET
Our Week 7 assignment was as follows:
Find a subject and conduct a 5-10 minute interview. Be careful how you phrase the questions (avoid those that can be answered with a simple yes or no). Edit the recording into a coherent one minute interview sound clip, excluding your questions!
Post on your blog and bring to class (USB stick or CD).
For this project, I interviewed my friend Keely, who discussed the experience of giving birth to her first baby on Christmas Eve 2010 and the challenges of raising a newborn:
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Mar 1, 2011 at 1:17 PM ET
The Week 6 assignment for our Concepts class was as follows:
Assignment: Sound study
PART A – Pick a location, then carefully listen to it for 3 uninterrupted minutes. Take notes of every sound event you hear (for example: sound of a truck passing by, loud footsteps, coughing, fast typing on keyboard, etc.). Descriptions can be factual, onomatopoeic, poetic, etc. Post the notes to your blog.
PART B – Collect recordings for a sound portrait of a location. This can be the same location from Part A. Pay close attention to interior/exterior ambiance sounds and distinct individual sources (such as human voice, running water/faucet, door knob turning, etc.).
Upload the sound clips to your blog and also bring it on a USB stick or CD to class.
It is quite remarkable how our brains automatically filter out so much of our background noises at any given time, especially when it is forced to contend with the uninterrupted cacophony in Manhattan at noon on a Friday.
So, for the first part of this project, Liam and I found a stone bench in the middle of Chelsea Market during the lunch hour, and simply listened. For three minutes, I closed my eyes, opening them only to jot brief notes. Here’s what I heard:
footsteps on hardwood;
running water from fountain;
clanging of silverware and plates;
rolling wheels of a hand-truck;
steam from an espresso machine;
barista banging the espresso portafilter to expel used coffee grounds;
random conversations of people walking by, often in foreign languages;
Velcro tearing away from its strip;
ringing of a cash register;
change dropped into a tip jar;
young girls giggling loudly;
creaking of a metal side door opening;
Liam and I then walked through Chelsea Market at 12:45 pm. Here’s a two-minute edited version of what we heard:
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 1:03 PM ET
This assignment for this week in our Concepts class was as follows:
Assignment: Location/event portrait.
Choose a location (public or private) or an event and, after observing it closely, create a “documentary” photo essay in 10-15 images. Try to convey something that is not easily visible; a hidden story, deeper truth, emotional qualities, etc. Post the photo essay to your blog and include any notes you took.
I decided to take a trip to Aqueduct Race Course to do this assignment. My goal was the capture the reaction of various people during one of the races that day. While the images capture dozens of people, I also attempted to maintain an extended focus on several people.
While Amir suggested 10-15 photos for this assignment, he later amended that during last week’s class to say that the final video should be no greater than two minutes and we were free to use as many photos as we wished. Since many of mine are rapid succession images, my final version utilized 55 photos, resulting in a 1:46 video.
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 2:48 PM ET
It’s hard not to feel a strong sense of longing and sadness in Hai Bo’scurrent exhibit of nine large-scale color photographs at the Pace/MacGill Gallery. The exhibit, simply called Recent Work, depicts stark images of winter life in rural China, some pieces set against a vast and barren landscape. In them, his subjects – presumably local residents – appear accepting of a world frozen in time, not invited to join the rapid and historic transformation taking place a few hundred miles away in vertical cities of glass and steel teeming with ambitious young people, connected by modern technology, who believe that this century is theirs.
Instead, the hardy people in Hai Bo’s images remind us that the idea of “old” China still exists. Within a world frozen in time and space, there’s a solemn acquiescence among these people to live their lives as they always have. In their faces, you see less a sense of sadness than the blunt realization that these are the cards they’ve been dealt, leaving them with no choice but to make the most of them during their remaining years.
The collection’s most iconic image, Passing Traveler, 2008, shows an old man taking a stroll down a seemingly raised dirt road filled with potholes against a background of never-ending barrenness. This photograph, like the rest, omits many visual cues to help us answer even the most basic questions. Why is he there? Is he coming or going?
The exhibit’s other main image is Old Man, 2009 which shows a man in the forest leaning his head against a tree in a semi-bow. Unlike Passing Traveler, there is no sense of movement in this photo. The old man appears to have surrendered himself to the tree in apparent capitulation to the predicament of his life. It is, by far, the saddest of the images.
Passing Traveler, 2008
Old Man, 2009
From the perspective of two-dimensional techniques, most of Hai Bo’s images share a number of similar attributes. The five outdoor photos avoid use of any shadows, possibly to deprive us further of any clues to time, and each has stark figure/ground contrasts. Nearly all images rely on static balance within the frame, the Rule of Thirds governs throughout, and there are ample instances of off-center placement. The only image where the subject is looking into the camera is Untitled Series No. 6, 2009, where an old man is dimly lit from his right, causing a strong chiaroscuro effect. The coupled images Shadow-2, 2009, and Shadow-3, 2009, use strong indoor cast shadows (though, we are unable to determine which was taken first). Old Man is the only image framed with a pronounced vertical orientation.
Prominent vectors are used throughout: Old Man, Shadow-3, Early Evening Light, and Yesterday use converging index vectors; Passing Traveler and 2007-I use low motion vectors; Smoke contains both diverging and converging vectors using both index and motion. Only Untitled Series No. 6 and Shadow-2 are without any vectors.
Unititled Series No. 6, 2009
UPDATE (Feb 23): Received feedback from Prof. Husak last night on the review. He wrote, “Great read, Mark! Your references to the readings are tied in nicely. Your observations about the two main images are astute and informative. Amir.“
By Mark Nickolas, on Thu Feb 10, 2011 at 3:41 PM ET
I’m looking forward to next week’s assignment in our Concepts course and planning to use part of my Saturday to start work on it and initially inclined to focus on the Hai Bo exhibition. Here’s the assignment e-mailed to us from Prof. Amir Husak:
Write a one-page report on a photo exhibit (list of exhibits to choose from is below), including your personal critique and comments on 2-dimensional techniques. Bring a hard copy to next week’s class and also post it on your blog. Please note that some of these have admission fees. Sasha Wolf Gallery and Pace/MacGill are free: Jasper, Texas: The Community Photographs of Alonzo Jordan
International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Feb 8, 2011 at 10:16 AM ET
The assignment for this week in our Concepts class is as follows:
Experiment with camera shutter/aperture settings and focal lengths. Pick an object (inside or outside) and take photographs under different lighting conditions. Make a selection of 10 images that illustrate Zettl’s lighting characteristics. The subject matter can be anything – so, be creative!
The first set of photos highlight partial silhouette lighting.
This image illustrates the changing light as a group of people walk toward each other as they approach the shelter of a building:
Similar to above, here are two people as they move in and out of light, creating a silhouette effect:
The next set illustrates the dynamic of cast shadows. The first photo demonstrates an object-connected cast shadow created by the bench. In the second photo, the photographer (me) creates an independent cast shadow:
These photos illustrate the dynamic of falloff where the brightness contrast between the light and shadow sides of an object. In each case — particularly with the first image — we see “fast” falloff, meaning that the change between light and dark is more sudden, usually signifying a sharp edge or corner:
Finally, inside Chelsea Market, we have examples of falloff as a result of directional light spotlighting the Sarabeth’s Bakery sign, as well as cast shadows caused by the spotlight on the address numbers on the brick wall:
By Mark Nickolas, on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 8:01 AM ET
The first exercise in my Media Practices: Concepts (Documentary Focus) class is as follows:
Select 5 photographs that you like/find interesting and 5 that you do not like. These can be private photographs, print ads, photograph billboards, images from the web, etc. Post them to your blog.
Our professor, Amir Husak, left us broad discretion as to how to approach our selection. In an e-mail, he said, “The interpretation is rather open. It can be contextual, sentimental, ideological, etc. Just be prepared to discuss your choices.”
According to the description of the photo,”President-elect Barack Obama was about to walk out to take the oath of office. Backstage at the U.S. Capitol, he took one last look at his appearance in the mirror.” Taken January 20, 2009.
Photographer Dave Anderson, a good friend of mine, spent several years documenting one block in the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward as its residents tried to rebuild their homes, and community, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book was released in August 2010 to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Katrina.
This is my favorite sports-related photo. It’s the finish line photo of Secretariat’s amazing run at the Belmont Stakes on June 9, 1973, winning the 1-1/2 mile race by 31 lengths, in a time of 2 minutes and 24 seconds (a North American record that still holds today), and winning horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The houses of Ilulissat, Greenland as viewed from the sea, taken July 15, 2010. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
This is President Obama and the First Lady (and friends) wearing 3-D glasses while watching a commercial during the 2009 Super Bowl in the family theater of the White House. It was taken on February 1, 2009.
5 PHOTOGRAPHS I DO NOT LIKE
This part of the assignment has proven to be the hardest part. Finding photographs that you find interesting is fairly easy as they tend to stand out in your memories. However, I tend not to remember those I don’t like unless they evoke a visceral emotional response, like these five:
“In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
This photo was taken during President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 declaring the end of major combat operations in Iraq, less than two months after the initial invasion. Members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas who are known for their stance against homosexuality and their protest activities. In particular, they have conducted numerous protests of funerals of American military soldiers across the country in hopes of drawing attention to their belief that God is punishing America for its support of homosexuality.
“I believe that nicotine in not addictive.”
The swearing-in of the CEOs of the seven largest tobacco companies as they prepare to testify before a House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the dangers of tobacco smoking on April 14, 1994. During the hearing, all seven executives testified that nicotine was not addictive. “I have sinned against You, my Lord.”
Reverend Jimmy Swaggart publicly apologizing on February 21, 1988 after revelations surfaced that he had frequented a prostitute. Three years later, Swaggart was found with another prostitute after a traffic stop by California Highway Patrol. Rather than confessing to his congregation for the second transgression, Swaggart told those at his Family Worship Center that “The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business” and that he didn’t have to apologize for his conduct. September 11, 2001, 9:05 am.
President George W. Bush being told by Chief of Staff Andrew Card about the second plane hitting the World Trade Center while in a classroom at Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida.
After 15 years in Democratic politics and media, I returned to school this year with the goal of becoming a political documentary filmmaker. In January 2011, I began work on a Master's of Arts degree in Media Studies and Film at The New School in New York City. This website will serve to document my journey.