This exercise (OCA C&N, p122) requires a conversation to be recorded. A written record of that conversation made, without referring to the conversation. Then, the conversation to be listened to for discrepancies between the written record and recording. As a reflection, consider ‘the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures? ‘
The written record and recording are linked in the references below.
Before reflecting on the exercise, I mention that I have considerable experience and knowledge of the reliability of re-enacted narratives, as part of my day-job involves corporate investigations and interviewing employees. It is enough to say that for untrained people, it is very difficult to accurately recall narrative details without assistance. The limitation of the human working memory is generally reckoned to be around 7 items, so without using memory techniques to relocate working memory to longer-term memory our ability to recall is not great.
The main difficulties with reenacted narratives, can be summarised as follows:
- Selective recall – recall biased towards information that is of personal interest to the witness, either visually or because of preconceptions of events.
- Restricted point of view – as much as one attempts to consider various perspectives on an event, some are beyond our individual experience or comprehension, or simply outside of our physical point of view. A recalled narrative from the perspective of a single individual alone is necessarily circumspect.
- Limitation of recall based on memory alone – as discussed above our memories are not always reliable. Further our minds can reinterpret events in an attempt to make sense of them, perhaps creating memories that do not reflect actual events. The frailty of human memory is discussed in the context of art in Joan Gibbon’s book, Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance (see separate post here).
In terms of application to constructed photography: to claim any degree of accurate reflection of original events would be extremely difficult during the course of normal photographic practice. The only potential exception I can think of are recreations of crime-scenes painstakingly made by trained police and forensic officers based on carefully gathered statements from several witnesses with different view points. One should rather recognise constructed photography as an interpretation of events, or even inspired by events, rather than presenting it as a true representation of events. This is perhaps why so many movies carry the caveat ‘The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.’ No matter whether they are inspired by true events, the legal difficulties that can ensue from misrepresentation of true events and life-stories can be serious.
I learned nothing new from this exercise because of my existing experience and knowledge of reenacted events. Though it does remind me of a useful mantra for investigators, ‘believe nothing, check everything’. In the case of photography, the ‘believe nothing’ applies but the desirability to check (if we accept the work as an interpretation of events only) or even the possibility of checking, makes the ‘check everything’ very difficult, or almost impossible.
Recording. Over-dinner conversation with children. Recorded by Andrew Fitzgibbon 21.5.16, on iPhone.
Tvtropes.org [website]. his Is a Work of Fiction. Available from: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThisIsAWorkOfFiction [accessed 22.5.16]
Appendix – written note of recording
This note was made one day after the original recording, without listing to the recording. It was very difficult to recall specific details or quote from the conversation. A few points make more impression of the memory, particularly the humorous or the extraordinary.
The conversation was between me and my two boys, aged 9 and 11. I joined them while they were eating pizza (unable to escape while eating). The older child, N did most of the talking, with the younger one E, chipping in the odd word of wisdom.
A discussion about football, using the new football net and an apparently spectacular shot by N from over 30 yards out that curled into the top-right corner.
On pizza – the merits of sharing a margarita and pepperoni pizza between them. N says he is not keen on pepperoni (after having picked all the meat from the pizza). I say I thought he liked it. N says he is not just hungry. E pipes in that he is hungry [he always seems to be]. I offer to help N with his pizza.
A day on, the rest of the recorded conversation is somewhat hazy. Though I recall announcing it is finished, as dinner finished. E comments he didn’t realise it was being recorded. I leave them to listen back to the recording and hear laughter from the other room – the mystery and novelty of hearing your own voice recorded.