Pre Announcement of Eyewitness

A few years back Carbon Trace Productions started a website called Eyewitness that functioned as publishing venue for short, newsy items that didn’t quite fit the term documentary. We imagined that we would publish such non-fiction videos regularly. That didn’t happen.

I’m re-starting Eyewitness for myself on Rhetorica — mostly as an online portfolio. It’ll be a place to see all that I do without having to jump around the internet.

I should have the site ready to go in about two weeks. I could probably finish the work this afternoon, but I’m enjoying the spring sunshine in Aveiro, Portugal. I’m just not in a hurry anymore 🙂

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Code of Ethics Step One: Define Who It’s For

The headline of this post is rather pointed and confident. That’s because I taught media ethics at Missouri State University for 18 years and have my way of thinking about these things. But…

A code of ethics is a guide to conduct, focused on decision making, agreed upon by a group of people to promote particular values of a common endeavor. There’s much chicken-or-egg unpacking to do there (in that equally pointed and confident statement). My way to begin unpacking it is to decide who a code is for and then follow the trails one discovers.

I gave an assignment over many years in my media ethics class in which I asked students, working in groups, to write a code of ethics for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The first bit of advice I offered them is to define who they are by defining what they do — consequently, define who it’s for so others who do what they do will understand the code as made for them. Or, rather, identify the practices and values that others will recognize.

So what is it they did during their years at Comedy Central? It wasn’t journalism, although they did present facts. And it wasn’t just satire. It was certainly comedy (different from satire). To make matters more complicated, these guys had agendas of various sorts.

I’ll skip to the good part: The best group in the best class that ever completed this assignment created a term for Stewart and Colbert. They called them “medialitical infotainers.”

With that “image” in mind, with that job title, with that “who,” it’s now possible to begin writing a code of ethics — a guide to what we ought and ought not do.

Photo of Jon Stewart by Elke Sisco. Photo of Stephen Colbert by Derek Steen.
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Documenting Public Expressions Known as Street Art

When I was first becoming interested in photography at about the age of 15, I happened upon a book of documentary photography. The Family of Man fascinated me.

I was coming to photography from drawing and painting. My earliest career goal was to be an artist. But it was The Family of Man that set me on another path. Here was visual art intended to communicate across time and cultures. Here was visual art meant to preserve what it means to be human.

The book I saw in the 1970s was published to bring the original MoMA exhibition to a wider audience. It was not a photographic effort such as the documenting of the Great Depression by the Farm Security Administration. The effect one me, however, was defined by the concept of “project.” I’d go so far as to claim this one concept, and many resulting ideas, has informed every career and creative effort I have made since.

The topic of this post is the documenting of public expressions known as street art. I’m defining street art broadly — more than just paint on a wall. Published here is small sample of the kinds of art I have captured and preserved since the dawn of digital photography (for me).

1) Political graffiti, Honk Kong, 2012. 2) Political satire (?) found in a small town along the Trans-Siberian Rail Road, 2016. 3) Reverence for  famous Portuguese singer Amália Rodrigues, Lisbon, 2015. 4) An ephemeral spreading of joy during the darkest days of early COVID, Springfield, Missouri, 2020. 5) A chiseled portrait by Alexandre Farto, Aveiro, Portugal, 2023. 6) Political graffiti, Springfield, Missouri, 2010. 

I have not approached this project in a systematic way (non-sequitur?). By that I suppose I mean that I do not have an agenda to document particular types of public expression in particular places and to publish or to display the resulting images in particular ways. Instead, I document what I discover as a normal activity of my travels.

What does it all mean? I suppose that would require some kind of curation to create — in a way similar to Edward Steichen’s curation of The Family of Man from many photographs by many photographers who had many agendas.

One thing I know: Much of what I have photographed no longer exists. That’s the nature of street art (even Banksy). Find it now. Capture it now. Figure out what it all means later.

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Can AI Be a Source of Good Documentary Story Ideas?

My fascination with the whole AI thing, so far, has mostly led to no good. Or, perhaps, not much good.

I asked it some questions about documentary filmmaking and got back mediocre, freshman-level dreck. There were some interesting moments that stunned me. And I suppose I’m impressed that ChatGPT can achieve a level as high as freshman-level dreck.

So I do have a real need to generate ideas for documentary projects just like every other non-fiction storyteller. That need has become particularly acute now that I’m living in a different country and culture.

So I asked ChatGPT to give me some “original” project ideas focused on Portugal. Here is one of the results (not the best or worst one):

An original documentary film idea could be about the effects of climate change on small island communities around the world. The documentary could explore how rising sea levels and extreme weather have impacted the lives of these communities and their ways of life, and how they are adapting to the changing environment.

That’s not bad. But it’s also not yet good. It’s a nugget of an idea. It’s a direction to go in, a path to follow. It’s a prompt for further thinking.

Unlike some of the other ideas, this one isn’t as Portugal-focused as I would have liked — although there are island communities in Portugal. We can also consider “island” to refer to any isolated community. Plenty of those in Portugal.

Telling a climate-change story about an isolated community is not an original idea. But this is something I tell students to do: start with an archetype and then go looking for an “original” and salient conflict.

Once again, ChatGPT does an interesting job in creating a text that is far more a start to something than an end in itself.

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Rhetorica Update: Branding, Filmmaking, and Social Media

I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve been working on branding. I’m too lazy right now to go back and look 🙂 In any case, I’m likely to publish a lot of these things in the coming weeks because I’m trying to gain a little traction in Portugal. I’m producing these primarily for Instagram.

The news I posted earlier about my Facebook account is just getting grimmer. I tried creating two new accounts with different, yet accurate, information. One was banned instantly.

The other lasted about two hours before it was banned.

I’m going to give it some time and then try once more — this time with my Portuguese gmail account and phone number. I’ll sign up using a VPN connection to Lisbon (just in case they have my current IP flagged). For the gory details, click here.

Part of the result of this sad situation is scrubbing all mention of Facebook out of my branding. This graphic once included that contact along with YouTube and Instagram.

I’m not looking for a new job. I’m actually not sure if, or how much, I’m allowed to work on my visa. But I certainly don’t want to miss any opportunities such as adjunct teaching or filling a crew slot on a nonfiction production. I don’t need the work or the money. I’d just like to keep doing this stuff — in a way that doesn’t feel like going back to work ;-).

I’ll certainly be working on my own projects.

On a hilarious note, re: my own projects, I asked ChatGPT for few documentary ideas in Portugal. Most of them were just dumb. A couple weren’t too bad. I’ll be sharing those here soon.

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