June 20th, 2016

LOOK3: Doug DuBois on Creating Images “Based on a True Story”

© Doug DuBois. An image of Shauna and her new baby, from My Last Day at Seventeen (Aperture, 2015).

© Doug DuBois. An image of Shauna and her new baby, from My Last Day at Seventeen (Aperture, 2015).

Over the course of five summers, Doug DuBois photographed teenagers living in public housing in a small Irish city of Cobh, depicting scenes of the kids drinking, carousing and coping with the boredom and restlessness that characterizes the period between childhood and adulthood. Photos from the project, published in his book My Last Day at Seventeen (honored in the 2016 PDN Photo Annual) were shown at the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph alongside Olivia Bee’s images of teenagers in exhibition curated by photographer Phil Toledano. While Bee’s romantic photographs show her friends and contemporaries, DuBois made his images in Cobh by collaborating with “a core group of players” he’d gotten to know and who were willing to act out scenarios or suggest scenes for him to photograph. The project, DuBois told PDN in an interview, was not “documentary” or “diaristic”; it represents his subjective view of the place, the teens and his interaction with them. He likens it to literary nonfiction or memoir.

In all his work, Dubois says, “subjectivity is at the forefront.” His 2009 book, All the Days and Nights, about tensions in his family, included photos he made of his mother reenacting moments DuBois had witnessed. “It’s like the movies say, ‘Based on a true story,’” he says. About his Cobh project, he says, “Invention is too strong a word, but I would say it’s my story based on their lives and how I saw them and what I understood and what I didn’t understand.” But while it is his own story, DuBois felt a responsibility to depict his subjects in a way that they would recognize.

He first arrived in Cobh in 2009 as the recession was taking hold. He had accepted a month-long residency, and had agreed to hold a community photo workshop with some local teens. “I asked them to take me to where they hung out,” he recalls. “I spent one long night encountering 15-year-olds some of whom were very drunk.” Dubois, who shoots with large- and medium-format cameras, got up close to a boy named Lenny and, while other kids joked and teased, asked him to blow smoke from his cigarette. In the close-up portrait, Lenny is bemused and looking tough. DuBois recalls, “I said: This is the image. It’s all about the bravado. You can see his past as a child and his future.”
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June 16th, 2016

Want to Make Virtual Reality? 6 Rules for Starting Out

Jenna Pirog, virtual reality editor for The New York Times Magazine

Jenna Pirog, virtual reality editor for The New York Times Magazine.

Photographers and filmmakers may imagine that virtual reality is “the next big thing,” but Jenna Pirog, virtual reality editor for The New York Times Magazine, warns that the technology is best suited to certain types of stories. “I get many pitches for VR films and most of them all sound like really great 2d docs or photo essays,” Pirog told an audience at the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph on Wednesday. Pirog  recommended one criteria to consider. “If you were bringing readers to this location to experience it first hand, would that help them understand it better? If the answer is no, then it might work better in other media.”

Pirog, speaking via Skype at a LOOK3 presentation on visual storytelling, offered her tips on what storytellers need to know to produce VR experiences. She says it took two months to make “The Displaced,” the first VR experience presented on The New York Times Magazine VR app in November. The experience took viewers to refugee camps in South Sudan, the Ukraine and Lebanon. The idea, she says, was to examine the issues facing the millions of displaced persons around the world by focusing on just three refugee children and using the technology of VR to help place viewers within the camps where the children are now living. Since the debut of “The Displaced,” the Times has produced eight VR experiences. “We managed to learn lessons along the way,” Pirog said. She presented the lessons as six rules for making successful VR.

Rule #1: You have to be into tech. Pirog said the equipment for making VR is ever changing. There are some cameras on the market that capture 360-degree images and are aimed at the consumer-level enthusiast (Pirog mentioned the Samsung Gear 360, priced at $350 ). Pirog said these cameras offered “a good place to start” to experiment, but noted that most VR is made with more expensive setups, usually using multiple GoPro cameras mounted on rigs to capture every angle on a scene. The post-production required to make seamless 360-footage is also labor-intensive, she noted. Currently, she said, most VR work is being done by production companies that have invested in or created their own rigs, and they are “hiring crews” to handle shooting and editing.

Rule # 2. Choose the right story. Pirog says that “The Displaced” was an attempt to give Times readers a more immersive and empathetic look at the lives of refugees than they could get through countless articles that had already been reported last year as waves of migrants fled conflicts around the world. In their VR production titled “Ten Shots Across the Border,” The Times used VR to go to the site on the Texas-Mexico border where a border patrol officer had shot and killed a teenager on the Mexico side of the fence. The VR experience allowed viewers to  look at the height and size of the border fence, and to consider allegations that the teenager had thrown rocks over the fence with the intent to harm border patrol officers. Pirog said this was “an attempt to use virtual reality in a more investigative way.”

Rule # 3. Place your camera and adjust your height to where your audience might stand. Pirog called this rule her “pet peeve.” In VR, the camera is a stand-in for the viewer’s eyes on the scene. “If it’s too high, readers feel like a seven-foot-tall giant.”

Rule #4. There is no longer a place for the filmmaker to stand. Pirog showed some behind-the-scenes footage of filmmakers setting up their camera rigs, turning the cameras on, then ducking, rolling or dashing to crouch behind the nearest sandbag, doorway or piece of furniture to avoid being caught on camera. “If there’s no place to hide, you become part of the story,” she noted.

Rule #5. Moving shots should be made with care and practice. In watching a VR experience, viewers move their heads to determine what they see. If the camera moves independently of the viewer, the effect can induce motion sickness. “I think it’s our responsibility not to make people sick watching our content,” said Pirog, who added that “If you can keep the camera very steady,” some panning shots can be used effectively without inducing nausea.

Rule #6. Audio is more important than the visual. Sounds alert the viewer where to turn to look for action. The Times is experimenting with 360-audio, which records live sounds from all around the environment where a camera is recording footage. The recording devices are expensive, and they are still experimenting to get the playback right, she said. “But done properly, it can feel very natural,” she added.

—by Holly Stuart Hughes

Related:

Should Photographers Jump on the Virtual Reality Bandwagon? (For PDN subscribers only.)

Five Technologies Shaping Photography and Filmmaking Today

GoPro’s Next Tricks: A Virtual Reality Rig and a Drone

June 17th, 2013

Look3: Gregory Crewdson on Inspiration, Repetition, and Huge Productions

©Jessica Earnshaw

©Jessica Earnshaw

Photographer Gregory Crewdson, who has inspired nearly as much awe for the size of his productions as for his evocative, cinematic work, told an audience at Look3 Festival of the Photograph on Saturday that he’s just starting a new body of work, and he’s done with shooting huge productions.

Crewdson offered no details about his latest project. “I don’t want to go too much more into it, because honestly it’s a bit of a mystery for myself,” he said. But he also said, “I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the [production] scale of Beneath the Roses. I feel no need to. So what happens next is going to be a smaller version of that.”

Crewdson made the remarks at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, when he appeared on stage for a conversation about his work and career with NPR host Alex Chadwick.

Crewdson is known for his elaborately lit tableaux, shot at twilight in declining towns and neighborhoods of New England, that capture a sense of anxiety, mystery and foreboding. (more…)