Dance of the Dead: A Lot

Chris Gandolfo-Lucia ’19 reflects on his work as a student research assistant to HCAH Visual Media Scholar Professor John Muse.

Dance of the Dead: A Lot

Day 1: Professor John Muse  has shown me some pictures. Well… quite a few pictures. Through the Google Drive™, he has shared with me a file of photographs called “Edited Best Delaware Picts 2012-2013.” These pictures shared a simple, sometimes haunting theme: they captured roadside memorials in Delaware, erected by friends, family, or the state to mark the site where someone died in an automobile accident. He wants to put these pictures on a map. He wants me to help him.

Day 13: The project is called Imperfect City, Imperfect State and it’s helping professor Muse explore the nameless, indistinct swaths of land that have been passed over by the logic of common address systems — the sides of highways, sharp bends on country roads, a median in a busy intersection… the sorts of places people die in car accidents. This makes the mapping of these photographs a peculiar task, since most user-friendly mapping programs suffer from some nasty flaws: some automatically relocate users’ mapped photos, locking them to predetermined landmarks (Google Maps™) while others simply don’t offer the user enough control over how their images are displayed and who can see them (Flickr™). Some, however, suffer from the most egregious flaw of all — they simply don’t exist anymore (Panaramio™). So you could say I’m in a bit of a pickle [laugh track].

Day 26: My goodness… We’ve figured it out. We plan to  use a program called Neatline, which will give us Complete Control over our project… and what’s more, we’ll host it on our own servers to safeguard against any possibility of its erasure from the internet. The Professor is wary of such accidents. Nonetheless, our path is becoming clearer with every day, sharpening before me like stepping stones rising out of a murky, murky swamp.

Day 34: The Professor and I are fast approaching the the first day we’ll actually map the photographs. Until now, we’ve simply been organizing data (shoveling thick, ashen grey heaps of data from room to room, chamber to chamber) but tomorrow, we’re sending it all into the cloud.


Day 35: No triumph without a trial, it seems… our platform is operable, but shaky. The Professor has told me that my role for the remainder of my tenure will be to organize this shabby, haunting collection of photographs that our mapping program has scattered across Delaware. I’ll be spending my days submerged in this mucky, mucky swamp, combing through this archive of memorials.

Day 44: My days with this project grow thin. When I’m not organizing the collection, I pace the VCAM halls, just thinking about it all. What a journey it’s been, and how much I’ve learned. How much have I learned, you ask? A Lot.