A global approach to documentary cinema

A global approach to documentary cinema

The bulk of my work as a research assistant for the Hurford Center’s artist-in-residence, Vicky Funari, is to help her build a portfolio of documentaries from various regions around the world. This is part of an ongoing process for Professor Funari, who hopes to pitch a new class to hopefully begin teaching by the spring of 2018. The focus of the class revolves around the similarities and differences of national cinemas in respect to documentaries. The repository of films and associated readings that I’ve created during the summer is meant to inform Professor’s Funari as to the structure and syllabus of this proposed class. Since the distribution of films has only become more widespread throughout its history, the ideas behind certain cinematic techniques are carried far beyond the national cinema where it is released, prompting filmmakers to adapt and appropriate such techniques when necessary. In addition, film movements that focus primarily on fiction films, such as the French New Wave, can still have immense and noticeable influences on the style and technique of their documentary counterparts. Often times, documentaries can point towards critical aspects of local culture and identity, but beyond that can also inform audiences of the power of globalization, and the dynamic nature of the film medium in general. Springboarding of the heavy connections one can find between films from vastly different regions, I initially made the suggestion that Professor Funari structure the class around thematic similarities between films. I felt it would be more compelling to look into the relationship between films rather than focus on segregating films by geographic origin and contain them within literal...
Buddhist Fundamentalism

Buddhist Fundamentalism

This summer, I have been researching how violent Buddhist fundamentalism in Sri Lanka, in part led by the monastic community, was made to be consistent with religious beliefs. In turn, this discussion also depends on how the political nature of the fundamentalism was influenced by the foundational philosophy and ethics of Buddhism. Hence, most of my readings have been social-theory texts on modeling fundamentalism, works on the politics and religious history of Sri Lanka, and of  Theravada...
Exploring Haverford’s Photography Collection

Exploring Haverford’s Photography Collection

Haverford’s fine art photography collection is among the largest of any liberal-arts college, including work from photographic pioneers like William Henry Fox-Talbot and historically significant photographers such as Eadweard Muybridge, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, and Carl Van Vechten. The collection also includes works by important contemporary photographers including Jamel Shabazz and Jessica Todd Harper. This extensive body of work is housed in Magill’s special collections and has benefited from numerous large donations and purchases in recent years, so there is much to do in terms of organization and digitization. This summer, I’m working as assistant to photography professor William Williams. Most of my time is spent in special collections, where my work involves digitizing photographic prints via scanner or camera, entering metadata, and editing the collection’s master list of photographs. The master list, which was formerly just a word document, is now generated from a database of the collection, which I’ve spent some time cleaning up, looking for dropped metadata and other technical failures. I also work on adding newly acquired photographs to the database, so I have to scan the prints and generate associated metadata. Handling photographic materials is one of the most exciting parts of my work. Getting to look at and engage with a physical photographic print is very different from viewing an image on a screen or even in a book, so getting to handle prints, some of which are unique, singular editions, is a lot of fun. Personally, what I enjoy and appreciate most about this work is the exposure and familiarly I am gradually gaining with the...
The importance of digitization amidst technological progress

The importance of digitization amidst technological progress

If your family has made any home movies, chances are they’re stored on something archaic like VCR tapes. Capturing media has progressed at an incredible pace, completely phasing out older methods day by day. Part of my research assistantship under the Hurford Center’s artist-in-residence, Vicky Funari, is to help digitize various videos she’s accumulated throughout her years of work as a filmmaker. Digitizing media is the process by which video and sound on tapes are converted into binary data to be stored and accessed on computers. Vicky aims to have her older work preserved in order to possibly use them in ongoing and future projects. However, different types of video storage formats, i.e. Hi8, DV, 1/4″ audio cassettes, each have their own digitization process. Currently, I’m working with DV tapes, which requires me to log and capture all the shots on the tape before running them through a video editor to start encoding them. The conversion of DV tapes is at a 1:1 ratio, meaning the duration of the media on the tape is equal to how long it will take to digitize. Most of the DV tapes have upwards of 62 minutes of film on them, making the total time to digitize one tape is around 2.5 to 3 hours. Furthermore, because modern software doesn’t have features built in the accommodate older video formats, older software like Final Cut Pro 7 must be used. I’ve been lucky enough to have done a bulk of my video recording on modern and user-friendly formats like SD cards, so my media is easily preserved wherever I go. My work with digitization has shown...
Colonial Valley Zapotec Documents in the Ticha Project

Colonial Valley Zapotec Documents in the Ticha Project

Below is an example of 15th-century English writing from The University of Manchester Library Image Collections. Pretty hard to read, right?  If you’ve never looked at medieval handwriting before, you might not be able to recognize all of the letters.  The Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse has a transcribed version of the same text, although it’s from a different book — it’s still hard to read, but you can probably understand some of the words. Now imagine that you’ve never seen English written in a book before.  Imagine that you didn’t know until just now that there are English books from the 15th century.  Imagine that in order to see this book you had to go to an archive, walk past an armed guard who tried to keep you out, and then sort through four boxes of documents until you found the right one.  And you still probably wouldn’t be able to read it. For the past few years I’ve been an RA on the Ticha Project with Professor Brook Lillehaugen.  Ticha is an online text database, like The University of Manchester Library Image Collections, but for documents written in Colonial Valley Zapotec.  The Zapotec languages are indigenous to southern Mexico.  Most Zapotec languages today are purely oral; Zapotec is not used in schools, and some people believe that it cannot be written because (they say) it isn’t a “real” language.  However, the Zapotec culture has one of the longest histories of writing in Mesoamerica (dating back to a couple hundred years B.C.), and Zapotec was also written in the Roman orthography after the Spanish conquest.  The...