Finished video: An afternoon with Paul & Hazel

This is my final video, I am very pleased with the result not just because of all the work that went into it but also because I believe it is a creative approach towards making an informative video piece. Although ‘shot’ like a standard interview situation which could have resulted in a standard ‘documentary’ I believe I managed to connect the content, which is concerned with the experience of blindness and the technical tools helping to make everyday tasks easier, with a visual and technical approach reflecting exactly that. I think it becomes very clear that knowledge is not only gained by seeing and that the audio as well as the textual descriptions are an alternative way of getting to know something or someone. By the end of it I hope my viewer takes away new insights and possibly inspiration to see blindness not as a ‘lack’ of something (although it physically is) but as another way of interacting with the world.

 

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Revised Project Proposal

As usual my project has taken on a different shape as initially planned. Although the method has remained the same, meeting and interviewing Paul and Hazel to gather content and create the base for the video, my visual approach has changed. Instead of interpreting the audio and re-creating the visuals as initially proposed I have now applied a concept which draws on minimal and scarce transmission of visual information to put the viewer closer into the position of a blind person who does not receive information visually. It is not meant to be a ‘real depiction’ of how a blind person sees (blurriness, dark tones, change of vision etc.) but rather a way to avoid presenting the viewer with the usual level of visual information a video holds (usually heavily based on ‘watching’) and steer the focus towards the audio and what is said. The written descriptions, shown as subtitles, aid in imagining the things ‘shown’ and draw on the concept of using subtitles to provide further information like it is done for deaf people, to broaden the understanding of the content of the video.

One sentence:

A video project exploring the lives of a blind couple that has been blind from birth through a personal account and blurred visuals as well as written descriptions depicting an afternoon spent with them.

Paragraph:

The project aims to give the viewer an insight into the life of a blind couple and especially focuses on the their everyday which is shown through the different devices they use to make everyday tasks easier for them. Though there maybe many commonalities, there are also many differences regarding the way a blind person navigates through their everyday tasks and their perception of the world. The base for the project builds a personal interview with someone who has been blind from birth, questioning and exploring various aspects of life as a blind person. The visual information shown in the video is distorted and kept to a minimum of motion and colour in order to force the viewer into a different mode of perception and making meaning, which is aided through textual descriptions.

Full:

“Everyday life can both hide and make vivid a range of social differences”, Ben Highmore points out in Questioning the Everyday Life. Being blind from birth is not just a physical difference (or disability if you’d like to call it) but is lived out in a social and cultural context, therefore it also becomes a social difference. Our modern Western world is slowly acknowledging disability, from making public spaces more disability friendly to a broader context of seeing disability not as a lack of something but a different way of living a life equally worth to everybody else’s.

The project is set out to show that being “disabled” doesn’t actually mean to not be able to do something but rather shines a light on the abilities and differences a blind person has and lives as well as their adaptation to a world which is dominated by ‘sight’. The video aims to bring the viewer closer to an experience which is not dominated by sight therefore the visuals are blurred and mainly held in dark tones which change only within a short range. This inevitably prevents the viewer from creating an understanding through pictures and forces an imagination of the things and people shown, something blind people have to do in order to make ‘sense’ of the world around them.

I am especially interested in the different ways in which a blind person makes sense of their surrounding, their perception and the many ways in which they navigate through their daily life, also using modern technologies such as phone apps and other devices.

Only 1% of blind people have been blind from birth and most have had some sort of visual experience even if only of a black and white contrast or blurred colours hence why the video is not completely ‘black’ and although is does not aim to re-enact the vision of a blind person it certainly results in a lack of visual information for the viewer.

This lack is then slightly covered by the written descriptions, which serve to mainly describe the look of the devices Paul and Hazel use as well as giving a few hints of the surrounding and what is happening. These subtitles serve to convey information which is not perceived visually, yet they leave the viewer only with a vague idea of how exactly something looks. This draws on the actual reality most blind people live, they rely on descriptions others give them or their devices provide them with, if they want to know how something looks like they have to ask.

The project aims to provide the viewer with knowledge, much like a documentary does, but through a very personal account. This knowledge is not based on how things look like, although the viewer might find themselves very curious and with the urge to create a better understanding, but on how it is presented. The ‘learning’ comes from listening and I hope that after watching the video the viewer realises that they can gain a great understanding even without ‘seeing’ anything and that they got to know the interviewees without knowing how they look like (which might also not be of great importance).

 

Putting together the visuals

For my visuals I have applied various different effects to make it more interesting. The main one is the Gaussian blur which is prevalent throughout the video, I adjusted the blurriness so it varies from very blurry to more recognisable in terms of shapes and movement. At the least blurry stages one can only barely make out the mouth movements.

Then I also used different scaling for the interview parts to make variations in frames. Because the interview part looked too static all with the same framing and with very little motion I have cut it at different stages (when the topic changes) so I have close ups and mid frames. To add additional movement to the static interview I have also varied the opacity, this engages the eyes more and makes it look less static. The idea came from something Paul said, that blindness can change depending on the mood of the person, time of the day and other factors. I found that very interesting as we think of being blind just like a black screen with no variation whatsoever. This is not true and if only for very few people (only 1% don’t see anything at all). Although I don’t want the blurriness to re-enact a ‘real’ vision of a blind it certainly does the key job of preventing the viewer of receiving a clear image. I stepped away from the idea of the black screen because I felt it was much more interesting to give the viewer a tiny amount of visual engagement than just staring at a black screen (which would also put the idea of a ‘video’ in doubt), yet without taking away from the fact that they should mainly focus on the audio to make sense of it.

I decided to darken the colours in general as I found it too bright when I tried to only blur it, the darkened colours certainly resemble a ‘darkened’ vision and capture the theme of ‘blindness’ better.

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As you can see above there was A LOT of key framing involved, I had to create keyframes for scale, blur and opacity all at different times with difference measures. I think this has definitely improved the visual quality of the video and makes it much more interesting.

As I have stated in my previous post about the audio, I decided to use the textual descriptions rather than the voice over. This is not only because I didn’t want the video to be even longer, but mainly because it adds another layer as to why there is something to see which needs to be described. I mainly used the textual descriptions for the devices, which most people don’t have an idea of how they look like (nor did I when I first saw them) and a few additional bits of information which link to the audio. I didn’t want too much text as it distracts from the audio and tried to put them in places where there is more sound or where it refers directly to what is being said. I feel the amount of text I included is just enough to create an additional layer of information without being too much of an overload.

All of these editing choices definitely work for what I want the video to be, an invitation to step back from the clear visual world and try to adjust to how blind people make sense of it. Also it is a creative approach of using video as a medium, because video can also provide the viewer with visual information without sound whereas my video does the reverse it focuses on providing information through sound with visuals only a reference to what Barthes called the ‘what-has-been-there’ or the indexical.

 

Editing the audio

This has definitely been a very difficult task, not just because of the length of the interview but especially because of its very interesting contents. Paul had so many amazing things to say about his experience of being blind, the way in which he perceives things, the devices he uses etc. etc. and Hazel went through the kitchen with all its adaptions in such a thorough way that it was also tricky to cut it down.

After many many edits I had the audio down to 14 min. and I aimed to have a 6 min. video, but I realised that this was impossible due to the structure and the interesting content (so it ended up being 10 min. long).

As I did with my last project, colouring and titling the clips helped me to keep track of it all and string it together. I have kept my initial ‘themes’ of the audio as I have put in a previous post (although slightly longer versions) but changed the order around slightly and interlinked some of it.

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Now the structure is as follows:

– Pauls personal accounts, anecdotes as well as perceptions

– Hazel’s kitchen tour

– Paul describing more devices they use and talking about Braille

– Paul finishing with an important quote

Although I interviewed Hazel too I found that there was not anything really interesting that I wanted to use and my main focus lied on Paul’s experiences, it becomes clear though that Hazel did a great job in describing the things in the kitchen and I think that bit together with all the mechanical sounds and noises works really well. With the devices I usually tried to include their sounds and voices at the beginning before they are being described to capture the viewers attention. I think it becomes very clear how much they rely on technology and sound through all the different devices that ‘speak’ in the video, something I really wanted to portray. This is why I also didn’t use an additional mechanic voice, as I have tried out earlier with my phone to describe things. After I put all the narrative together it became clear that there was enough of that already in there and breaking up Paul’s speaking with a mechanical voice would have interrupted the flow, which is why I used the textual descriptions in the end.

Starting with Paul’s story about the couple gives the video a smooth start and also a first hint as to why he perceived the couple differently, it is not until later though that he fully reveals that he is blind. I like that the first few minutes the viewer still has to figure out what is ‘different’ with Paul and this is also why I felt it was important to include the fact that ‘full’ blindness is really rare. I tired to link the different ‘themes’ in a matching way, the ‘beautiful’ couple with the concept of beauty, the look of the HiFi system with the look of their house and that they do care about how things look like, the fact that most blind people have a concept of colour and the deeper meaning of colour, the additional senses and how his dreams are made of these.

Then comes the section of the devices, first Hazel in the kitchen then Paul. I wanted to include a bit of his background with Braille to show what meaning it had to him and I thought the best place to do so is to ‘wrap’ the typing on the Braille machine into this discourse. He then shows how his phone works and all the additional helpful apps and how now with the phone a lot of the use of Braille has been replaced (speech to text, scanning text etc.) and makes clear that it can’t replace it fully and Braille gives the person another dimension of freedom. Which then leads to his final quote of how he accepts his blindness as part of his normality.

Feedback with Annie

Annie and me have successfully worked on both projects together and have done the best to support each other. I especially found now in the editing stage that having a second opinion is always really helpful and Annie and me have taken time to look at each others work in process to help each other make it better and come up with ideas. Revising the videos and giving each other feedback on it has been really good because we both are so stuck into our projects that we were’t able to see it with fresh eyes. So by showing it to each other we were able to gain some valuable new views on it and improve the quality of the videos. Not just in regards to the audio/narrative but also in the way the visuals work together with the audio, small hiccups were quickly detected and smoothened out.

The little extra

I was thinking about things I can apply to break up the visuals somehow.. The project is revolving around seeing/sight/vision not just in terms of its content, the interview with a blind person, but I also want this to be represented in the way in which it is made. So I talked to my production partner Annie to discuss this further and she had a great idea! Why not making it as if someone is seeing through their eyes and is blinking, so to create a blinking effect. This I found was an interesting idea and I looked into ways in which I can create this. I browsed through all the video transitions in Premiere Pro to see whether there is already such a thing, like a ‘swipe’ effect but instead from left to right from top to bottom. There was none so I looked further and after looking at various tutorials I found this one which explains it perfectly and was exactly what I was looking for.

It is actually quite straightforward and works mainly with creating two black matte layers and key frames in which these two layers go up and down. I directly tried it out on my test footage I have used previously for the blur effect, the first bit clear, then slightly blurred and the last one very blurred, this is the outcome:

It could be a bit smoother and is just a quick test but it worked and I think this might be an interesting way to add to the theme of ‘sight’ because it is such a simple yet essential reflex we all have and immediately associate with seeing when we look at the footage. I will have to see how it works on a 6 min. clip, but together with the change of colour, the movement and the blinking this could be the final component to bring some ‘action’ into it even it is such a natural effect.

Give it some blur

After thinking about alternatives to the black screen I tried out to blur my footage to the extend that there are no contours. I applied the Gaussian blur directly to the clip from where I could adjust the blurriness and the direction of it. I also applied a colour filter to switch it to black and white but colour gave the visual more texture and also if I was to describe things the viewer might still be able to make a reference due to the colour (for example the bright red beside clock).

The blurriness in itself represents the visual impairment, although not in complete darkness, blurriness to this degree is also the reality of many blind people and counts as being blind. In fact Paul said that most blind people perceive ‘something’ and are not in complete darkness, even he in his early years could see contrasts. It also serves as a point of reference that I was there and that this is the interview which is happening, although you can’t see it it is there in front of your eyes. A black screen would somehow ‘blend’ this out and lack to make that reference.

Throughout this little clip I made different adjustments to the blur in Premiere Pro to see to which extend I should go, I do think it is good to still be able to pick up movement but not so much shapes, I also adjusted the darkness/brightness. This is definitely more interesting to look at, yet the viewer will still focus mostly on the audio. In fact it is quite a similar approach to the project my production partner Annie did last year, in the way that the visuals do no reveal much and the viewer is invited to become more of a listener. The voices and opinions definitely stood out more because Annie’s footage wasn’t distracting or giving the viewer images to associate and interpret. I do think that just having a blurred screen and some change of colours and movement needs something ‘special’ still, that I have to find out.