Remembering Hiroshima

Sightlines Journal, issue 2, 2017

Name: Dean Keep
Film: Remembering Hiroshima
Length: 5 minutes

Research Statement

Remembering Hiroshima is a film constructed from smartphone footage and archival images. Employing cinematic techniques such as slow motion, superimposition and split screens to visually represent the temporal gaps and shifts that exist between the past and present. Part diary, part documentary, Remembering Hiroshima demonstrates the ways in which smartphones may be used for auto-ethnographic research, while providing artists/filmmakers with the means for spontaneous and simple collection of visual data. It fuses analogue (archival photographs) and digital media technologies, and experimental narrative strategies to interrogate the ways in which personal and cultural memory may shape experiences of place.

I put forward a proposition that the smartphone is more than a dynamic networked media tool, rather it is a ‘digital wunderkammer’, a portable database to aid the storage and retrieval of captured moments that can be later used for the production of a wide range of documentary stories.

Like a digital scrapbook, the smartphone is perhaps the ultimate archiving tool; messages, website histories, social media apps and audio-visual material provide a record of our interactions in both physical and virtual spaces. Inside the digital heart of the smartphone we store tiny moments, audio-visual fragments of the world around us. But as we use smartphones to create personal histories or ‘micro-biographies’, we are not only engaging in media production practices, we are also building a library of memories. In his essay ‘Between Memory and History: Les Liuex de Memoire’ Nora (1989, p.14) notes that “the imperative of our epoch is not only to keep everything, to preserve every indicator of memory-even when we are not sure which memory is being indicated -but also to produce archives”.

Nora proposes that:


the archive has become the deliberate and calculated secretion of lost memory. It adds to life – itself often a function of its own recording – a secondary memory, a prosthesis-memory” (1989, p.14).


Using examples drawn from the author’s creative practice, this research explores the idea that the smartphone is both production tool and memory site (Nora, 1989). Here I suggest that the smartphone may be utilized as an enabler for a poetic intervention, whereby the smartphone may be used to promote the production of factual stories that evoke notions of personal identity, memory and place.

Adopting an inductive methodology, I look for significant patterns and re-occurring themes emerging in my creative practice. I also adopt auto-ethnographic strategies, such as using smartphones and video cameras to regularly document my personal experiences so that I can return to the moment in an effort to make meaning from such experiences. In a similar way that an artist makes a sketch, I capture smartphones moments that I later view and assemble (edit) into video works that explore my relationship with the world.

Bill Nichols (2001) notes that, “every documentary has its own distinct voice” (p.99) and that like every speaking voice, cinematic voices carry their own unique fingerprint or signature. I would argue that due to the highly personal and intimate nature of smartphones, the images and video captured on these devices are also imbued with their own unique voice and style. Making digital media with smartphones may be understood as a spontaneous process, whereby individuals are engaged in the act of capturing fragments of lived experiences. With this in mind I embrace the term ‘evocative-documentary’ as a way of describing non-fiction narratives that do not easily fit within the parameters of the documentary genre but involve aspects of auto-ethnographic practices.

For me, the term ‘evocative-documentary’ invites a poetic turn, whereby I find myself asking, not what is a documentary is, but rather what a documentary film might be in an age of the smartphone.

References

Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire, Representations 26, Spring (1989)

Nichols, B. (2001). Introduction to Documentary, Indiana University Press, U.S.

Peer Review 1 (Liz Burke)

Dean Keep’s ‘Remembering Hiroshima’ is a five minute film with an accompanying statement that argues, “…the smartphone may be used to promote the production of factual stories that evoke notions of personal identity, memory and place.” Keep’s film is a record of his visit to Hiroshima, following in the footsteps of his father who was stationed there after World War II, and is a film which speaks to the ideas outlined above.

The film opens with the title, followed by a screen which is split vertically by a heavy black border. The camera is filming landscape in both frames. There is a feeling we’re rushing forward to Hiroshima. But, interestingly the screen on the left is revealing shots of landscape, whereas the one of the right is showing us images of an urban area. This gave me a feeling of being split in two in terms of time, as though I was moving towards Hiroshima, while already being there.

Then the screen on the left cuts to an extreme close up of Keep while he explains that he is on a train heading towards Hiroshima. He says: “It’s been a long time. It doesn’t seem like the first time. It seems like I’m coming back, back to Hiroshima”. This shot and speech opens up several issues for me. The extreme close up can be seen as a ‘selfie’; maybe the most commonplace image associated with the cameraphone. But, the gracefulness of the framing speaks to an animating aesthetic consciousness which has chosen the image. The speech with its reference to returning to Hiroshima, places us in two timeframes. Keep is ‘going back’ to Hiroshima, ‘but it doesn’t seem like the first time’. I relate this back to the first split-screen shot, in which we have two different travelling views, shot at two different times. There’s something slightly disorienting about this first split screen image, because we don’t know where we are, or where we’re heading.

We have a return to a place where it ‘seems’ he’s never physically been, but still feels like a return. This seems to speak to the function of memory, which is central to Keep’s project, and to his use of the cameraphone which, in his accompanying statement, he calls a ‘digital wunderkammer’, a portable database to aid the storage and retrieval of captured moments that can be later used for the production of a wide range of documentary stories.”

These are obviously a series of important memories, and moments, for Keep as he uses his cameraphone to excavate his father’s past in Hiroshima, and his return to this crucial place.

Later in the film, we’re given a contemporary still image of the Atomic Bomb Dome; an iconic building. This building is placed in the centre of the frame, ‘portrait’ style. It could almost be any tourist’s photo taken by their phone. But, what gives this particular resonance is that on the left and right hand section of the frame, we’re given two archival images of Atom Bomb Dome before it was named that – before the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. These images fade up and down, rather how memory returns and fades. I found this coming together of past and present extremely moving in its representation of how memory works, and I suspect it’s the central set of images of the film.

We then travel to a shipyard. There is a complex image here, utilising the split screen. On the left hand, we have an archival image of the shipyard, while on the right Keep uses the camera phone ‘selfie’ style and talks about how the shipyard has changed since his father worked there. Again, we’re in two time frames, and memory is ignited by the splitscreen. Keep speaks to the camera and pans it around so that we see more of the space.

Finally, the film then gives us a travelling shot which is soft, out of focus, and indeterminate in terms of time, which then crossfades to contemporary footage of Hiroshima, while Keep talks about his father’s experience. It feels like we’re leaving Hiroshima, and there’s a melancholy tone to it.

Keeps utilises the everyday affordances of the cameraphone; the ‘selfie’, the casual panning around to see what’s there, the travelling shot. But, his use of it to ignite memory, and to return to a past he’s never physically experienced, speaks to his use of it as a tool for the ‘evocative documentary’ that can be used to capture fragments of personal experience.

Peer Review 2 (Helen Gaynor)

Remembering Hiroshima is a short documentary by filmmaker Dean Keep. I respond to the film project in three ways.

1)  The first is to Dean’s written research statement which indicates the way in which the filmmaker wants to frame the film. 

2)  The second is as a viewer with no other material to work with other than the film itself. 

3)  This then provides me with a methodology through which to comment on practice as 
research.

1. The Filmmakers Research statement

The filmmaker articulates two framing devices for this film in his research statement. The first is through the notion of the mode (in the Nichols tradition). The second is through the impact of the technology used to capture material. (I’m not sure if the same device was used for the edit – I suspect not). These are best articulated in this quote from the filmmakers’ research statement:

I embrace the term ‘evocative-documentary’ as a way of describing non-fiction narratives that do not easily fit within the parameters of the documentary genre but involve aspects of auto-ethnographic practices. For me, the term ‘evocative- documentary’ invites a poetic turn, whereby I find myself asking, not what is a documentary is, but rather what a documentary film might be in an age of the smartphone.

The evocative-documentary approach is expressed within the visual imagery, which sits within Nichols ‘poetic’ mode. The meaning of the snippets of visual material is derived by the juxtaposition of the imagery, and the sound design. The use of archive, juxtaposed with and onto contemporary visual material, combined with video diary, and split screens supports the contention of auto-ethnographic practice.

The filmmakers research statement and film title put the use of the smart phone front and centre as a distinct affordance of the project. He argues for a distinct ‘voice and style’ in smart phone capture. The filmmaker contends that this is:

‘…due to the highly personal and intimate nature of smartphones’

and that

‘Making digital media with smartphones may be understood as a spontaneous process, whereby individuals are engaged in the act of capturing fragments of lived experiences’.

The argument here appears to me to be that the affordances of the smart phone deliver something unique in filmmaking terms. It may be an indication of my age but I would argue that these affordances have been available since the first portable camera hitthe street. This may be the 16mm hand held cameras that enabled cinema verite and the observational modes. Or it may be argued that the advent of the 8mm home movie camera and editing system marked the beginning of a ‘prosumer’ filmmaker that has been further supported by the camcorder, and any number of light weight, very small digital cameras, all equipped with rotating view finder screens to enable the ‘selfie’ piece to camera, so ubiquitous in smart phone use. Each of these capture devices have their own distinct look, by dint of their technology, and the smart phone is the latest in this long line of these devices. The portability and decreasing size and complexity of these pre-smart phone also enabled the ‘spontaneous process’ of ‘capturing fragments’ that the filmmaker proposes as a unique affordance of the smart phone. I would argue that the impulse to diarise, capture, recall, and use whatever imagery and audio fragments that can be translated in the edit process has existed outside of a particular filmic capture technology, but has driven and embraced whatever device has been offered that allows the expression of the impulse.

The capture device however, does not the film make. The film, whether an 8mm home movie or the split screen and layered work being reviewed, comes together in the edit. What could be contended is that the smart phone does brings an original affordance by dint of it providing the means to edit as well as capture, via editing apps – an affordance not available in pre- smart phone capture technologies. But this is not addressed in the research statement, and the complexity of the split screen, and juxtapositioning of images, combined with a well- constructed and mixed sound track, indicates to me that the editing of this film was not done on the smart phone that captured the material.

What does interest me is the filmmaker’s proposition of the notion of the smart phone as a

‘digital wunderkammer’, a portable database to aid the storage and retrieval of captured moments that can be later used for the production of a wide range of documentary stories.

This I agree with, although the film in and of itself does not demonstrate this. Drawing on the work of Nora [1], Keep introduces a very evocative notion of the smart phone as being;

“…like a digital scrapbook, the smartphone is perhaps the ultimate archiving
tool; messages, website histories, social media apps and audio-visual material provide a record of our interactions in both physical and virtual spaces…Using examples drawn from the author’s creative practice, this research explores the idea that the smartphone is both production tool and memory site (Nora, 1989)

The film itself reveals that material was captured and archived by the smart phone, because the filmmaker has told us that (i.e in viewing the final edit, the viewer is aware that these images are the result of choices made from a larger amount of material, much of which was
captured and stored on the smart phone). However, the film in and of itself does not provide a demonstration of the smart phone as the memory site described in the above quote.

[1] Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire, Representations 26, Spring (1989)

2. The Film as a stand-alone artefact

REMEMBERING HIROSHAMA is an evocative and poetic piece, that gets richer with multiple viewings. There are three layers at play:
1) the contemporary story: a visit to Hiroshama

2) the history of the city as the site of the worlds first nuclear bombed city

3) the layer that binds the two – the city that was visited by the filmmakers’ soldier
father after, and because of the bombing and the war which provoked it.

The split screens and layering of archive and audio all serve to express the intermingling of these layers, which inform each other. The film evokes the perception of multiple layers of history co-existing at any one time, and how these histories affect each other in a universal and very personal way. It is a skillful and poetic bringing together of audio and visual material, that provides the viewer with an experience of living in the past and present simultaneously, each informing the understanding of the other.

3. Practice as Research

In terms of the film as practice by research, I propose two ways in which this proposition can be viewed.

1) film + research statement
2) film – research statement.

Film + research statement introduces the notion that an added layer of media: audio, text on screen, written page, one on one conversation, PTC by maker: is required to engage with the research. This therefore becomes a multi-media or multi-platform research project. In this case, do we assess its’ research outcomes and success soley in terms of what the filmmaker is setting out to achieve (as expressed by the supporting statement in whatever form + the film)?

film – research statement, that is the film as a stand-alone piece with no supporting or explanatory text or media, is assessed by an autonomous and anonymous viewer who places their own criteria front and centre.
It would seem then that in evaluating practice as research, it is essential to establish the perspective from which the evaluation takes place (just like filmmaking itself – what is more relevant – the creative intent or the audience response?).

I am assuming that this research project is to be considered by criteria one: film + research statement, as a film + a research statement were provided. I would contend that if the evaluation of this project is as film + research statement, it does not quite succeed as elements of the research statement are not evident in the film and stand outside it, as discussed earlier in this piece. The film – research statement is a success, because the filmic intent is realised, irrespective of the technology.

Filmmaker’s Response

Firstly, I would like to thank the reviewers for their considered response to this research film. In my response to these reviews, I will address some of the points and shared observations that have been highlighted by the reviewers. The observations of both reviewers informed a revisiting of this project, promoting further investigations into some of the ideas and critical feedback raised in their reviews.

Remembering Hiroshima is a short film which combines video footage shot on a smartphone with archival images brought back from Hiroshima by my father in 1947.
Rather than working from a script or shotlist for this film, I embrace an intuitive approach to the capture of video footage. Using a combination of formal and casual framing (see: author’s direct address to camera), this film is arguably shaped by the affordances of the smartphone. When on public transport, I often rest the smartphone on the rubber seal of the window to get a steady shot, and as the landscape drifts from present to past, I am aware that I will later retrieve the video footage, and revisit these moments on the same device, searching through the data for moments that resonate. This method of capture and revision of my smartphone video footage underpins a methodology of drifting, whereby I find myself spontaneously capturing video content and later responding to individual video clips I capture, rather than selecting footage based on a pre-determined montage or narrative structure.

The idea of a return to a place where one has never visited, and the feelings of disorientation associated with this phenomenon was a guiding concept for this film.

The use of a split screen, as noted by the reviewers, invites a temporal disruption, enabling the viewer to inhabit multiple timeframes simultaneously. The tensions that exist between past and present, and the fragility of memory are central to my creative practice. The mix of contemporary video footage with archival images, slow-motion and superimposition, further illustrates a temporal shift, whereby historical time and the recent past fade up and recede, evoking the ephemeral nature of personal memory.

Remembering Hiroshima also exploits the affordances of the smartphone and its spontaneous production practices, whilst combining traditional filmmaking aesthetic conventions and productions strategies. And although some may argue that smartphones do not shape or determine a film any differently than other video cameras, I maintain that due to the immediacy afforded by the smartphone (always carried) and the pocket size proportions of the device, the smartphone arguably invites experimentation in framing shots and a greater level of immediacy in relation to video capture. In some cases, shutter speed constraints and/or the plastic lens of the smartphone may cause visual aberrations, and it is these limitations that may present opportunities for filmmakers to explore or extend video production practices.

Remembering Hiroshima is a work in progress, and the feedback provided by the reviewers will be used to further interrogate the film’s themes and the creative practice research that underpins the development and production of this film.

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